On GLOW, As In Life, Most Men Are Terrible

I feel like not enough people are talking about GLOW, the new Netflix dramedy created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch and produced by Orange Is The New Black‘s Jenji Kohan. A fictionalized version of the real-life origin of Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling — a super-campy, highly successful daytime women’s wrestling TV show that aired from 1986-1992 — GLOW stars the still-under-appreciated Alison Brie as Ruth, a type-A actress desperate for fame, and Marc Maron as a reluctant, coked-up director named Sam with no redeeming qualities.

Flahive and Mensch saw the 2012 documentary — which features interviews with original G.L.O.W. team members like Hollywood, Little Egypt, Mt. Fiji, Matilda The Hun, and Colonel Ninotchka — and were inspired by the way these women reflected on their experiences. “There was something about seeing how they used their bodies in this way that was really exciting to us,” Mensch told Variety. Flahive and Mensch translated that exhilaration into their characters’s revelations as they get over their insecurities and qualms with each other and commit to becoming a team of wrestlers, despite the continued failings of the men who employ them.

The documentary, like the original show itself, was produced entirely by men. It also gives more merit than is due to the sleazy male director and producers, and doesn’t satisfyingly address the ultra-racist caricatures the wrestlers of color were made to take on. But on Netflix’s GLOW, it’s clear: Ruth and the rest of the gang get so fully committed to the job that they end up wiping the floor with their stereotypes. Ruth character-acts her way into Zoya the Destroya, and, in a hyperbolic Cold War parody, fights her super blond ex-best friend, whose alias is “Liberty Bell.” Actual real-life wrestler Kia Stevens becomes Welfare Queen; Ellen Wong, of Scott Pilgrim and The Carrie Diaries, becomes Fortune Cookie; and Mr. Robot‘s Sunita Mani plays Arthie, an Indian girl who’s assigned the terrorist character Beirut the Mad Bomber.

Flahive and Mensch follow the wrestlers as they discover what they’re capable of despite constant racism, misogynistic belittling, and sexual harassment — just as IRL women do in male-dominated spaces everyday. “The story was always about Arthie playing Beirut, but never just about Beirut,” Flahive told Vulture. “The person you should care about and the person you should track through that story is Arthie.”

There’s a case to be made that Netflix’s GLOW unintentionally romanticizes the casual sexism and racism of the ’80s. But the takeaway that feels most significant to me is that there were, are, and always will be contradictions in the way women empower themselves and each other. “If you’re so into the sisterhood,” one wrestler says to Ruth in a particularly tense mid-season episode, “maybe you shouldn’t have fucked your friend’s husband.” Entitled men, like the eager young producer with a trust fund (played by Veronica Mars‘s Chris Lowell) and the not-so-bright network exec, are constantly gaslighting us.

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As @sansdn tweeted last week, “Even when women exercise their agency, we still live with patriarchy as our backdrop, and it shapes our choices and how we consent to them.” The women of GLOW ultimately are able to body slam the narratives they’re forced into. The focus is on their stories; the money-obsessed men and the casting directors that enable them are simply irritating impediments to their careers and, in turn, their ability to thrive.

Thumbnail image: Netflix

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