GLOW is the series I didn’t know I needed
I love watching shows centred around women but so often I'm left disappointed. I've had enough of TV series about 20-something women sorting out their lives, I'm bored of watching shows featuring women ‘figuring things out’ that focus so heavily on their relationships with men.
The Netflix original series GLOW is a fictional account of how the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling television show began in the eighties. GLOW stands out among the parade of programmes that centre on the female experience, mainly because the women and their relationships feel real.
This is a show about women, their relationships with other women and the empowerment they find through learning how to wrestle, women whose gorgeousness is never questioned and who exert power through the strength they find in their bodies. While it's not at all what I wanted, I had prepared for a typical romantic subplot to consume the whole narrative. GLOW left me wanting - and, in the end, I realised that's exactly what I was looking for.
Alison Brie plays the main character, Ruth Wilder, but the show is structured in a way where many of the women’s stories are explored. With episodes averaging at 30 minutes long, while some issues are not presented with a depth that is perhaps desirable, the variety of issues explored is incredible: abortion, single motherhood, miscarriages, infidelity, betrayal, and expectations placed on women. Even when they're touched upon for only a few minutes, the way they are handled is superb with relatable humour weaved in to every topic.
GLOW explores female friendships in a way that doesn’t depict them as an always-sunny sisterhood, but in turn doesn't show them as a never-ending cat fight. Women’s relationships with each other are challenging, just like any other kind of relationship, and the ones depicted in GLOW have the nuance so often ignored in other programmes.
Shows with scatty, imperfect women trying to work out the world have been popular in recent years, but it’s a tired concept. I don’t want to watch another dramedy series that features a ‘quirky’, two-dimensional woman shagging a man with her eyes glazed over, just because she’s bored and because she can.
While sexual autonomy is absolutely a good thing, many women don’t find empowerment in this way, or choose not to. Sex isn’t the only way women can exert power and control over their lives and the constant portrayal of it often being the only choice for empowerment can be alienating to many. The women of GLOW are scatty and imperfect, but the show challenges this narrative by centering power around female bonds and the endurance of female bodies.
This, coupled with the inherent exaggeration of wrestling, the eighties setting, soundtrack and fashion make it incredibly fun to watch, so much so that it is easy to watch the whole thing all in one go (yes, I did).
It seems bizarre that I can get so dizzily happy about fiction where women are portrayed like real people. It's bittersweet. I'm so glad to have found GLOW, but why do I feel so elated? This should be normal. So, until the seemingly challenging task of writing female characters like they are real people becomes normal, let us enjoy GLOW, a rare gem.