Well, this is a bummer. One of my favorite television shows may not be breastfeeding-friendly, and some of my favorite characters even voiced the lines that heavily suggest it to be so.
Stuck in bed and on various soft surfaces last week thanks to a bout of mastitis, naturally I took to a Gilmore Girls marathon on Netflix. All was well until one of main character Lorelai’s short-lived suitors mentioned how “We’re all nourished by our mothers” and she quickly shut it down with a retort that went something like “Don’t gross me out.”
So, me sitting there, breastfeeding advocate and all… awwwkwaaard. Now now, perhaps just more of the same witty banter that’s characteristic of the show’s underlining sarcasm. I thought Gilmore Girls had always been fun without going too far and getting mean-spirited…
But then I saw the opening segment of another episode, Season 3’s “Eight O’Clock at the Oasis.”
Diner owner Luke is known for being crochety, but it’s mostly feigned in response to his gal pal Lorelei’s childish quips. Here he shows an immature, inconsiderate side we haven’t seen quite like this before. (To be fair, in the greater context, bachelor Luke does hate just about everything — especially baby-related activities).
So what happens in the scene? *(Watch it in full at the end of this post).*
A large family is eating at Luke’s diner. Luke complains to Lorelai and her daughter Rory about their drooly babies and J. Crew catalog appearance, and he’s peeved enough that he contemplates kicking them out. He halts when one of the mothers begins to fiddle with the buttons on her shirt.
“Is that woman doing what I think she’s doing?” Luke asks angrily.
“Well, can’t be a hundred percent sure, but…” Lorelai says, and with a glance to the woman, “oh yeah, that’s lunch!”
We can only see the woman’s back but given the commentary, we must assume she’s breastfeeding. Luke can’t let it go.
“There are people eating here! This cannot be sanitary!” […]
“When did that become acceptable? In the old days, a woman would never consider doing that in public. They’d go find a barn or a cave or something. I mean, it’s indecent; this is a diner, not a peep show.”
(Things we learned here: 1 – American small town mentality says breastfeeding is obscene. 2 – At some point, breastfeeding beyond isolation in crude surroundings was not acceptable. 3 – Breasts are primarily and always sexual).
“I can’t just stand here and let the lactating continue,” Luke says, nervously wringing his hands.
Rory says “Gross!” and Luke continues “I’m not the one exposing myself for the entire world to see!”
“You go make her stop,” Luke orders Lorelai after his failed attempt to confront the nursing woman.
“I’m not going over there.”
“Why not! You’re a woman.”
“So you have the same parts!”
“So you shouldn’t be scared of it.”
Lorelai doesn’t enable Luke’s personal crisis with much of a response besides a comedic comeback about his inevitable permanency in bachelorhood.
“I am being taken advantage of here, and I do not like being taken advantage of, I hate this!” Luke scowls. (In other words… ‘It’s all about me’).
The scene concludes with Luke’s teenage nephew entering the dining room, presumably catching a glimpse of the woman and her horribly offending fully-sweatered back (he must have special extrasensory powers to know she was nursing), threw a hand over his face and exclaimed “Oh jeez!” in disgust before retreating out of sight.
Though I thought Lorelai handled the situation to the best of her ability, what I took away from the scene is that it’s not that important to have a conversation with our daughters about breastfeeding (unless the writer hoped to offer this as a launching pad for such a discussion).
Luke set the key example for sixteen-year-old Rory, one Lorelai laughed away like his rant could be valid and he had a point — as a man, especially a known pessimist, as if these qualities owe him a pass.
She gives Luke a hard time about his amusingly brewing panic, but she doesn’t attempt to stop him from walking over to the mother and harassing her with a piece of his little mind, as he intended. In other words: Woman shaming isn’t a big deal. In fact, it’s funny. The effect of a woman’s behavior on a fearful man is more noteworthy than the effect of his attitude on those around him, regardless how oppressive.
Still, Lorelai gets points for remaining calm, poised, and seemingly preferring to mind her own business.
And I can’t blame the imaginary characters for this scene reminiscent of early millenium public breastfeeding sentiments, nor the actors for reciting their lines. Playwright Justin Tanner wrote this particular episode. Was he merely poking fun of the stereotypically uncomfortable reaction many men do have at the thought or sight of breastfeeding? Perhaps just a wink at its ludicrousness instead of agreement with it?
Apparently in later seasons, other characters breastfeed and it’s presented as the customary infant feeding method: supporting character Sookie breastfeeds her babies, as does Luke’s sister. Rory’s bestie Lane also ends up with a breast pump for her twins. If the show is sprinkled with this many mentions of breastfeeding, is it really as anti-mother as it appears on the face of the “Eight O’Clock at the Oasis” segment? Or is this just a sneaky way for the creators to enter breastfeeding into the cultural conversation, even if they felt it must come packaged in the unsympathetic views of that era’s media? A way to subtly show how people can really make a whole big deal over this whole lot of nothing?
In 2002 when it originally aired, breastfeeding was still in its fledgling days of breathing as comparatively freely in the open as today. I can only hope if this topic is included again in the Gilmore Girls reunion series (slated for later this year) that it reflects the current softening perspectives.
Perhaps instead, a scene of Luke getting riled up about a customer hassling Lorelai for nursing one of their babies in public? (Come on, they’ve gotta have babies together, right?!). Or to keep things positive, featuring breastfeeding without a lick of snark.
Watch the whole segment here: