The Prostitute in the Story: Part One

My colleague previously examined the addition of a prostitute to the story of the Battle of Stars Hollow in the Season 5 episode “Woman of Questionable Morals,” wherein he made some brilliant points about elitism. But, what else does this episode tell us? Today particularly I am wondering about what his character means as far as women’s history.

It is telling that when evidence of the participation of women is uncovered, it is in the role of sexual objects. The prostitute herself is defined specifically by her gender and sexuality, as is shown by the reenactors’ reference to her “feminine wiles.” As this “woman of questionable morals” is the only female character in the Battle of Stars Hollow, she is our only example of a woman in history. While I am quite happy to argue that her participation may have been vital to this fictional battle, and her story is one of strength and courage, she is still defined by her sexuality. In tying a historical female character’s directly to her sexuality, “Woman of Questionable Morals” serves to emphasize a woman’s worth as that of a sexual object. The gendering of such an approach should be apparent: could you imagine the same role existing for a man?

As far as the plot goes, I couldn’t imagine the episode suffering from the addition of a different female character, maybe a “Molly Pitcher” of sorts. Don’t tell me that Taylor and Kirk couldn’t manage to make that just as weird and wonderful. Such a character would exist independently of her sexuality – a right afforded to all of the male historical figures. Then again, perhaps it is fitting, considering the long and tangled history between the military and prostitution…

A Queer Eye on Gilmore Girls: Part One

As a young woman in my mid to late 20s, it seems almost natural that I grew up watching Gilmore Girls. In a household where I was allowed only two hours of television a week until I graduated high school, I spent one of those hours with Lorelai and Rory in Stars Hollow. Like many of my peers, I wished I could be a part of that strange little community that resided entirely in Amy Sherman-Palladino’s head. But if I had, I would have been the only queer resident of Stars Hollow.

Looking back on it today, it is easy to understand the lack of LGBT residents as a function of the time: after all, when Gilmore Girls aired (2000-2007), the only television show geared towards teens that had a queer character was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In later interviews, Sherman-Palladino explicitly stated that the character of Sookie was originally a lesbian, at least until the networks heard the idea. So, as was common in the 2000s, instead of a strong queer character, the community was left with Michel: a seemingly stereotypically gay man who resided firmly in the closet. Not exactly the role model we were looking for.

In the years after a television show with the kind of following of Gilmore Girls has gone off the air, people have a tendency to look back on it as representative of the time period in which it aired. Popular culture is used as historical evidence of a time in distant memory. What impression will Gilmore Girls give of our time with queerness written out of the story?

Gilmore Girls, Sylvia Plath, and Mental Health Stigma

plath

WB/Thought Catalog

Sylvia Plath is among the most referenced writers in Gilmore Girls. Plath is acknowledged as one of Rory’s favorite writers throughout the series and Rory is frequently shown reading Plath. But even more common were quips by Lorelai about Plath’s depression and suicide, reinforcing the stigma of mental illness prevalent on the show. In episode 3.3 Lorelai and Rory discuss Rory’s college applications:

LORELAI: You can evaluate a significant experience that’s had an impact on you…or you can write about a person who has had a significant influence on you.

RORY: You?

LORELAI: Or one of your authors, Faulkner or…

RORY: Or Sylvia Plath.

LORELAI: Hm, might send the wrong message.

RORY: The sticking her head in the oven thing?

LORELAI: Yeah. Although she did make her kids a snack first, shows a certain maternal instinct. (Episode 3.3)

For Lorelai the literary quality of Sylvia Plath was undermined by her depression and suicide. She says listing Plath as an influence “might send the wrong message” as if connecting to an author with depression, or having depression, makes one less worthy of acceptance to college. The value of Plath’s writing was undermined for Lorelei because she was “crazy” and reflects a broader fear of “being crazy” by the characters on the show.

For Lorelai, reading Sylvia Plath was a necessarily depressing, unsettling experience, much like attending a party hosted by Chilton students. Lorelai said:

Lorelai: Madeline’s having a party.

Rory: I’m going to go.

Lorelai: You’re going to a Chilton party?

Rory: Yes, I am.

Lorelai: Honey, why don’t you just stay home and read The Bell Jar? Same effect.

She makes light of Plath as a literary figure, because of her depression and eventual suicide. The Sylvia Plath references are part of a broader stigmatization of mental health on the show. Frequent jokes about mental health issues, alongside Loral’s disapproving reaction to Rory attending therapy, make the show hostile to those dealing with mental illness (including many of the show’s viewership). While both Lorelai and Emily show growth throughout the series and end up seeing a therapist, even then they are working through the idea that they shouldn’t be in therapy and that it isn’t for them.

One of the more innocent remarks Lorelai made in Season 4, Episode 13 was “hey, did anyone ever think that Sylvia Plath wasn’t crazy, just cold.” Yet again Lorelai defines Plath by her suicide and not be her writing, considering her crazy.

Even though Sylvia Plath was one of Rory’s favorite writers, the jokes made by Lorelai throughout the series define Plath by her suicide attempt and contribute to the stigma against mental health issues throughout the series.