Some may think that an actor is only as good as the parts they're given. But what if you aren't being given the type of roles or opportunities you think you deserve? It's a struggle that many female actors and directors in Hollywood face, as women are in short supply both in front of and behind the camera. In fact, a recent study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University found that women directors made up only seven percent of the 250 highest-grossing domestic films of 2016. And while there has been some increase in female-led films, it’s clear the entertainment industry still has a ways to go. Luckily, GLOW is helping solve Hollywood’s sexism problem by creating a show that allows women's stories to be heard in an arena (pun intended) which is usually reserved for men: the world of wrestling.
GLOW's first season focuses almost exclusively on its main female characters, allowing each of them to get a turn in the spotlight — a concept that executive producer Jenji Kohan is known for demonstrating in her other successful Netflix series Orange Is The New Black. GLOW's fearless leader is Ruth Wilder played by Alison Brie, whose character faces a similar obstacle that, sadly, many female actors still struggle with today: finding strong roles for women that extend beyond their physical appearance and scrutinization of the male gaze.
After auditioning for GLOW (which is short for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling), Ruth discovers a world where unrealistic beauty standards take a backseat. “It’s not about how they look,” Brie tells reporters at a Netflix roundtable. “Even though they’re doing this sport that can be (and is) highly sexualized at times, we’re not sexualized on the show and our characters aren’t, for the most part. They’re real-life characters outside the ring… that was something that was really empowering for me.”
Ruth and her fellow wrestlers aren't the stereotypical victims of violence or damsels in distress that were (and sometimes still are) commonly associated with women. Their main function isn't to serve as sex symbols. They aren't at the mercy of men's objectification. Now they are the ones both taking and delivering the punches, quite literally, helping to prove that women have just as much right as any man to dominate in the profession they choose — whether it be professional wrestling, acting, or everything in between. It's an empowering message to send, not just to women but young girls, as well. No one should feel like they're limited by their gender, and GLOW does a tremendous job in making sure its viewers realize that.
Betty Gilpin, who plays Ruth's BFF-turned-nemesis Debbie, says the show pushes against the "pixie dream girl" persona that populates so many films and series. And unlike other projects, where she was told to be less expressive, GLOW challenged Gilpin to get her face "smushed into so many lines with spit and snot flying out of it." She refers to it as "the realest, most in-your-face portrayal of what being a woman actually feels like."
Brie feels very similarly and found it extremely freeing to work on a show that cared so little about her appearance. "It was a new experience as an actress to be on a set and not feel like you have to look beautiful for everyone and flirt with everyone to keep your job or remain interesting," she explains. In fact, Brie didn't wear makeup in the show, except for filling in those '80s brows, which she says allowed her to "feel really amazing and really enjoy and appreciate [herself] for different reasons that were not superficial."
Women are so often judged by their looks, whether it be on the big or small screen or in real life. So creating an environment where appearances are no longer the main focus, is not only refreshing but necessary — as is the highly diverse cast. "Jenji Kohan is doing her damnedest to cast large groups of women of all shapes and sizes and ethnic backgrounds," Brie explains, though that shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Kohan has a knack for bringing a variety of strong, complex women to the forefront of her creations.
GLOW wrestles with a similar agenda in helping women from all backgrounds see themselves in these characters and relate to them on a deeper level. Forget about breaking the glass ceiling — these women are body-slamming their way through.