This article talks about all seasons of the Gilmore Girls and Jane the Virgin. Do not read on if you aren’t up to date, unless you don’t mind spoilers. You have been warned.
[Reading time: 3 mins 30 seconds]
The precocious little girl who grew up wanting to be a writer. The mum who got pregnant too young. The tenacious grandmother who loves her granddaughter wholeheartedly. The young woman who grew up without her biological father, forging a codependent relationship with her mum and a deep respect for her strong grandmother. The responsible young woman who made a conscious choice to build a career before getting pregnant. To make a better life for herself. Rory Gilmore. Jane Villanueva. And, okay, okay… me. You can see how I formed a binge-viewing attachment to Rory and Jane now, right?
In the eighteen years since the Gilmore Girls pilot aired, we have fought like a girl when it comes to gender equality – and we’re winning. This progress is most tangible when you settle in to watch an old favourite (Friends, Gilmore Girls, How I Met Your Mother) and cringe at the open sexism and sexual harassment, homophobia, fat-shaming and lack of diversity.
Which brings us to the daughter-mother-grandmother bond you should be watching in 2018: Jane the Virgin. Let’s enjoy the opening scene of this delightfully over-the-top telenovela.
A twinkly-eyed narrator introduces our heroine, ten year old Jane Gloriana Villanueva. In her hands is a beautiful white flower, which her abuela (grandmother) instructs her – in subtitled Spanish – to crumple up. The now shrivelled brown flower is a metaphor for Jane’s virginity. Once it’s gone, Alba says ominously, ‘you can never go back.’
Watching from the sidelines is mum Xiomara, who got pregnant with Jane at 16. It would be so easy for the show to go down the route of creating a one-dimensional ‘slutty Xiomara’ versus ‘pure Jane’. Credit to the writers: they don’t.
Yes, Jane is a Catholic who respects and loves her abuela. And yes, Jane is a twenty-something who has a boyfriend and sexual desires. She is a three-dimensional character with complex emotions and choices to make. Jane chooses to remain a virgin until she is married and holds out for a man who respects that.
The pilot leads us straight into the plot as only this show can, as Jane – still a virgin, remember – is accidentally artificially inseminated with the sperm of her boss. Got that? Another complex choice. To go ahead with the pregnancy or terminate? Catholicism plays a big part in Jane’s moral compass, but it isn’t her only influence. ‘Would you have had me?’ she asks her mum. ‘I’m glad I had you,’ Xiomara says. ‘That’s not what I asked.’ ‘I know.’
Jane has a timeline for her career, whether she chooses the practical (‘teacher’) or brave (‘writer’) option. She doesn’t want to mirror her mum, getting pregnant too young. ‘I derailed her life,’ she acknowledges. ‘I don’t want my kid to feel like that, ever.’ Jane always has a choice, and her mum supports her to take her own direction, giving her abortion pills, because ‘having a choice helps, whatever you decide.’
Just like Xiomara, Lorelei Gilmore wants a different life for her daughter. But whereas Xiomara gifts Jane choice, Lorelei wants Rory to ‘do all the things that I never got to do.’ She fills their house with books, TV, film and music, so that her likes become Rory’s too.
Just like Jane, Rory consciously doesn’t want to ‘mess up her life’ by having casual sex. But whereas Jane can openly express her sexuality, it is a source of shame for Rory. As a teenager, she loses her virginity to a married man, and the one-night-stand she has at 32 years old – twice the age Lorelei got pregnant at – is traumatic for her. She confides in the only person she can: her mum.
From childhood to adulthood, Rory remains a mirror of her mother. Even her name (short for Lorelei) tells us that they have an unhealthy codependency. It is almost impossible for Rory to create a life that is truly her own, even at college, because the two cannot exist without each other. While Rory avoids seeing it, Lorelai knows they share one identity. As early as the pilot episode, Lorelei says ‘after all, you’re me’. ‘I’m not you,’ Rory responds uselessly.
At the end of season seven, we leave Rory jetting off to join Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. But the final season, which aired in 2016, closes the loop for Rory Gilmore. Living away from her mother she is flailing, lacking in common sense and – to be blunt – not a good person. Unlike Jane, she has no moral compass. Unlike Jane, she lacks the autonomy to make good choices. Drowning further in the very identity crisis that characterises her, she starts to write ‘the Gilmore Girls’.
Jane makes her choice consciously. She goes ahead with her pregnancy, despite, and not because, it is the same choice her mum made. In contrast to Jane the Virgin’s opening episode, Rory’s unplanned pregnancy closes out the whole show. We are left to imagine Rory sleepwalking through any consideration of abortion, her rudderless future, repeating Lorelei’s experience of raising a codependent child, with no father in the picture.
Throughout the series, Jane grows as a person and as a writer. We see her flourish as an ambitious working mother, grappling with all the complexity and difficulty that motherhood, adulthood and womanhood bring. This is feminist television at its best right now. I can’t wait to see the ways Jane the Virgin will feel archaic in 2038. Bring on the TV revolution of the next twenty years.