Women's history month is often a time to celebrate iconic women of the past. I'm celebrating this month by honoring one of my favorite pioneering women of the present: Amy Sherman-Palladino, the creator of Gilmore Girls who is back at it again with a new sitcom, The Return of Jezebel James, which premieres on FOX Friday night. Gilmore Girls was a long-running hit show that appealed to women of all ages. Will this new show be able to live up to the legacy that Gilmore Girls left behind?
I fell in love with Gilmore Girls when I flipped the channel and saw Rory Gilmore in her dorm room with a Planned Parenthood "Stop the War on the Choice!" poster on the wall behind her. As a reproductive rights activist, I felt an instant connection on two levels: I carried that very same poster at the March for Women's Lives reproductive rights demonstration in spring 2004. It was also the first time I had ever seen a pro-choice, political message adorning a prime time character's wall. From that moment, I was hooked.
As I watch previews for The Return of Jezebel James, I am equally struck by a fascination in the premise of the show: a successful children's book editor (played by Parker Posey) who, unable to have children, asks her estranged younger sister (Lauren Ambrose from Six Feet Under) to carry her baby. I expect that the cultural politics of pregnancy, surrogacy, and motherhood will intersect with witty dialogue, humorous situations, and great entertainment. At the very least, the show appears to have two interesting lead female characters, which is so rare to find in primetime television these days.
I was drawn to Gilmore Girls for the way it portrayed and celebrated strong and intelligent women and progressive values. At its core, the show explored the joys and tensions of women balancing careers, commitment to family, and personal relationships. In subtle and overt ways, the show embodied feminism with a hip, funny twist.
There's Lorelai Gilmore, a single mother who achieves her dream of becoming a business owner and entrepreneur. And there's her whip-smart daughter, Rory, a straight-A student and aspiring journalist who studies at Yale University. Emily Gilmore, Rory's grandmother, is an imposing matriarch of the family and a leader in her own right in her high-society community. There are also Rory's best friends: Lane Kim, who rebels against her sheltered upbringing to be in a rock band, and Paris Gellar, who competitively drives towards her goal of becoming a lawyer or a doctor.
Due to the lack of feminist characters on television, it was so refreshing to watch a show featuring women who work to their fullest potential without settling for anything less than they deserve or want. In the final season, fans had the honor of watching Rory prepare for graduation from college. We saw her try on business suits, network and make contacts, set up informational interviews, apply for jobs, and deal with the reality of transitioning into the world of work. I can't think of any other show that would highlight this process of a young woman entering her career in such an honest and empowering way. This narrative was helpful in considering my own career development, and I imagine it inspired many others to advance their professional pursuits.
The show's feminist bent was undoubtedly the result of long-time writer and producer, Amy Sherman-Palladino, and the fantastic female directors it hosted over the seasons. According to a recent Ms. magazine article, only 35% of television writers are women, with the number falling to 31% for writers of television sitcoms. If more women writers were represented in the industry, perhaps I would see the kinds of issues I care about in popular entertainment.
Despite the close of Gilmore Girls last spring, I look forward to Sherman-Palladino's new sitcom and her continuing vision as a brilliant woman in television. I anticipate that The Return of Jezebel James will introduce fresh, new female role models on the small screen, but we'll have to tune in to find out.