If you haven’t started watching GLOW (the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) on Netflix, you should definitely get on the bandwagon. Set in the 1980s, the show tells the story of professional female wrestlers who were part of a show akin to WWE. There is a lot to say about this series created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch. As a hardcore television fan, I am tempted to write about the perfect intermixing of comedic and emotional beats. Or I can write about the beautiful portrayal of the complex nature of female friendships that are is at the core of sisterhoods across the globe (okay, I might actually still write about this down the line). I can even write think piece upon think piece about key character arcs (Bash’s storyline kills me everytime). However, today I am going to write about the on-point portrayal of women in the workplace in season 2.
As I binge watched this sophomore run, I could not help but be reminded of the stories we’ve been hearing from the women who will be featured on Who Run the World. There are three scenes in particular that I just can’t get out of my head. Some I’m sure will make the headlines of countless pop culture blogs, while other are so quiet, yet so telling that they had me thinking for days. So I took pen to paper, as they say, and took a look at how these scenes allow GLOW to accurately represent what it’s like to be a women in the workforce.
Suffice it to say, this is a spoiler heavy article. So if you haven’t watched season 2 of GLOW, stop reading now, fire up your Netflix, and come back later.
Trust is a Fickle, Fickle Word
Early on in the new season, the gorgeous ladies of wrestling are gearing up for the production of their show. Even though the majority of the characters are women, they are lead by a male director, producer and network executive. As the actresses prep for their scenes, they are given contracts to sign. All but one are so quick to sign, that they certainly do not read a single word on the page. I could not help but scream at my computer screen “Don’t sign it! Don’t sign it!” The scene happens so fast, and the contracts are not mentioned again until the last episode of the season, when lo and behold, it is revealed that the women have no rights to anything they created: neither the show, nor the beloved wrestling characters they were shaping.
With that being said, the women’s actions are completely understandable. They simply trusted that their leaders were looking out for them. A contract means an opportunity. An opportunity means a job. A jobs means a salary. A salary means security. That’s exactly what the female characters are looking for on the show.
But, I can’t help but wonder. What if this show was call the GGOW (The Gorgeous Gentlemen of Wrestling). Would the people in charge have just thrown contracts at their employees, trusting they would not read between the fine print? Are men faced with more opportunity than women that they have the luxury to negotiate their contracts? Are men more prone to ask for their rights? Or are women just so happy to have jobs that they don’t even think to ask for the same rights that men reclaim?
It’s a Boys Club, and We are Just Trying to Fit In
There was one character who did not sign the contract, but who negotiated her way to a coveted producer spot: the lead actress Debbie "Liberty Belle" Eagan, played masterfully by Betty Gilpin. She was able to become a producer because unlike the others she was an experienced actress. However, even though she got a seat at the table, the men around her did not take her opinion into account.
There is one scene in particular that stands out and that really shows the “boys club” nature present in many industries. In one episode, Debbie, the director Sam played by Marc Maron, and the producer Bash played by Chris Lowell are trying to decide which wrestlers will face each other on an upcoming show. By the end of their meeting, they still had not come to the conclusion and had decided to reconvene the next day. However, when Debbie shows up to work the next morning with an idea, Sam and Bash brush her aside as they had already come to a decision over booze and cigarettes the night before.
The problem that Debbie is facing here is a tale as old as time. Anywhere in the world, men will always be part of a tightly knit boys club, in which they shoot the shit, take important decisions, make dirty jokes, and no one woman is ever allowed. In the Middle East this is called a majliss, in England it’s called a gentlemen’s club. So even though Debbie has reached a coveted position, she is still gently pushed to the side and barred from major decision making. To be fair, her plight improves in spades as the season goes on, but she has to fight in a way that Sam and Bash do not have to in order to get her voice ultimately heard.
Crossing the Line
The last scene that I would like to mention is one I am sure will get some people talking after they have watched this season of GLOW. In episode 5 “Perverts Are People Too” Ruth, the titular character played by the wonderful Alison Brie, is invited by the network head to discuss her career over dinner. Like any ambitious human being, Ruth jumps at the chance to pursue an opportunity reserved to the few. When she gets to the restaurant, which is conveniently inside a hotel, she is quickly ushered to a hotel room where the head of the network is awaiting her. By the end of the episode Ruth is neither raped nor physically assaulted. However, she is put in the unfair position that women are so often find themselves in: put out, or get out.
If you have been following the #MeToo movement in Hollywood and throughout the world, you’ve probably read and seen countless opinion pieces and debates. However, I don’t know about you, but this is the first portrayal I have seen of such an occurrence. Watching Ruth’s eyes go from hope to fear to "get me the hell out here" is truly heartbreaking. Alison Brie deserves an Emmy for that scene alone.
What’s even more gut wrenching is the reaction Ruth gets from Debbie the following day. In so many words, Debbie tells her frenemy that she should have put out for the greater good of the show. What is saddening about Debbie’s reaction is that Ruth’s incident has been normalized as a way for women to climb up the corporate ladder. Debbie talks of a status quo, one that we are still grappling with today.
Women in the workplace are underrepresented in the television and movies. Sure, you got your Murphy Browns and Leslie Knopes, but that’s nowhere near enough to accurately symbolize what it is like to be a woman working: the good, the bad and the ugly. That’s why GLOW strikes a chord. It’s because the show accurately portrays the small challenges and the very big challenges we face as women. Whether it be the 1 minute boys club scene or the episode long sexual assault plotline, the creators of the show give their viewers the whole landscape. They also show uplifting stories, including the wonders of women working alongside one other, creating a sort of sisterhood - but that is yet another topic for another article that I hope to write sometime soon.