When you think of the hit ‘80s sitcom The Golden Girls, images of cheesecake, floral prints and wicker furniture probably come to mind — along with the hilarious antics of Dorothy, Sophia, Rose and Blanche. But beyond the St. Olaf stories and steady parade of gentlemen callers, the show tackled some of the most pressing health issues of the time — often long before other shows would go near topics like the AIDS crisis.
Here are a few examples of times the girls addressed women’s health issues and made us laugh along the way.
Sexual health among senior citizens
Despite the fact that Blanche, Rose and Dorothy do not run the risk of getting pregnant if they are intimate with their beaus du jour on a romantic cruise, Blanche made it clear that they should still bring protection. This scene in the drugstore is a classic for many reasons, among them the fact that they were openly discussing the fact that older people can still contract sexually transmitted infections and should take the proper precautions — something that wasn’t (and for the most part, still isn’t) discussed much on TV today.
Heart attack symptoms look different in women
Now, most people are aware that women’s heart attack symptoms don’t typically involve chest and arm pain, but that is after a 15-year campaign to raise awareness of heart disease as the No. 1 cause of death for women. The Golden Girls addressed the fact that women have heart attacks and acknowledged the differences in symptoms in 1985 — the first season of the show.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is legit diagnosis & doctors can be dicks
As four mature women, Dorothy, Sophia, Blanche and Rose saw their fair share of doctors throughout the show’s seven-year run. And with many run-ins with doctors came many examples of paternalism in medicine — when the doctor (typically an old white dude) thinks he knows better than the patient, even when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The most glaring example of this is a two-part episode that kicked off Season 5 in which after being given the runaround by numerous doctors, Dorothy is finally diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. The Golden Girls series creator Susan Harris also had CFS, which inspired this storyline.
“AIDS is not a bad person’s disease”
In another memorable Season 5 episode, Rose finds out that a blood transfusion she received during a routine surgery may have contained HIV-infected blood. She is understandably upset, but takes it out on Blanche, essentially telling her that because of all the men she sleeps with, Blanche should be the one who might have HIV. In one of Blanche’s — and the series’ — most powerful speeches, she tells Rose that AIDS is not some sort of punishment — it could happen to anyone. This was hugely significant when the episode aired in 1990 and stigma surrounding the disease was still high.
You don’t need a man to have a baby
Blanche’s daughter Rebecca decides that she wants to be a mother, but not necessarily a wife, and opts to be artificially inseminated at a sperm bank in order to get pregnant. Predictably, Blanche — who has always enjoyed the company of a man — is confused and disturbed over the fact that her daughter wants to have a baby in this way. The plot guides the audience through Rebecca’s reasons for taking this route, as well as the girls slowly coming around to accepting her choice (including Blanche). The Season 6 premiere offered rare continuity between family members’ plotlines, as it saw Rebecca return and deliver the baby (with Blanche by her side, of course).
All 180 episodes of The Golden Girls will be available streaming on Hulu beginning Feb. 13.