Steps forward: From Gilmore Girls to Orange is the New Black
Advocating for more realistic portrayals of female characters in the media has been a major part of the third wave of feminism. But in all of our work and efforts, have we been making any strides? Is there anything we can point to and say, “This, my friends, is headed in the right direction”?
When Gilmore Girls aired in 2000, it became known for its feminist content. Single mother Lorelai Gilmore and her independent daughter Rory take on the world together and don’t need anyone’s help to do it. They are educated, successful, and popular.
Even though Gilmore Girls ended in 2007, its availability on streaming services means it continues to reach new audience members — like me!
I had always wanted to watch the show given its reputation. Two seasons in, and one thing is very clear: Gilmore Girls was feminist in its time, but a mere 8 years later, and its feminist dialogue fades in the light of its not-so-feminist underlying messages.
One of the most memorable episodes is Season 1 Episode 14, which finds Rory in a fight with her boyfriend, Dean, because he likes the idea of having a wife at home ready with dinner when the husband comes home from work. Traditional gender roles much? Rory challenges his notions throughout the episode only to make up with him by surprising him with a meal when he gets home, play-acting the role of a traditional wife that she had been protesting against.
Similarly, Lorelai is often found defending her accomplishment as a single mother and her decision not to have married Rory’s father. Championing the single mother, right? Except the entire show revolves around her and Rory’s relationships to men. Not to mention, they are both stereotypically beautiful and the only larger woman in the show, Sookie (played by Melissa McCarthy), is consistently portrayed as a goofball not to be taken seriously.
Let us contrast Gilmore Girls with the newest feminist champion of TV shows, shall we? Orange is the New Black (OITNB) has completed its third season and has been renewed by Netflix for a fourth. I cannot rave more about it.
No, its plot isn’t perfect. Yes, some of the characters lose my sympathy after a while. But I would suggest that there has never been a mainstream show like this for women of all shapes, colors, and sizes to look to for characters who resemble them.
The body diversity and racial diversity is thrilling. You might think “thrilling” is a strong word to use, but how often do we get to watch the female characters of a TV show and not see the same, primarily white, beauty-ideal-adhering, flattering-clothes-wearing ensemble?
Even more exciting is that the plot has so much less to do with romance and so much more to do with the individual experiences of women from incredibly diverse backgrounds, their connections to one another, and their weaknesses and strengths.
I am proud of how far we’ve come since the not-so-distant age of Gilmore Girls. I hope that Orange is the New Black is the new litmus test by which female casts are evaluated. It can only get better from here.
Gabriella is a positive body image enthusiast, an actor, and a singer. She is currently an assistant at a non-profit in New York and continues to pursue creative work in human rights and social justice.