Representation Of Mother And Motherhood In Gilmore Girls
Season two, Episode eight of Gilmore Girls presents audiences with the other “motherly” figure in Lorelai and Rory’s lives, Mia Bass, played by both Elizabeth Franz and Kathy Baker. Mia is the owner of the ‘Independence Inn’ who took pity on Lorelai and allowed her to live on the ‘Independence Inn’s’ premises while she raised Rory after she left home. Having worked there for so long, Lorelai went on to take over running the inn for Mia. The first interaction between the characters begins with Lorelai and Rory calling out to Mia who turns with outstretched arms and excitedly calls, “oh, my babies” while embracing them. Elizabeth Franz depicts a classy, elegant and affectionate surrogate mother beloved by all. It is possible that Sherman-Palladino created the character of Mia to starkly contrast the seemingly non-compassionate style of mother that Bishop portrays Emily. It may also be the case that Sherman-Palladino wanted to show that, a family name, such as Gilmore, does not itself mean family. Mia is just one example of how Sherman-Palladino explores the uncommon “family” dynamic in Gilmore Girls. Later in the episode Emily goes to the inn to meet Mia for the first time, the short exchange passes awkwardly between them: “I just wanted to meet the woman who helped raise my daughter.” “Emily [...] Sometimes home is where you hang your hat.” “Or your family is.” Emily quips. The conversation, repressed for many years, came quickly to an end as Emily, showing signs of vulnerability, asks for “pictures from back then” of all the moments she missed in her daughter and granddaughter’s lives.
As above-mentioned, Mia is depicted as the kind and loving parental figure that “rescued” Lorelai and her baby when she had turned her back on her parents. However, the interaction between Emily and Mia suggests Sherman-Palladino did not want viewers to entirely glorify the character as Emily (Bishop) retorts, “I would have wanted her to find someone who would send her home”. This further implies that the character of Emily Gilmore is a misunderstood mother, who regrets the time lost with her child. Emily’s loss is reified by Budig and Hodges who states, ‘it is highly educated, high earning women who have the most to lose’. Nonetheless, the progression of the representation of “mother” is displayed in Episode seventeen of Season seven when we meet Mia Bass for the second and last time on her wedding day. During a phone-call with Mia, Lorelai accidentally gets her mother invited to the occasion. Throughout the ceremony, Bishop portrays Emily as very uncomfortable as she watches her daughter give a speech to the “other motherly” figure in her life. This time the interaction between the women went quite differently as they spoke fondly together about the girls. Sherman-Palladino uses this resolution scene to present two united “mothers” who only want the best for “their” children. Sherman-Palladino displays once again the lengths mothers will go to for their children as Emily and Mia unite in the girls’ best interest.
Despite focusing primarily on the representation of the Gilmore girls themselves as “mother”, there are multiple other exemplifications of “mother” and motherhood in the series. Mrs Kim, for example, who is Rory’s best friend Lane Kim’s mother, ‘provides a sometimes-caricatured counterpoint to Lorelai’s relaxed attitude towards life’. Sherman-Palladino uses the character of Mrs Kim to depict her mothering style as very strict as she has many rules Lane must abide by. Lane mainly refers to her mother as “Mrs Kim” and sometimes “mama”. This shows the respect Lane has for her mother but also the lack of familiarity and affection. Sherman-Palladino uses Mrs Kim and Lane’s relationship to demonstrate how mothers and their children are not always close and honest with each other like Lorelai and Rory are. In Season one, Episode fourteen, viewers are shown the true level of distrust in Lane and Mrs Kim’s relationship when Lane opens up her floorboards to find a CD for Rory. Lane’s entire bedroom is a physical representation of the secret side of herself that she hides from her mother. As speculated by ‘Hye Seung Chung, “Korea” is posited as an “other” place from which Lane- an all-American girl- must escape at all costs’. Later in the program, Mrs Kim comes across the clandestine compartments in Lane’s room revealing her worst nightmare. Her daughter had suddenly become a stranger to her. The stark contrast between the mother and daughter’s personality also diverges entirely from what is essentially a carbon copy of Lorelai in Rory. Once again, Gilmore Girls displays the other common motif in the program of damaged kinship as earlier exemplified by Lorelai’s relationship with her parents.
However, as the program advanced season to season, we witness Mrs Kim’s attitude towards her daughter’s lifestyle evolve. Mrs Kim embraces Lane for who she is and importantly, puts aside her pride to help her achieve her goals by setting up a tour for Lane’s band, Hep Alien. Sherman-Palladino thus represents “mother” as both fickle and resilient in Gilmore Girls, with resilience defined as, ‘adaptable, able to withstand disruption, and [most] importantly, able to make do with less’. The tonal shift presented in Mrs. Kim, elicits excellent entertainment, however, it was not entirely surprising. As although Mrs. Kim was highly set in her routine and had different aspirations for Lane, mothers are genetically predisposed to nurture their children. In comparison, in Season seven Lane is pregnant with her husband Zack’s twins. Her initial response is to panic, but once she shares the news with her elated mother, she relaxes into the idea of motherhood as seen in Season seven, Episode sixteen, “According to my baby book, I’m nesting”. Sherman-Palladino represents a mothers instinct to protect their young by including a dramatic exchange between Lane and Mrs Kim. They argue over the twins’ future’s, once again put in the same situation they faced when suggesting how to best raise a child. Lane begins by defying her mother’s wish of having the boys raised as Lane was. However, Lorelai points out by doing so, if the boys wanted to go to mass and bible study, Lane would cause her children to hide their true selves from her as she did from Mrs Kim. Sherman-Palladino represents the understanding side of motherhood to locate ‘through the allusion themselves the viewer as mother, as a daughter, as a figure related to others in time’ (Brinkema, p.10). She makes Lane and Mrs Kim’s familial struggles tangible by showing how the learning curves and trials of parenthood are relatable.
Another parental figure outside of the Gilmore’s who depicts a very diverse style of mothering is Liz Danes. Liz Danes, sister of Luke Danes, takes a different approach to motherhood by removing her child, Jess, from her care to ensure his needs are met so that he can grow and mature. As mentioned previously, most mothers will do anything for their children to prioritize their best interests. Liz explains in the series that she feels as though she is letting her son down but believes that by sending Jess to live with Luke, believes she is doing the best for him. Sherman-Palladino uses Liz to convey the multi-directional approaches to motherhood. Oftentimes, being a good parent is admitting that you are not the best influence for your child. Unfortunately, Liz’s lack of self-confidence as a mother lead Jess to believe that he was unwanted. However, we later discover that sending Jess to Luke’s was the responsible decision and helped him immensely by getting him back on track. Liz’s style of parenting also changes as she later becomes a mother for the second time to her daughter Doula. Here Sherman-Palladino presents “mother” as contrite when Liz expresses her fear that she will do wrong by her daughter, as she feels she did by her son. Luke reassures Liz that she is “going to be a great mother. Jess turned out fine. Your son turned out fine. Put your fears aside. I know you can do this”. Women are particularly prone to berating themselves when they experience a setback (Gill, p.482). However, Liz also demonstrates the capability to learn from mistakes and adapt to new possibilities in her evolving parentage.
As aforementioned, the bond Lorelai and Rory share is not always perfect. There are times when it is strained, as seen in Season four, Episode twenty-two, “I didn’t raise you to be this kind of girl who sleeps with someone else’s husband.” “You slept with dad when he was with Sherry.” “He wasn’t married.” “He was engaged and she was pregnant.” “So, this is all my fault? I set one crappy example for you and […] you follow in my footsteps?” Lorelai deflects her shame from previous mistakes she made onto Rory who is, unfortunately, following suit. Lorelai exhibits hypocrisy while chastising Rory for sleeping with Dean, having slept with Christopher while he was with Sherry. This exchange is an example of how Sherman-Palladino represents the flawed ‘mother’ in the series as Lorelai breaks her code of ethics as well as demonstrating duplicity. Lorelai’s disappointment is an indication of the hurt she is feeling after the heated conversation as ‘all the sacrifices [she] makes in her life are construed as opportunities for Rory and as lessons to prevent her from making similar “mistakes” (Diffrient et al., p.25). However, as is seen in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, by not learning from her earlier misjudgments, Rory follows her mother’s example by becoming a pregnant single mother. During the series, Rory is seen to be having an affair with another engaged, ex-boyfriend, Logan. The liaison between the pair is short-lived as Logan chooses to marry his prestigious fiancé rather than leave her for Rory. Nonetheless, with Lorelai’s continued support Rory was able to ‘bounce back’ for her child’s sake. By ‘overcoming and springing off from crisis’, Rory, as she does in academia, focuses all her attention on her baby.
Sherman-Palladino also uses the televisual text of Gilmore Girls to ‘adduce just how often the traditional parent-child binary is collapsed in the series’ (Diffrient et al., p.xxiii). Oftentimes, Rory is considerably more mature than her mother. In Season two, Episode seven, for example, Sherman-Palladino presents an inverted family dynamic when Emily berates Lorelai, “You humiliate us all by not being involved [at Chilton].” “She wasn’t there either”, Lorelai says pointing to Rory in a “tell-tale” form. Being scolded by her mother causes Lorelai to revert to her child-like self. Although Lorelai often makes childish jokes in response to her mother’s quips, it is particularly concurrent when she is chastised. Lorelai and Rory’s eating habits and their perpetual hunger also elicits child-like behaviour. Susannah B. Mintz and Leah E. Mintz’s suggests that their voracious eating represents “the intensity of Lorelai’s need, physical and emotional, for caretaking. Thus, the dietary habits of both girls are inextricably linked to their unique relationships with their mothers’. This can be epitomized by the actual foods the girls are served by their parents. Rory’s diet consists mainly of coffee, pop tarts and left-over Chinese food. Comfort foods which also provide her with emotional nourishment and energy. Whereas, Emily on the other hand, is often seen serving Lorelai meals she does not like, forgetting and excusing her dietary preferences. However, there was one instance where Emily cooked up a meal specifically for the girls that she knew they would like, including ice-cream sandwiches for dessert. In doing so, Sherman-Palladino demonstrates the ever-developing and interchangeability of motherhood in the character growth of Emily as a mother.
Furthermore, the progression of the relationship between Emily and Lorelai is demonstrated at the end of Season seven, Episode twenty-two of Gilmore Girls when it is proved that Rory no longer has to bond the pair. Emily, afraid that she would no longer be visited by Lorelai attempts at first to bribe her for her time to which Lorelai responds, “Mom, why don’t we just talk about it […] at dinner?” “Oh. So our Friday night dinners are going to continue, then? L. “[…] I’ve kind of gotten used to them. E. “Alright. That sounds fine.” Both of the characters nonchalantly brush off the conversation and its sentiment. Each awkwardly attempting to express their love for one another in a very stereotypical, passive, Lorelai-Emily way. As supported by Jim Collins, ‘There is no other medium in which the force of the “already said” is quite so visible as in television, primarily because the already said is “still being said”’. This is true of Emily and Lorelai who never once in the program proclaim their love for one another and instead hope that the other recognizes the fact. Sherman-Palladino concludes their relationship in Gilmore Girls as functional but still evolving. Their bond is later exposed as having changed very little in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the life. The pair attend therapy together to improve their relationship and Sherman-Palladino proves that their relationship is not a hopeless one and that a mother’s love will work at all costs to bridge the divide between her and her child.
Finally, Sherman-Palladino shows that ‘mothering challenges the status quo of intensive mothering and the double shift’ as Lorelai single-handedly raised Rory while working. Lorelai’s unbreakable bond with Rory withstands every trial and tribulation it faces and always emerges stronger. In the final episode of the program, Rory is finally leaving home to pursue a career in journalism but not before she credits her mother for all of her achievements, “To my mom… who is just everything to me and everything I am and who I am going to miss so much”. Her touching tribute contrasts significantly with the “unspoken” exchange between Lorelai and Emily and lends itself to the overall conclusion that mothers are the ultimate self-sacrificing beings when it comes to their children. Ultimately, the representation of relationship Lorelai and Rory share is a testament to the fact that there should be more women commanding lead roles in television. Sherman-Palladino offers refreshing, wholesome, content in Gilmore Girls which appeals to both male and female audiences while also presenting a ‘point of view radically different to that offered by the dominant patriarchal perspective’ (Stern, 1979). The labour of female filmmakers such as Amy Sherman-Palladino has paved the way for other writers and producers to create more female lead programs, making it a standard practice in the industry. Also, making it possible for other writers like Lisa McGee, author and director of Derry Girls, for instance, to introduce more women actors on television.
In conclusion, the representation of mothers in Gilmore Girls vastly varies, from mothers like Lorelai who is unusually close to Rory, to strict, religious mothers who bend their own rules to please their child, mothers who walked away and returned and mothers whose daughters walked out on them but came back. Sherman-Palladino presents her audiences with the depiction of strong women who will do anything for their children. The popular television series was one of the first of its kind having a primarily female lead cast and particularly by having a single mother as the protagonist. When this program was broadcasting, it began to breakdown the constrained idea of what motherhood should be using a vast cast of mothers to portray the differentiating ways in which a parent can raise their child. However, as summed up by Bueskens (preface) ‘Western women are free “individuals” and constrained as mothers, with the twist that it is the former that produces the latter.’
- Sherman-Paladino, Amy, creator. Gilmore Girls. Warner Bros., 2000-2007
- Brinkema, Eugenie. “A Mother Is a Form of Time: ‘Gilmore Girls’ and the Elasticity of In-Finitude.” Discourse, vol. 34, no. 1, 2012, pp. 3–31. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41850967.
- Bueskens, Petra. Modern Motherhood and Women’s Dual Identities: Rewriting The Sexual Contract. Routledge, 2018, preface-pp.18.
- Collins, Jim. 'Television and Postmodernism,' in Channels of Discourse, ed. Robert Allen (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992), 333-34.
- Diffrient, David and Lavery, David. Screwball Television : Critical Perspectives on Gilmore Girls. Syracuse University Press, 2010. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/qub/detail.action?docID=3410078.
- Forkert K (2014) Austere creativity and volunteer-run public services: The case of Lewisham’s libraries. Available at: http://www.open-access.bcu.ac.uk/3417/1/New%20Formations%20 -%20pre%20press.pdf Friedli L and Stearn R (2015)
- Gill, Rosalind, and Shani Orgad. “The Amazing Bounce-Backable Woman: Resilience and the Psychological Turn in Neoliberalism.” Sociological Research Online, vol. 23, no. 2, June 2018, pp. 477–495, doi:10.1177/1360780418769673.
- Perkins, Claire and Schreiber, Michele. Independent women: from film to television, Feminist Media Studies. 2019. DOI: 10.1080/14680777.2019.1667059
- Stern, Lesley. 1979. “Independent Feminist Film-making in Australia.” Reprinted in Screening the Past 1 (2015). http://www.screeningthepast.com/2015/01/independent-feminist-film-making-inaustralia/