GLOW: More than a show about women's wrestling
If you haven't seen all of the Netflix's new series GLOW, then I suggest you don't read this article because SPOILERS.
GLOW is more than a show about women's wrestling. We know this firstly because it was created by the talented and glorious Jenji Kohan, who gave us Orange is the New Black. It would have been easy for Kohan to turn the women into caricatures or stereotypes, rather than real humans. It would have been easy to go over-the-top with crazy hair and neon eye shadow – but instead, the show dives deep into the psyche of American women in the 1980s (and all women, for that matter). The opening scene is a hilarious yet poignant moment, when struggling actress Ruth Wilder (played by Alison Brie) is auditioning for a part. She reads the man's lines in a desperate (and unsuccessful) attempt to capture the casting director's attention. This is the resounding theme of the show: women fighting for the same opportunities as men.
The show centres around the creation of a television show called GLOW (or Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling), a novel idea in the 1980s. (It was also an actual television show with the same name). The show's director, Sam Sylvia (played by comedian Marc Maron) is the archetypal tortured filmmaker with a cigarette constantly hanging from his mouth. He hates the eager-to-please Ruth right away after she comes to audition, and he cuts her from the cast of hopefuls who are auditioning.
But Ruth gets back into the ring as a reluctant Sam watches. And this time, her muddy personal life becomes the main attraction.
At the audition, Ruth's best friend Debbie Eagan (a former soap opera actress turned housewife) comes storming in to reveal what we already know: Ruth has been sleeping with Debbie's husband, Mark. Instead of becoming a back-and-forth power struggle between the two women, GLOW steers clear of melodramatic portrayals of female friendship. We are witness to the raw underbelly of Debbie and Ruth's complicated relationship. We are witness to the real life choices people face when they fuck up.
Ruth decides to get an abortion (the child is Mark's). She calls Sam to take her to a clinic, having created some sort of odd friendship with him (they both share the ability to get on people's nerves.) She lets her mask of bravado slip in the clinic's waiting room and loses her fake Russian accent for a moment of clarity: "It's not the right time. Not the right baby."
This scene was really moving. I think it was an accurate and honest depiction of abortion. It is a weighty moment, for sure, but genuine in its nuanced portrayal: the small talk about donuts leading up to the abortion, Ruth's use of humour to cope with the decision ("In Soviet Union, abortion is the only thing there is no line for"), and the doctor's use of real language pertaining to abortions. Unlike so many other television or film depictions of abortions, Ruth doesn't go in and come back out. We actually go into the room with her as she lies back into the chair and stares up at the ceiling painted like a sky.
The doctor tells Ruth: "I'm going to give an injection next to your cervix that will numb your uterus and then we'll start the procedure." And then asks, "Does this all make sense?"
A teary-eyed Ruth, who I believe is coming to terms with what is actually happening right then, answers the question quietly while nodding her head, "I'm a wrestler."
The episode ends with Ruth on the table, looking up at the blue cloudy sky and that statement "I'm a wrestler" takes on so many meanings. In later episodes, the abortion doesn't come up between Ruth and Debbie. It remains a distant, yet constant, part of the plot, as we join Ruth in her silence. This story is especially important against today's political and social backdrop, which is sometimes focused on limiting women's decisions, rather than supporting them. Ruth's story is important because it opens the dialogue for other women talk about abortions and normalizes the language associated with them.
Watch the original pilot for GLOW in 1985: