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Posts Tagged ‘media’

Gilmore Girls seems to have a reputation for being in a certain demographic. A very female demographic. Which is particuarly interesting because, according to Wikipedia, for its first four seasons (which I would argue are its strongest), it ranked first in the 18-25 demographic for women and second in the 18-25 demographic for men. Meaning, people really liked it regardless of gender.

That being said, one of my male friends was embarrassed to admit he’d watched and enjoyed the show. Another one scoffed at the idea of watching it because it has “girls” in the title, so it obviously wasn’t for him. I think maybe it has an (undeserved) reputation for being like a Lifetime movie, something that would only appeal to women (and yes, there are all kinds of problems with that statement).

Of course, this tension is not universal. There is also the guy I was dating last year who was watching through the series and would tell me his thoughts on the episodes. And the popular two-guy podcast Gilmore Guys, hosted by one guy who loves the show and one guy who had never seen it before.

I started watching Gilmore Girls for the first time several years after it had concluded, when I was in the process of getting a divorce. I loved it at that time, and will probably always love it, because the show centers around Lorelai Gilmore, a (off-and-on) single woman in her 30s (she’s 32 when the show starts and 39 when it ends) who is not mostly defined by her relationships with men. She is smart, she is stylish (sometimes), she is assertive, she is ambitious, she is very good at her job and eventually becomes a successful entrepreneur, and her most important relationship throughout the seven years of the show is not a romantic one with a man (although she has those too!) but with her daughter. And as a smart woman in my 30s who didn’t want to define myself primarily by my relationship to men, I found watching stories of this fictional woman’s life vastly reassuring.

But as I continued watching, I came to realize Gilmore Girls is more than just a reassuring reflection for me. It’s really funny! (In an absurd way, which is my favorite.) It’s a smart, witty, show with a fast pace, a quirky style, and tons of pop culture references. It brings its characters and its setting of the idealized but bizarre small town of Stars Hollow (which is a character in and of itself) into vivid being. And it happens to center around the lives of a mother and daughter.

gilmore girls still

Yesterday, I read Penelope Trunk saying, “Men don’t need to see themselves reflected back to themselves in a relationship. They need to see themselves reflected back as some sort of hero. Women want to see themselves reflected back as being competent in relationships.” She goes on to say this because most women want kids, and it won’t be relatable for them to watch other women putting a career before family.

One of the reasons I love Gilmore Girls is because, while what Ms. Trunk says may or may not be true on a wider scale (and if it is true, it’s because of what our society raises women to value, so if our pop culture changed, this truth would most likely change as well), I know that I personally love seeing myself reflected back as some sort of hero. Who wouldn’t like that? Why can’t I be a hero and care about my relationships all at the same time? And it is a joy to watch a female character in her 30s be so competent, successful at business, and with a full and fulfilling life.

Also, it’s great to see other people, including women, who aren’t super competent at relationships (which Lorelai patently is not). Not only does that provide much-needed drama to sustain a longer-running television series, but come on! Relationships are difficult. None of us is perfect at them. And it’s affirming to see that lack of perfection reflected back in our media. In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown says that feeling like we’re not alone and that our personal experience is relatable and not unique to us is very important for shame resilience. Which is one reason why what the media portrays (and does not portray) is so critical.

Ultimately I’d like to see all kinds of characters reflected as heroes in media: female and male and non-binary genders, white people and people of color, young people and old people, straight and gay and bi people, people who are the same as me and people who are different from me. I want to see people being great at relationships and I want to see people who are messing up at relationships. I want to see warm family connections and I want to see troubled ones. I don’t really want to see absolute perfection because flaws are what make characters–and more generally human beings–interesting and three-dimensional and who they really are.

So dislike Gilmore Girls all you want, but dislike it because of its flaws as a show: the mess of seasons six and seven, the way it’s depressing to watch Rory descend into the dystopia her mother had escaped a generation before, the inconsistencies of the world, the way it deals with economic and class privilege. Dislike it because you don’t like watching dysfunctional family relationships or because it’s not a show centered around mysteries or action or whatever genres really engage you.

But don’t dislike it because it’s a show for women. It’s not, no more than Sherlock or Star Trek are shows for men (to mention two other shows I really like).

It’s a show for everyone.

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Around my birthday, I received a request to write on the blog about my thoughts on aging. It’s a fabulous topic but oh so loaded, so I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about what to say.

I could spend the next five hundred words dancing around the topic, and we all might be a little more comfortable if that’s what I did (I certainly would), but here’s the truth. My views on aging are inescapably tied to my own present experience, and my own present experience is as a woman of a certain age, and a single woman, no less. And what society and the media tells me about women like me is not palatable. I have to expend a certain amount of energy rejecting the negative messages I’m receiving, and even so, I sometimes internalize them by accident.

This is not pretty, but it is reality.

Like it or not, we live in a society that places a very high value on youth and on physical appearance. Women in particular receive constant messages from a very young age that their primary value comes from their appearances, appearances that will inevitably, because of our cultural beauty standard, fade with age. Aging, then, forces us to redefine our own value and place in the world. Women are also more likely to be defined in media by their relationships to others. By a certain age, if they’re in the movies at all, they’re most often somebody’s mother or somebody’s wife, and beyond these roles, they aren’t very fleshed out. (Television seems to do a bit better, which is why I adore Gilmore Girls, for example, in which the main character Lorelai, in spite of being a mother, consistently defines herself.)

So there are some obvious problems here, and earlier this year, I began to feel a new uneasiness about my age. I heard a comment about how it’s all downhill for a woman after 30, and I was unable to deflect. So instead I felt anxious and self-conscious about my age, and then I hit a mini-crisis point. A new acquaintance asked me point-blank how old I was, and my knee jerk response was to refuse to answer. That had never been who I was–I’ve never had any problem telling someone how old I am–but in that moment, I saw that it could become who I was, that I had begun to buy into the absurdity of belittling myself because of my age.

I had reached a crossroads, and after some reflection, I realized that no, this was not okay. We have to embrace who we are–ALL of who we are–and our ages are a part of that. There is nothing to be ashamed of there, whatever society may tell us, and if the question is framed in such a way as to create that shame, that’s on the other person. If my answer causes disappointment or judgment, well, that’s not a person who is going to enrich my life in any case.

And I told the acquaintance my age without apology.

When I contemplated which candles to buy for my “Come as You Aren’t” party, I decided to buy 5 and 0 because if I was coming as I wasn’t, I wanted to come older than I am. I wanted to say, my life would be just as awesome the way it is if I were 50. My age does not matter. My life is defined by myself and by the priorities I have carefully chosen. Not by my appearance. Not by my relationships to others. By me.

You know what I'm not thinking here? "Do I look old?" Nah, I'm thinking, lightsabers and tiaras and this is the first time I've worn a tie, oh my!

You know what I’m not thinking here? “Do I look old?” Nah, I’m thinking, lightsabers and tiaras and this is the first time I’ve worn a tie, oh my!

And I like being who I am. I feel more attractive than I did ten years ago, and I feel more comfortable in my own skin. I have such a greater understanding of who I am. When I look in the mirror, I don’t think, “Wow, I look old.” I think, “Hey, I look happy today” or “I’m tired, I need to start going to bed earlier” or “I need to open my mouth more vertically for that belted note” or even “I like the way I look.” Heaven forbid.

We think so much about age as a physical thing, and in particular how it affects the way we look. But part of age is very much an internal thing. Sometimes I feel vastly old, and sometimes I feel bright and new. (This feeling may or may not be correlated to how much sleep I’ve been getting.) Sometimes I have the enthusiasm of a five-year-old, and other times I have the world-weariness of a sixty-five-year-old. I can be as naive as a ten-year-old and as wise as a seventy-year-old. All on the same day!

Much more important to keep in mind, then, is a commitment to openness, to change, to flexibility and resilience. Much more important to cultivate is a sense of humor. Much more important to remember is to see the beautiful parts of the world as well as the painful parts in order to keep some lightness of spirit.

Because in the end what matters is not our age but who we have chosen to be in whatever time we’ve had.

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