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Long Live Rory Gilmore: An Ode To My First Feminist Role Model

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Every Tuesday night from 2000 to 2007, my two sisters and I looked forward to our weekly Gilmore Girls ritual. We raced home from school to finish all of our homework before inhaling dinner and claiming a spot in the living room with our mom (while our dad hibernated in the basement watching sports).

We settled into the couch just in time for Carole King's "Where you Lead," to serenade us into the latest episode. This practice prevailed for seven years until the show ended during my last month of high school.

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In ways I only now recognize in hindsight, Rory Gilmore shaped the trajectory of my life during an impressionable phase of transition-hood. While it sounds silly and cliché for a fictional character to have had such an impact, she truly was an integral part of my adolescence.

Now nine years later, I've spent the last few weeks binge watching all seven seasons in anticipation of the Netflix revival series. It has transported me back to those formative years, from age 11 to 18, where I was immersed in the witty world that Amy Sherman-Palladino so thoughtfully created.

Each episode touched on a theme that correlated to my own life, almost in real time.

From the whip smart dialogue, to astute cultural references, and all-too-relatable mother-daughter moments, it was hard not to swoon for the small town and its quirky cast of characters.

Although our weekly cable date would now be considered an ancient tradition with Netflix reigning supreme, the delayed gratification only strengthened my allegiance to the whimsical realm of Stars Hollow.

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I watched as Rory navigated major and minor life milestones: from high school drama to first loves to college application anxiety. Each episode touched on a theme that correlated to my own life, almost in real time.

While other TV female protagonists were overdosing on spring break in Tijuana, Rory embodied traits that I recognized in myself and her goals resonated deeply with my own aspirations. She read voraciously, worked hard in school, and dreamed of attending Harvard someday with paraphernalia plastered to her wall. I loved to read and write but never fathomed a career in journalism or as a writer until Rory illuminated the path.

Ironically, Rory was ahead of her time as her own role model was none other than Hillary Rodham Clinton. In an episode that aired in the early 2000s, she wanted to write her college admissions essay on the trailblazing feminist. (I can only imagine what she would feel now in light of the recent election results).

Rory also never let herself be defined by her relationships with men.

When I was younger, I was teased for being a "goody-two-shoes," and a "teacher's pet" (hope those terms are finally extinct). Two girls used to throw rocks at me to break my concentration as I walked home from the bus with my head burrowed in a book. I preferred studying to partying and Bowie to Backstreet Boys. When you're young, anything against the grain is considered game for public teasing consumption. As you age, there is (usually) a shift as horizons broaden and world views expand.

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Right around the transition from elementary to high school, I remember realizing that I was suddenly expected to look and behave a certain way in the hopes of attracting the opposite sex. Developing earlier than most of my peers made me inexplicably self-conscious. Without consent, my identifier became based on uncontrollable changes to my appearance rather than intellect or athleticism. It's as tangible as going from playing soccer as an equal at recess to standing on the sidelines. There's an atmospheric shift. The messages that you're bombarded with during this moldable phase, particularly as a female, are confusing to understand.

Part of what helped me to circumvent these muddy waters of adolescence was asking myself WWRD? She was a multi-faceted role model that embodied various forms of femininity. Rory was this and that: witty and pretty, an opinionated fast-talker and demure debutante, career-driven and nurturing. While there is subliminal pressure as a woman to adhere to societal norms, from her I learned the invaluable lesson that identity can be dichotomous.

Rory also never let herself be defined by her relationships with men. In one episode, her boyfriend Dean gets upset that she's taking too much time away from him to prepare for her Harvard applications. She firmly stands her ground and stays in on a Friday night to study, unwavering from her goals. Sounds simple now, but in high school the peer pressure to conform and "be liked" often feels overwhelming. Rory's self-awareness and future-focused perseverance gave me the wherewithal to always keep my ambitions at the forefront.

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In a recent interview Gilmore Girls creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, reinforced that the show was always about a motivated girl and her family, not her romantic prospects. "Rory didn't spend her days thinking, "Who am I going to end up with?" Rory was much more concerned about "How do I get that interview at the New York Times?" [Her boyfriends] were there to show Rory's evolution as a character," said Sherman-Palladino.

Although Rory ended up graduating from Yale (there's an expiry date on spoilers' from the first installment, right?) -- last year, after having paraphernalia plastered to my own wall, I received my master's degree from Harvard University.

Following a few twists and turns, I am finally doing what I have always dreamed of but never thought I could do: finishing my first book. Without giving away any big secrets from the revival series, it gave me great comfort to see that Rory's path also hasn't been linear.

Over a decade after the first episode aired, I am forever indebted to the fictional character and imagined town that inspired my first feminist role model and instilled the confidence to fearlessly pursue my authentic self.

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