After the bizarre first season of Fuller House was released last year, I was a bit hesitant to hear that Netflix was also producing a four-episode revival of Gilmore Girls, a show I watched as a teen in the early 00’s. When it became available for viewing in late November I was careful to temper my expectations, but I still can’t deny the feelings of nostalgia that washed over me as I settled in to the familiar music of the opening sequence.
*Minor spoilers below*
Unfortunately, those warm, fuzzy feelings didn’t last long. For those of you who haven’t watched it, or maybe did but don’t quite remember, the topic of surrogacy comes up as Luke and Lorelei explore options for expanding their family. For age-related reasons, they are unlikely to become pregnant on their own, so together they visit a surrogate agency to discuss having a baby they’re not even sure they are ready for, let alone want.
First of all, no one just casually pursues surrogacy. It is a long, arduous process that comes with enormous emotional, financial, and legal risks. But, that is the least problematic issue here.
The following scenes are actual quotes:
Luke: [Looking through binders containing photos of women] “So, what are we looking at here?”
Lorelei: “Potential surrogates.”
Luke: “Surrogates, yes. And these surrogates will…?”
Lorelei: “Carry the baby.”
Luke: “I’m confused, am I supposed to have sex with these women? Because I do not want to have sex with her.”
Paris [Surrogate agency founder]: “Do you know how this works?”
Lorelei: “Uh, we look through there and pick?”
Paris: “Give me that. [Those are] Bargain basement breeders. I’m not letting any of those bottle-service bimbos carry your baby. No, for you I pull out the prime meat.”
Paris: “Okay, so here’s a sampling of what we’ve got: Blondes, brunettes, and redheads. Tall, short, athletic, artsy. We’ve even got ’em with a little extra junk in the trunk, if you secretly like them that way, Luke.”
Luke: “I’m sorry, am I or am I not having sex with this woman?”
Paris: “That’s a sick thought. Of course you’re not having sex with her, she’s married — We’ve got Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, one Wiccan, and for a premium, you can get the cream of the crop, top of the line army wives. Sturdy, reliable, great at packing.”
Paris: “So, it’s pretty cut and dry here. We plant an egg in a viable body, we fertilize it, and out comes a baby.” [Side note: No. That’s not how this works. I’m including this quote just to say that “planting eggs” and then fertilizing them is not a thing. This doesn’t even make any sense.]
It’s one thing to have a character so dense that he doesn’t understand that surrogacy does not (in any circumstance) involve sex, but it is entirely something else to treat women as though they are the equivalent of cattle– literally referring to them as “breeders.” Describing women in this way is dehumanizing, degrading, and absolutely disgusting. Furthermore, Luke discussing having sex with the women as though they are objects who have no say in the matter is not a clever punchline, it’s just gross. Yes, surrogacy is still a foreign concept to most of the general public, but talking about a group of women like this only desensitizes us, making it more acceptable to talk about all women like this and reducing us down to nothing more than our reproductive body parts.
As someone with real experience in the surrogacy world, you do not choose a gestational carrier based on physical attributes. It doesn’t even come into play. (I shouldn’t even need to make this clarification, but I read an actual article written by someone who really thought that this is how the matching process works.) If that’s an important aspect for you when it comes to trusting another person with something so precious, your priorities are way out of line.
More lovely quotes:
Paris [on the phone]: “No, there is no return policy. What’s she going to return? It’s a baby. Fine, I’ll call and see if she wants it, but last time it was Brad who put the kibosh on it.”
Paris: “You just need to know I’m good. I’m the Pablo Escobar [Columbian drug lord] of the fertility world. I move the best product and I would like to help. I get you. You’re a small town boy. You get your milk from a cow. So I thought I’d make it a little more homey for you… Jill and Jane are two of my top breeders.”
One of the hardest things for me to deal with regarding the surrogacy process was the stigma others associated with it. It’s been almost three years since we joined the gestational surrogacy program at our fertility clinic and I became an “Intended Mother.” Unfortunately, by now, I am used to seeing women in my position portrayed in various media as sub-human or defective, women who take the easy way out when it comes to having children. “Intended Parents” are regularly depicted as selfish, privileged couples taking advantage of generous (usually young, low-income) women who have no choice but to carry a child for strangers in order to make ends meet. Above all, the most common portrayal of surrogacy in media is the characterization of surrogates as money-hungry psychopaths willing to use the life of a child as leverage.
But, worse than all of that is hearing children born via surrogacy being referred to as a product, something that can be returned. Watching the above scene made me feel sick. These children–actual human beings–have had absolutely no say in regards to the situation in which they were born. They are the only ones involved who were never able to make a choice. So say what you want about me, use my body and the fact that it doesn’t work properly for a laugh, but leave my baby out of this. He has just as much of a right to be treated with respect as anyone else.
And finally, one last punch to the gut:
Rory: “Paris? What are you doing here?”
Paris: “I’m working.”
Paris: “Wherever there’s an old or defective uterus.”
When I first saw the episode, I was shocked and dismayed. But the longer it sat with me, the more I started to become angry. I was ready to shut down Netflix and skip the rest, but I forced myself to get through the remaining episodes. I knew people would think of us when they watched it, and I wanted to be prepared for the perspective they might have of our experience based on the show. Then, thinking that I couldn’t possibly have been the only viewer bothered by the storyline, I turned to Google. I believed that even if people didn’t feel the need to defend surrogacy, they’d find the jokes about women being breeders in poor taste from a feminist perspective (or at least a humanist one). But no one seemed to care. In fact, many found the comments of Luke and Paris endearingly characteristic. They found them amusing. I guess I just don’t get the humor.
I’m sure there are those who will see this as an overreaction fueled by sensitivity, and I will readily admit, this one does hurt me–a lot. But why does it matter? Because this is a chronic problem with surrogacy storylines. This is the kind of depiction that influences the way people think about surrogacy, and that affects real people in real life. Although it’d be nice to believe that most will see through the dialogue as being written by individuals who have literally no idea what they’re talking about and virtually no experience, I know better now. These overwhelmingly negative portrayals and gross misconceptions start to seep into the public perception of reality. They begin to infect the water.
Below is a quote from an article I found discussing the topic of surrogacy in Gilmore Girls:
“At no time in the show do we get the impression that the writers actually think surrogacy is wrong. Yet the picture they paint may make some think twice about it. Really, who wants surrogacy when the worst parts of Paris are endorsing (and selling) it?… Maybe it’s easy to regard the off-color comments as Paris simply being Paris. But it does make you wonder… if there is something off with the industry itself.
Ironically, a friend had been talking with me about surrogacy mere hours before we watched these episodes. He had listened well but had no real issue with the practice. After watching, he said he could understand better what I had meant in my determination to #StopSurrogacyNow.
It’s probable that other fans—even those once unfamiliar with or sympathetic to the idea of surrogacy—may also find in Gilmore Girls more of a subtle critique than an endorsement of surrogacy.”
Personally, I don’t see a critique here. Instead, what Gilmore Girls does with the storyline is strip surrogacy of every last shred of humanity and twist it into something ugly. This representation isn’t harmless and it’s not just ignorant; it’s downright irresponsible. It emboldens those who are poorly-educated or misinformed in their criticisms, and it attempts to cheapen the miracle we (and so many others, including countless gestational carriers) have experienced.
I will be the first to agree that surrogacy as a whole is not a perfect system. But neither is adoption or fostering, nor even fertility treatments. And remaining childless (for whatever reason) in a society that is quick to tell women they are selfish if they don’t want to be mothers or will be unfulfilled without a family isn’t always the best solution for everyone either. There are invariably going to be people who seek to abuse or profit from any situation, but that is exactly why more education in this area is so desperately needed.
Sadly, I now feel compelled to clarify that for us, Elle was never a means to an end. Ross was never a product. The founder of our agency (who, by the way, referred to surrogates as angels and not breeders) was the first to encourage us to develop a meaningful relationship with our gestational carrier. During our initial interview, he specifically told us that we would not be a good fit with the agency if we were looking for something shallow and impersonal. But it seems that too often these are the stories that are pushed aside in favor of whatever is most shocking.
There was absolutely nothing in this episode of Gilmore Girls that I recognized from my real-life experience with surrogacy.