Sex, Consent, and Gilmore Girls: A Closer Look at Rory’s Boyfriends

Rory with her three boyfriends. Screenshot from Gilmore Girls by Warner Bros.
Rory with her three boyfriends. Screen captures from Gilmore Girls by Warner Bros.

In just a few days, Gilmore Girls, A Year in the Life will hit Netflix for viewers everywhere. In typical Netflix fashion, the show revival picks up the story after ten years off air. Over the last year, it has proven to be the most highly anticipated revival Netflix has done to date.

One of the biggest buzzes around the show revival is who Rory Gilmore will end up with. Show creator Amy Sherman-Palladino points out that Rory is an independent woman, and her three main boyfriends were largely plot devices to help explore and grow Rory’s life. Yet, the debate rages on; people are Team Dean, Team Jess, or Team Logan. I have to admit, I have an opinion on the matter, one that differs from most people’s thoughts and it centers around one thing: consent.

My choice is often not a popular one, which is fine by me. But it got me thinking: why do I feel so strongly against the popular views, when I understand why the popular views are as they are. Even when other people agree with me, it is for different reasons. In order to figure this out, I re-watched the seven seasons not once, not twice, but three times in the last year, until I was able to catch the difference. Let me explain.

Emily, Lorelai, and Rory Gilmore in Gilmore Girls, A Year in the Life. Image (c) copyright Robert Voets/Netflix
Emily, Lorelai, and Rory Gilmore in Gilmore Girls, A Year in the Life.
Image (c) copyright Robert Voets/Netflix

Gilmore Girls is a story about three generations of strong women, each of whom makes their own decisions despite what is expected of them, and each of whom struggles in their own ways with their privilege. Each woman has a strong personality that is at times in direct conflict with her surroundings. The youngest, Rory, grows into her personality both because of and despite her surroundings. Unlike her mother and her grandmother, Rory had a wide range of growth to go through, as we meet her at the young age of sixteen. Each of her boyfriends helped her along the way.

Each of her main three boyfriends—nice guy Dean, bad boy Jess, and privileged Logan—provides something from their surroundings/trappings to Rory that she needs to become the woman she eventually will be. The right boyfriend for her at the right time. It is these trappings which most viewers seem to relate to, for better or for worse.

Dean plans the perfect night for Rory, ending at the car he is building for her.
Dean plans the perfect night for Rory, ending at the car he is building for her. Screen capture from Gilmore Girls by Warner Bros.

Dean is a perfect first boyfriend for a small town girl who has yet to understand the privilege she lives in. He comes from a stable family, with a working father and a mother who cooks meals for him. He is the nice guy most middle American families try for. This is especially true in the early years before he cheats on his wife, Lindsay, with Rory.

Jess reveals to Rory that he is more than just a bad boy with notes in the margin of a book. Screenshot from Gilmore Girls by Warner Bros.
Jess reveals to Rory that he is more than just a bad boy with a book. Screen capture from Gilmore Girls by Warner Bros.

Jess, on the other hand, is the smart bad boy with a heart of gold. Sent to his uncle when his mom could not handle him, Jess didn’t have a village raising him and making him believe he can do anything. Despite his love of books, and his amazing intellect, Jess always seems to get the wrong end of the deal. When Jess seems to make good on his life later, he becomes a favorite among many fans.

Logan talks with Rory at a Yale party. Screen capture from Gilmore Girls by Warner Bros.
Logan talks with Rory at a Yale party. Screen capture from Gilmore Girls by Warner Bros.

Logan, on the other hand, represents everything Lorelai took Rory away from, and then some. His family is not just rich: his family is within the top 1% of the top 1%. He can get away with anything, and often does. Few people feel empathy for Logan as he is pushed down the single path his father has for him, with most thinking they would love to be in his spot or resenting him for what he gets away with.

Based on this, Team Dean people are often Team Dean “the early years”; Team Jess people are quick to point out how Jess turned his life around, and Team Logan people are drawn to the grand romantic gestures Logan can afford that the other two cannot.

Yet, when I watch and re-watch the show, it strikes me that these trappings are just that, trappings, there to give Rory what she needs to explore her world. In a show that is known for its fast dialogue and unique speaking style that can make everyone seem the same, each of these boys has a unique personality that has nothing to do with these trappings or the unique style of the show, and everything to do with their relationships with other people, and, specifically, Rory.

Each boyfriend loves Rory, likely loves Rory more than she loves him. And each displays this in a unique way to him and consistent manner. Only one of them shows her love in a way that sets her free, always asking for her consent and never expecting her to be more to him than she is to herself. This can be seen in the first six seasons, with the seventh, after creator Amy Sherman-Palladino left the show, allowing all the characters to be more defined by their trappings than their inner compass.

To see if you agree with me, I invite you to stop reading this now, and watch through the first six seasons on Netflix, looking specifically at which Rory’s boyfriends is always willing to be there for her but never trying to force her into something she doesn’t actually want for herself. In short, which boyfriend understands consent? Then come back here, and finish reading this article, and you can let me know if you disagree with me.

Why does consent matter so much to me, even when I was otherwise caught up in the trappings? I was in fifth grade when I kicked a boy in the balls when he would not leave me alone. No one else was around at the time, and I never got in trouble for it, so I am guessing he never told anyone. Regardless, to me, consent matters, and it seems like consent should matter to everyone.

Okay, back to the boys of Gilmore Girls. As I said before, each of Rory’s boyfriends was amazingly consistent through the first six seasons in their attitudes towards her, yet with each, I can point out two cases which both perfectly show how each loved Rory in his unique way.

Screen capture from Gilmore Girls by Warner Bros.
Left: Dean tells Rory he loves her. When she doesn’t immediately tell him she loves him, he breaks up with her. Right: Rory and Dean get into a fight over the role model the Donna Reed Show. To fix things between them, Rory steps into the role of Donna Reed for one day. Screen captures from Gilmore Girls by Warner Bros.

Dean loved Rory and recognized that to have her would mean treating her well. Yet, he is a product of the American dream and the nuclear family. He had expectations for his life which Rory, a daughter of an independent single mother, was never going to meet. Dean’s struggle was always one between loving Rory for who she was and then wanting her to fit into an ideal he had before he knew her. This resulted in a series of attempts to make her fit into his fantasy, then (often public) rejections of her when she failed to do so, all while shifting the blame for the failure on her.

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Left: When Jess wants to have sex with Rory, Rory has to tell him “wait” repeatedly, and then push him off. Right: After Jess walked out of Rory’s life without a goodbye, he shows up at Yale, and tells her to leave Yale behind to come live with him in New York. Screen captures from Gilmore Girls by Warner Bros.

Jess, on the other hand, wants Rory totally and completely. He has no fantasy on what this would be like, instead he goes with brute force. He simply wanted her, as one would want an object. When he sees her do something he thinks is out of character for her, he will call her on it, not because he wants her to be true to herself, but because he wants her to stay who he wants to have. When she refuses to be his object and to go where he wants to go, he simply vanishes, time and again.

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Left: After Logan and Rory break up, Logan works to win her back, but waits until she kisses him to try to kiss her. Right: After Logan’s father crushes Rory’s dreams, Logan is ready to have it out with his father, but doesn’t when Rory requests he avoids a fight. Screen captures from Gilmore Girls by Warner Bros.

Logan is drawn to Rory because she is a strong independent woman, and is willing to support what she needs when she needs it. Similarly, he wants to make his own choices and lives his life even as he does everything he can to give Rory what she wants. He asks her if she is sure several times in the process of getting together. After they break up, and he is working to get her back, he does many things to win her back, but never something she has asked him not to. Further, he waits for her to be ready to go out with her, or even to hug her. Like Dean and Jess, Logan is madly in love with Rory. Unlike the first two, Logan is willing to love Rory on her terms.

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Left: While Logan respects Rory’s request for space, she is asking for it after finding out he slept with at least three women while they were apart. Right: Logan enjoys a beer while his best friend describe the benefits of sleeping with a woman who has had one too many drinks. Screen Captures from Gilmore Girls by Warner Bros.

This is not to say Logan is perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. He slept with a bridal shower’s worth of women when he thought they were broken up. He drank too much, and let his own problems have a negative influence on Rory (on the whole, Rory’s problems never negatively impacted Logan). Additionally, he did not call others on behavior that did not include consent. That said, of the three boyfriends, Logan was the one I most liked, because he showed others how to ask for consent from a girl/woman. And that is something we still rarely see in a show.

Rory
Rory in full career mode in the upcoming Gilmore Girl’s preview. Screen capture from Gilmore Girls, A Year in the Life by Netflix.

What team am I? I am Team Rory, believing she does not need to be defined by a boy. She is, after all, a person in her own right. Gilmore Girls, A Year in the Life hits Netflix this Friday, Nov 25th, once again written by Amy Sherman-Palladino. I am looking forward to seeing if each of Rory’s past boyfriends holds true to their past characters, or if they have perhaps grown, as well as catching up with the lives of the Gilmore Girls.

Rory with her three boyfriends. Screenshot from Gilmore Girls by Warner Bros.
Left: Dean tells Rory he has left his wife right before they have sex. He hadn’t. Center: Jess, right before Rory pushes him away when he ignores her “wait” to sex. Right: Logan asks Rory twice if she wants him to leave and waits for her answer before he has sex with her for the first time. Only one of Rory’s boyfriends was upfront with her and respected consent when the topic of sex came up. Screenshot from Gilmore Girls by Warner Bros.

Did you watch seasons one through six with consent in mind? Do you agree with me, or think I am missing something? Or is this just a case where different people come at a story from different places? Let me know in the comments below.

Note: Amy Sherman-Palladino kept an iron hold on the different characters’ development in seasons one through six. Season seven went on without the creator, and a close watch will show subtle deviations from the core of each character, even characters that are there primarily to support Rory in her growth. I have never liked season seven as well, which I contribute to Lorelai’s ever so subtly different personality. Upon my second viewing, I recognized the differences in the characters across the board, including Rory and Logan. Because of this, season seven is not taken into consideration for the purposes of this article.

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A programmer at heart, Claire Jennings spent the first seventeen years of her career as a software development engineer before joining the ranks of management. She spent eight years of her career in the video game industry, learning how virtual worlds are put together. Now a mother of a four-year-old daughter, she and her husband strives to help children understand how to control the technology that runs through every thread of their lives using her knowledge gained while in the video game industry.