Lap Dance, Ping-Pong Ball

MICHEL: Well, you’ve tried to convince them of your virtue, perhaps it’s time to offer them a lap dance … You know in Thailand, women do this trick with a Ping-Pong ball that is a big crowd pleaser.

Lap dance: An erotic dance performed at strip clubs where the dancer, who may be nude or topless, has body contact with a seated client, grinding in his lap. They have been around since the 1970s, and are legal in Connecticut – apparently Hartford is known in some circles for being extremely relaxed and tolerant in this regard.

Ping-pong show: Michel refers to a type of entertainment performed in some strip clubs, where women use their pelvic floor muscles to expel objects from their vagina. Although a variety of objects can be used, ping-pong balls are the iconic choice. They are common in Thailand, where they are performed for tourists. Human rights concerns have been raised with the practice, and it has been denounced as inherently misogynistic and racist.

Nancy Drew

LOUISE: I just thought we really connected the other day in the supply closet.
MADELINE: Boys. A Nancy Drew mystery.

Nancy Drew, previously discussed, the heroine of an extremely popular and long-running series of mystery novels aimed at a young female readership.

Nancy Drew was a strong, independent super-girl who was rich, attractive, and multi-talented; perfectly groomed, she remained cool in a crisis, and was sweet and wholesome. She understood psychology, spoke French, painted pictures, was a skilled driver and horsewoman, and capable of running a motorboat. She could shoot, swim, row, was brilliant at golf and tennis, a gourmet cook, expert seamstress, good dancer, and naturally knew first aid.

A cultural icon, Nancy Drew has inspired of generations of girls and women, with Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Walters, Laura Bush, and Barbra Streisand among many who quote her as an early influence.

Jane

While waiting for the group project meeting to start, Madeline reads Jane magazine (1997-2007). This was a women’s fashion magazine founded by Jane Pratt, aimed at the 18-34 market, and designed for those young women who had grown up with Sassy (1988-1996), a feminist magazine for teenage girls which had Pratt as the first editor. Jane’s reputation was for being witty, quirky, trashy, and occasionally thoughtful, with a readership who saw themselves as “wild and crazy” party girls.

It folded because it’s young readership were now getting more interested in digital platforms, such as Jezebel. Jane Pratt went on to found the infamous xoJane online magazine (2011-2016).

Madeline is reading the November 2001 issue with Carmen Electra and Dave Navarro on the front cover. This issue actually had a double front cover, and you can see Madeline holding up the one with Shirley Manson, P. Diddy, and Alicia Keys on it. The magazine that month had interviews with other music stars, including Jennifer Lopez, Janet Jackson, Sheryl Crow, and Tommy Lee.

The Headmaster Talks to Lorelai

Indignant that the school has dared to suggest her daughter is less than perfect, Lorelai marches into the headmaster’s office in high dudgeon to put him straight on the Gilmore Girl philosophy of not doing anything you don’t feel like.

Headmaster Charleston pulls the wind from her sails by immediately getting out her file (really? Schools keep files on parents? What kind of school is this?). The file is worryingly thin, denoting a lack of parental involvement. Lorelai has only been to one bake sale a year ago, and was observed to not stay afterwards to talk to other parents. Seriously, how does he know all this stuff? Why does he care?

Perhaps tactfully, Headmaster Charleston does not bring up the fact that Lorelai got rather too involved in the school by having a serious relationship with Rory’s teacher. That’s all forgiven and forgotten, but failing to hang out after a bake sale? That’s on your permanent record, Missy!

Now, usually when Lorelai is told to do something, she gets stroppy and calls everyone a Fascist, but this is Rory’s future, so after a few futile attempts to explain she’s too busy, she meekly leaves with a list of organisations at Chilton she might join.

Just as the school wouldn’t listen when Rory was slightly late to a test because she lives out of town and got hit by a deer, there is no attempt to understand that Lorelai is a single mother who works and studies, and is also doing about a million volunteer jobs in Stars Hollow already. Do fathers have to do any of this volunteer stuff for Chilton, or are their lives considered far too busy and worthwhile to be called upon in this way? If so, one of the more realistic things in the show!

Rory’s Coming Out

Rory’s debutante ball is presented as a counterpart to the school dance she attended with Dean in the previous season. Nine months have gone by, and Rory’s world has widened. Last year, she took hesitant steps towards taking part in Chilton’s social life, this time she is given an entree into Hartford society. In both cases, it was Emily who persuaded her to make an effort and attend – Lorelai may have seen Emily as a stifling influence, but she’s only too keen for Rory to broaden her horizons.

As a key part of making her debut, Rory walks down the stairs with Christopher while Dean waits at the bottom. Christopher kisses his daughter’s hand as Rory curtsies, then leaves her to Dean, who walks her down the aisle. This is a ceremony which some debutante balls still follow, particularly in the American South. It’s overtly nuptial, with the father symbolically “giving away” his daughter to her escort before they walk down the aisle together. (There’s even a white wedding cake!). After all his moaning, Dean looks absolutely overjoyed to be presented with a bridal Rory in a white dress being handed to him.

Lorelai thought debutante balls were creepy and sexist, because they involve displaying yourself to men with the hope they’ll marry you, even though that isn’t what actually happens, and hasn’t happened for about seventy years. Yet here Rory is, getting symbolically married while her father gives her away like she’s his property, and Lorelai’s just happy Christopher is involved, and she doesn’t even bother to mock it, let alone point out how deeply patriarchal it is.

“Hi, I’m Rory”

LORELAI: Rory, do you know what a coming out party says?
RORY: It says I’m a woman now.
LORELAI: No. It says, ‘Hi, I’m Rory. I’m of good breeding and marriageable age, and I will now parade around in front of young men of similarly good breeding and marriageable age so they can all take a good long look at me.’

Originally, becoming a debutante was a marker that a young woman was old enough to be married, and part of their purpose was to display her to a select circle of eligible bachelors, with the hope that one of them might marry her.

These days, few expect a teenager to get married – as Rory says, they are usually seen as a celebration that a girl has reached a certain level of maturity, and provide a chance to show off her appearance, style, and accomplishments. (Emily does love to show Rory off, and is given few chances to).

Lorelai is being a bit old-fashioned in her views, although she’s not exactly wrong either, as social events such as a debutante ball do give opportunities to meet people of a similar age and background, which might one day lead to something more. Of course, that could happen at any social function. It’s not as if girls are kept hidden away from the world until they make their debut any more.

Lorelai’s ideas would have been forward-thinking in, say, 1930, but seem a bit quaint for 2001. Her feminism always seems to be a generation or two behind the times.

Dean and Rory’s Argument

Dean might have kept his mouth shut in front of Lorelai, but now he and Rory are alone they end up arguing about The Donna Reed Show. He basically can’t see anything wrong with a woman cooking dinner for her husband and family, and points out that’s exactly what his mother did for years, and now that she works, she still does it on the weekends.

Their different family backgrounds have helped shape their differing values, and Rory cannot really find a way to respect Dean’s experiences and views without feeling that she is betraying Lorelai, and the way she was raised. In fact, she sounds as if she’s beginning to have doubts about whether Lorelai is completely in the right.

Her argument that it’s okay for Dean’s mother to cook if she wants to because women have choices now doesn’t really make sense. If women (like Mrs. Forester) are free to do as they wish now, then why is Rory getting upset about how things were in a previous era? Why is it even an issue? And how exactly does it affect her?

Rory’s read books on feminism, but isn’t able to explain her feminist ideals to Dean. Perhaps she’s afraid that if she did so, the difference in their opinions and values would become too starkly obvious. Or maybe she wonders if Simone de Beauvoir can really help in this situation.

When Dean says that Rory only thinks the way she does because of her mother, it raises the question, yet again, as to whether Rory even has an identity of her own apart from Lorelai. Perhaps because of this comment, she doesn’t confide in Lorelai as to what’s bothering her, or what she plans to do.

The Donna Reed Show

This is the television program that Lorelai and Rory watch with Dean, and is the basis for the episode’s title.

The Donna Reed Show is a sit-com starring Donna Reed as middle-class housewife Donna Stone. Carl Betz played opposite her as Donna’s paediatrician husband Alex, and Shelley Fabares and Paul Petersen were their teenaged children, Mary and Jeff.

Although Lorelai and Rory consider the show hopelessly outdated and sexist, episodes occasionally examined issues such as women’s rights (not with any radical outcomes, it must be said). But Donna Stone was a more assertive mother than had previously been shown on television, and it was the first sitcom to focus on the mother as the central figure in a domestic comedy. It helped pave the way for shows such as Roseanne and even Gilmore Girls (both shows that Amy Sherman-Palladino worked on).

The Donna Reed Show was attacked by feminists in the 1970s as presenting an idealised view of domesticity, so Rory and Lorelai’s criticisms feel really behind the times. It’s strange that they are giving feminist opinions from a generation ago as if they are clever and new – maybe they really do watch too many old movies?

The Donna Reed Show originally aired from 1958-1966, and was one of the most popular programs of 1963-64. It was only cancelled when Donna Reed became tired of doing the show.

Reruns of The Donna Reed Show were shown on Nick at Nite from 1985 to 1994. It wasn’t on TV in 2001, and hadn’t yet been released on DVD, meaning that the only way Lorelai and Rory can be watching the show is because they taped it off TV ages ago and are still watching it on video at least seven years later. Despite their mocking of the show, they must really be huge fans! (Again, how a show that hadn’t been on TV in nearly a decade is a relevant target for their attacks is a puzzle).

“Run with the wolves”

SOOKIE: But I mentioned it once, it’s his [Jackson’s] turn.
LORELAI: Alright, let’s say it is his turn. You can spend a lot of time sitting around waiting for him to realise it’s his turn, or you can just run with the wolves and make it your turn again.

Lorelai is referring to the 1992 best-seller Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Jungian analyst, author, and poet Clarissa Pinkola Estés. The book analyses myths, fairy tales, and folk tales from different cultures to discover the Wild Woman archetype of the feminine psyche, in line with Jungian psychoanalysis.

The book spent three years on the New York Times Best Seller list, a record at the time, and the author won an award for being the first Latina author to make the Best Seller List. It was a highly popular feminist book of the 1990s, so Lorelai is encouraging Sookie to take the initiative and ask Jackson out without worrying about traditional gender roles.

Cosmo Woman

NURSE: Ms. Gilmore, uh, I need you to –
EMILY: It’s not “Ms. Gilmore”, it’s Mrs. Gilmore! Mrs. Gilmore, I’m not a Cosmo Woman!

Emily is referring to Helen Gurley Brown (1922-2012), who became editor of Cosmpolitan magazine in 1965 after the success of her best-selling 1962 advice book Sex and the Single Girl. She championed glamorous, fashionable, and sexually liberated women, who became known as “Cosmo Girls”.

It’s possible that Emily, in her state of distress, has somehow confused Helen Gurley Brown and feminist Gloria Steinem (born 1934) – Steinem became the editor of Ms. magazine in 1972, which featured Wonder Woman on its first cover.

Emily would have been a wife, and then a mother, at the time of the rise of Gurley Brown and Steinem – very proud to be “Mrs. Richard Gilmore”, and the opposite of the independent career woman in Cosmpolitan, and of the woman speaking out against the restrictions of marriage and family in Ms.

I’m not sure whether she says “Cosmo Woman” via mixing up Cosmo Girl and Wonder Woman from Ms. Magazine, or whether she simply can’t bear to refer to herself as a “girl” when she’s a mature-aged woman.