Subverting Stereotypes in GLOW: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

Netflix’s recent original series GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) is a comedy-drama set in Los Angeles in 1985, which follows a group of women auditioning for a role on a new, all-female wrestling show. Netflix’s GLOW is a fictionalized version of the real wrestling show that ran from 1986-1990 out of Las Vegas. This new interpretation of GLOW, is created and produced by women for women. It is packed with an excellent ensemble cast that includes: Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin and Marc Maron, commentary on gender and racial stereotypes, and a vibrant ‘80s soundtrack. You can watch the trailer for Glow here.

Still from Glow teaser trailer

The first episode opens with an earnest Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) in the middle of intentionally sabotaging her audition. As a broke actor living in L.A., frustrated by her lack of options for full-dimensional, meaty roles as a woman, she purposefully reads the lines intended for the male role. In the midst of her failing aspirations to become an actress, her agent calls her with a vague but promising opportunity: A TV casting call for “unconventional women” (read: not traditional) being held at a gym. This, of course, is revealed to be Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling—and desperate for work, Ruth sticks around to audition.  At first glance, it would seem that GLOW will be filtered primarily through the eyes of Ruth but once she makes the cut for a role in GLOW alongside almost another dozen women, we see a shift in perspective. The different characters’ story lines are dealt out organically in the real time of the show as Glow works to upend tired gender dynamics.

GLOW’s biggest satirical target is stereotypes, specifically challenging the ways they are reinforced. While it is unclear how intentional or feminist the original television show from the 1980s was, the fictionalized interpretation of GLOW had to be intentional with how it depicted the experiences of nearly a dozen women. So, as the ladies are given their wrestling alter egos and the sexist and racist ideas fly flippantly from the mouths of Sam, Sebastian, and the other white execs without any second thought, the women don’t take their assignments on blindly. Instead, they find empowerment and purpose in their work while also questioning it: Tammé (real-life wrestler Kia Stevens), for instance, expresses concern to director Sam (Marc Maron) that her Stanford-attending son might look down on her role as “Welfare Queen”; Indian American Arthie (Sunita Mani) is dismayed at being heckled as a “towelhead” by audience members during her performance as “Arab Bomber.” It’s degrading and uncomfortable but also rooted in truth (since these personas were similar to ones on the real-life GLOW) and a way of, as Sam puts it, “wrestling with stereotypes.”

Glow Still from Erica Parise - Netflix

GLOW shines a neon light on a world in which women have little choice; or choices that constantly involve yielding to or maneuvering around men. To act against that narrative, the show provides sub-narratives about periods, miscarriage, abortion and post-birth bodies. While GLOW does not shy away from its history – a proponent that critics assign to its shortcomings – the season’s best moments come from its self-reflexive nature through the gift of hindsight. By the end of the season, the women have formed a sense of community of their own making, a tribe of women who embrace themselves.  “I’m back in my body,” Debbie tells Ruth towards the end of the season, “It doesn’t belong to [the men in her life]. I’m using it for me. I feel like a goddamned superhero.”

If that doesn’t knock you out, take a look at Netflix’s featurette .

Meghan Barber

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6 Responses to Subverting Stereotypes in GLOW: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

  1. Maia Scacchi says:

    This was an awesome and insightful post. I watched the series but never really took into consideration the many stereotypes that were defied by these characters. Even though it was set in the 80’s, this show has many modern feminist ideals!

  2. mediaphiles says:

    This is a great post – I have seen tons of advertisements for this series on Netflix, but they have all been pretty vague and did not capture my interest like this did. I really like how more tv shows, especially series on Netflix and other streaming services, are tackling some really serious, tense issues with blunt humor. Also, seeing a cast of this many diverse, outspoken, complex women is a breath of fresh air. I will definitely be giving GLOW a look.
    Another note – I’ve seen quite a few new shows and movies set in the 80s recently; not sure if this is a coincidence or an emerging trend, but interesting!

    Alyssa McAuliffe

  3. mediaphiles says:

    I’m so glad you wrote this! I have seen so many ads for this show but haven’t taken the time to really check it out. This makes me think I should! I love the trend of shows taking an unrealistic situation to demonstrate ideals that audiences can relate to. These shows serve as such a powerful metaphor to every day situations – I can’t wait to see their take on the stereotypes of the time and I think it will be interesting to see how much they’ve changed or not!

    Adrienne Henderson

  4. mediaphiles says:

    This was a very well written post. As someone who hasn’t seen GLOW you did a very good job of painting a clear picture of the show’s plot, structure and character dynamics. One sentence that stood out to me in your concluding paragraph, “the season’s best moments come from its self-reflexive nature through the gift of hindsight.” I find that many other series that tackle social or cultural norms and stereotypes do a poor job of being self-reflexive, often negating the fact that the diverse and progressive worlds they live in are not the norm in our society.

    Griff O’Brien

  5. mediaphiles says:

    I really like this post! One wuestion I have is about the medium of the content. Do you think it is important that this show is being produced by and aired on Netflix? Obviously shows like Orange is the new Black have proved that Netflix can create a very successful show. But, do you think this show would be produced by major network television? Or is the content of the show too open minded and progressive for television? Either way, I have seen trailers for the show and it looks very intriguing. I had no idea that the show was based off of a real wrestling show, I thought that was very interesting. -Sam Ostmann

  6. marymdalton says:

    I really need to watch this series, and your post reinforces that idea. Make the paragraphs shorter to engage the reader and make it easier to read quickly (as many/most people do with blog posts).

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