Friday, April 25, 2008

Waltz: Media Analysis

Single Motherhood through the Eyes of a Gilmore

The WB television show Gilmore Girls is centered around two females: Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter Rory. Lorelai was born into a conservative, upper-class family and was raised by her parents, Richard and Emily Gilmore. As parents the Gilmores had high expectations for their daughter and her future so when Lorelai got pregnant at the age of sixteen they were far from pleased. After Rory was born, Lorelai ran away in order to cut ties from her parents and become independent, raising her daughter as she wanted, on her own. Lorelai ends up in Stars Hollow, a charming small New England town. Mia, the owner of the Independence Inn, takes in the Gilmore girls and allows them to stay in a little house on the inn’s property, in exchange for Lorelai working as a maid in the inn. Over the years, Lorelai and Rory are able to move into their own home in Stars Hollow. Lorelai diligently works up to a management position and begins to run the Independence Inn. After working for several years in various positions at the Independence Inn, Lorelai eventually ends up opening and co-owning The Dragonfly Inn. As feminists approach the topic of motherhood, they traditionally want society to rethink all of the stereotypical assumptions of this topic, while specifically reexamining the issues when it comes to single mothers and the difficulties they face. In this paper I will explore how accurately Gilmore Girls depicts the role of single mothers and teenage pregnancy compared to these roles in America today, while also exploring how these characteristics affect women’s employment opportunities and financial stability.

In episode thirteen of the third season, viewers see a flashback of the night when Lorelai and Christopher Haden, Rory’s father, tell their parents about their pregnancy. The scene opens with both sets of parents arguing about what solution would be the best choice. Emily Gilmore worries as to what all their friends will say when they hear the news. Richard Gilmore then firmly suggests that Christopher and Lorelai will marry and Christopher will go to work in Richard’s company. Lorelai and Christopher will also move in with the Gilmores because Richard does not think they can handle the situation or the responsibility of raising a child on their own. In Joanna Gregson Higginson’s article, she acknowledges the fact that teenage parents have received “a tremendous amount of negative press regarding their ability to parent effectively.” In addition a number of studies have been done highlighting some of the negative impacts that are made on children of teen parents. “These children are more likely than other children to die as infants, grow up in poverty, get into trouble at school, drop out of school, become criminals if they are boys, and become adolescent parents themselves if they are girls” (Higginson).

One of the goals of feminists is to de-romanticize motherhood and marriage. Emily Gilmore believes that all their problems will be solved and they will live happily ever after once Lorelai and Christopher are married. Christopher even assumes he and Lorelai will get married after the baby is born even though the marriage would be for all the wrong reasons. Lorelai rejects this idea even with the knowledge that the odds, society, and statistics are against her. “In 1994, the median income for a two-parent household was $45,041. In contrast, the median income for a single-parent household led by a woman was $19,872” (Ventura). Lorelai knows that single mothers face a number of setbacks and that on average women earn less than men do even though they are employed in the same profession. “In 2003, 28 percent of single-mother families were below the poverty line” (Albelda). All of these statistics show that the issues single mothers face are not so “romantic” in the scheme of things. Even with this knowledge, Lorelai does not want to rely on her parents’ help nor does she want to conform to how society thinks a pregnant teenager should act so she chooses what some would call a feminist stance. She decides to keep the baby and support it herself even though an abortion was suggested. The independent Lorelai breaks societies’ traditional view of needing a man to support you and to make you happy, an idea feminists passionately refute. I commend Gilmore Girls and agree with Lorelai’s decision to support herself and her child, even though no one else was on her side. Lorelai ends up becoming one of the women who Valerie Mannis describes as “financially independent women who are single mothers by choice.” Society does tend to believe that single mother families “result from the breakdown of a stable family or death of the father,” which is not always the case (Mannis). I think the writers of the television show did display an accurate account of how society reacts when faced with issues of teen pregnancy.

As much as Lorelai’s decisions toward her teen pregnancy and single parenthood were realistic, I also want to examine the practicality of her employment and immediate housing opportunities. A sad reality in America today is that often employers are hesitant towards hiring women who are pregnant or may become pregnant because they fear women may leave the company to become mothers raising their children at home. In her piece, Ann Crittenden writes about how “inflexible workplaces guarantee that many women will have to cut back on, if not quit, their employment once they have children.” The show made the dilemma of running away from home and looking for a job to support a teenager and her child seem somewhat easy. In reality a large percentage of single mothers do end up living in poverty or with the support of welfare. The fact that Lorelai did have the immediate opportunity to move into the place where she is working and the option for good childcare for Rory is a rare occurrence.

In the fourth episode of the third season of Gilmore Girls, Lorelai gets invited to come speak at the Stars Hollow High School’s career day. She is there to speak about her managerial position at the Independence Inn, but the students she is speaking to are more interested in and constantly interrupting her with questions about her teen pregnancy. They wanted to know if she regrets what had happened. Lorelai tries to answer honestly but there are other mothers there who give her judgmental glances. The situation displayed in this episode is an adequate representation of some of the aftermath that could very possibly occur from having a child as a teenager. It is only natural for teenagers to be interested in this topic and raise these questions, but through this episode the show sheds light on many parents interest in shielding their children from these issues.

Lorelai overcomes several assumptions and obstacles of motherhood including single, teenage parenthood, even becoming a successful business woman. Her character is not a made-up version of a superhero mom, but rather another example of the millions of less recognized single mothers in today’s world. There are a few instances where the show reveals unrealistic occurrences, but throughout the seasons of the show it portrays real difficulties single mothers like Lorelai face and the struggles they overcome. Gilmore Girls is a text supporting feminist ideals exemplified in the way that Lorelai fights the stereotypical assumptions of a single working mother and the status quo of a teenage mom.

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