How Paris Geller’s Jewishness Helped Me Understand Mine
So, how Jewish is Gilmore Girls’ Paris Geller? I’d say, very.
While Gilmore Girls has a permanent home in my Netflix “Continue Watching” list and I tend to restart the series as soon as I finish it, I feel conflicted about the representation of Paris Geller, and of her Judaism.
For me, as a young adult, Paris was always the kind of Jewish girl you love to hate—she was the snobby, top-of-the-class, mean girl you could hear from 10 miles away. At the same time, I had, and have, a deep fondness for Paris and for how she could only be who she so unashamedly was.
Hmm, do you sense a little bit of internal conflict here? Why don’t we work through it together!
I was raised by secular parents, I never had access to a strong Jewish community, and even though I grew up in a fairly religiously and ethnically diverse and tolerant Florida neighborhood, I had very few Jewish friends.
When I was nine years old, we moved to the Bible Belt.
In North Carolina, I felt even more isolated. My Judaism became something that I felt I needed to hide; it separated me from, rather than brought me closer to, my new community.
With very little explicit Jewishness around me, I was left to try to understand my Jewish identity through the Jewish young women who were represented in television shows.
Whether it was the loud-mouthed Paris or the soft-spoken Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, these young Jewish women on television were shamed and made out to be “the bad guy” for being brilliant and capable, albeit anxious. I perceived this treatment as an extension of their being Jewish.
Anyone else getting a hint of internalized anti-semitism?
I either kept quiet and did everything I could to remain unnoticed; or did everything I could to fit in with my peers, faking interests so that I could keep friends. While it wasn’t Paris and the Puffs at Chilton, I definitely yearned for acceptance and struggled with the fear that once my Jewishness (i.e. the thing that made me different) was discovered, I would be unwanted.
Paris never kept quiet; she was loud, whether she was answering every question in class or letting the world know that she had sex and didn’t get into Harvard.
She definitely did not want to remain unnoticed; she wanted to be recognized for her achievements and her success, whether it was by impressing Rory’s grandfather with her project ideas for Chilton’s Business Fair or competing to give a speech at the Chilton Bicentennial.
Paris never faked interests and was never ashamed to be herself; whether she chose homework over boys, brought her craft corner and life coach, Terrance, with her to Yale, or overcame the (what I believe to be) terrifying task of voicing her opinion to her roommates.
I wanted to both be just like her—so unabashedly herself—and to also be as far removed from her as possible. Paris was high-maintenance, the Jewish neurotic reimagined in a teenage girl’s body, the girl with the forceful, obsessive, overbearing personality; the girl you watch and think, can’t she just chill?
As a young adult, I wanted to be far away from Paris, because, underneath my desire to blend in, I was Paris. I overanalyzed every interaction and every text message, I was left paralyzed in fear, sick to my stomach with anxiety, often stuck looking in the mirror, thinking, can’t I just chill?
During my first year of college, however, I took the time to revisit the series and paid close attention to Paris’ growth.
I found myself stuck between what Paris’ life coach had taught her (in Season 4, Episode 2)—to accept things because I can’t control them—and the “Operation Finish Line” metaphor (introduced in Season 7, Episode 12) of carefully planning and giving every little thing I said and did a lot of thought.
Eventually, I watched Paris accept great success (though, by her standards, she still wasn’t the best). I watched her begin a relationship when she was ready for it, not know what the hell she was doing, make a few mistakes, and have that be okay. I watched her create a space for herself to be herself. It was never only-parts-of-Paris-Geller—you got the whole package, or nothing at all.
Free from my very own “Madelines,” “Louises,” and “Tristans,” Paris helped me to accept the parts of myself that I had tried to subdue for so long. She taught me to own my Jewishness and all the ways it influenced, informed, and impacted the woman I had become. She taught me that my Jewishness only made me stronger.
I learned to love my curly, frizzy, wild, and defiant hair. I learned to love my nose, even accentuating it with a piercing.
I embraced my inner Paris and started making my own “Operation Finish Line.” Bullet lists of internship and fellowship opportunities, color-coded to-do lists with assignments and tasks, calendar countdowns to graduation, due dates for applications written in bold Sharpie in my agenda, time scheduled to edit (and edit and edit) my résumé . . .
After years and years of not knowing where I belonged, both within the Jewish community and outside of it, after years of denying and hiding an integral part of myself, Paris helped me to unapologetically take up space, to be proud of my Jewishness (however it may take shape), and to push against the societal shaming that happens when we label organized and driven young women as “neurotic” or “high-maintenance.”
As Paris says, “We’re the children of Emma Goldman and Hillary Clinton. Strong, independent.”
So, let’s be like Paris, and Emma, and Hillary—and proud of it.
How to cite this page
Lubin, Rena. "How Paris Geller’s Jewishness Helped Me Understand Mine." 13 August 2018. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 23, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/how-paris-geller-s-jewishness-helped-me-understand-mine>.