The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling featured on GLOW face many adversaries in the second season of Netflix’s ‘80s-set dramedy—exploitative contracts, fashion faux pas, raging horniness and, for one character, sexual harassment that has major ramifications on her and her co-workers’ lives. If you haven’t watched, beware of spoilers.
It plays out not too different from the stories we’ve come to know front and back about Harvey Weinstein and his predatory ilk. The ever eager Ruth (Alison Brie) is invited to dinner by the head of the network, who offers to give her career advice at the meeting. She is apprehensive hearing the dinner will take place in a hotel room, but her nerves are quelled when Glen, an executive she knows more closely, opens the door.
Once there, however, she’s left alone with the network president, who uses a cunning, nice-guy demeanor to edge his way into her personal space. He asks her to show him a few wrestling moves, which he uses to nuzzle his face in her breasts and neck. He laughs and smiles, but it’s clear what he’s aiming for, and Ruth makes a run for it when he leaves the room to draw her a bath she didn’t ask for.
Shortly after, producers are notified that “GLOW,” the series within the series, has been moved to a 2 a.m. time slot, essentially killing its chances of success. Ruth confides in Debbie (Betty Gilpin) that she might have been at fault for the move and recounts the incident. It leads to a heated argument, in which Debbie calls Ruth “fucking stupid” for not playing by the rules of Hollywood.
“That is how this business works, Ruth, “ Debbie says. “Men try shit, you have to pretend to like it until you don’t have to anymore.”
In a devastating final blow, Debbie describes the harsh reality of their business. “Feminism has principles. Life has compromises,” she says. “Congratulations, Gloria Steinem. The one time you keep your legs shut we all get fucked.”
Alternatively, when Ruth tells Sam (Marc Maron) about the incident, he gives her the words any woman ever placed in a situation like that wants to hear. “Fuck that guy!” he says in disgust. “Tom fucking Grant? What a fucking sleazebag dickhead.”
This storyline is an obvious nod to the Me Too movement and the extensive allegations of sexual assault and rape against Weinstein and the long, growing list of powerful men in Hollywood that sparked it. But the story surrounding the incident on the show is telling of a disturbing truth women who have faced sexual harassment in the workplace, prior to and since the ‘80s, know all too well: That the women in your life aren’t necessarily the ones who will protect or support you. However, there’s context there that provides insight as to why.
While at first glance it would seem Debbie is the bad lady here, expecting Ruth to essentially allow herself to be raped, on closer examination her internalized misogyny is, in her mind, about just having to do what she’s got to do to get by.
There was never a question of whether the incident actually happened from Debbie or Sam, which I guess is refreshing considering how often real-life victims aren’t believed when they come forward or how men have appropriated victimhood by saying they’ve been “Me Too’d.” Debbie’s reaction seems to infer something about her own history wirth sexual harassment while also speaking on what society expects women to accept if they want to advance in their careers.
It’s pretty obvious Debbie has had to play by those unspoken rules of show business. She knows exactly what Ruth “should” have done to evade a creep without losing her job, like pretend to like it or make up fake excuses (Fiance! Period! Teeth where her vagina should be!). The way she rattles off those excuses makes it clear it’s old hat to her, as is having to succumb to having sex with someone even when she hasn’t wanted to in exchange for something—a role, a raise or an opportunity.
Women have been trained since early on with the tricks to curve a creep at a minimized risk: Give them a fake number instead of saying no. Grab a random dude and pretend he’s your boyfriend so you’ll be left alone.
She’s had to do this and more to get ahead herself—and likely for the sake of others. It’s a bargain she makes because there’s no other choice. So Ruth not playing by those rules and it costing 20 others their livelihood infuriates her, especially because this is the first job she’s had where she had gained power, both by negotiating a producer credit and as a single mother grappling with the dissolution of her marriage. Through wrestling Debbie found purpose independently from her husband and a space where she was the star and a symbol of strength. “GLOW” has given her power she’s always wanted but never had. And Ruth, the homewrecker who destroyed her marriage, fucked that up for her.
Is it disappointing? Absolutely. But does it make sense? A deeply-sighed yeah.
Debbie has more to lose than Sam. When she doesn’t play by the rules, or Ruth for that matter, it has consequences. Sam can call Tom fucking Grant a douchebag and dickhead and smash his windshield with little-to-no repercussions. Debbie and Ruth can’t say no thank you without losing their jobs or worse.
Women simply haven’t had the privilege to stand up for themselves, and there is still a lack of protections within workplaces for women dealing with harassment. This is why movements like Me Too are so incredibly important. There’s strength in numbers. It’s easier to fight when there’s an army behind you. Had Ruth told all the wrestlers about the episode, I’m positive the outcome would have been much different. The broken ankle incident is proof of that. Had they known, Tom Grant’s office would’ve been invaded by a storm of fury and Aqua Net.
Still, Debbie isn’t off the hook. It’s up to her to use her power to make the changes she herself says she wants in the industry, and that is an important message to the women in Hollywood today who wield power. GLOW is set three decades ago, but women in Hollywood still jump at the chance to protect abusers, purposefully or inadvertently. See Diane Keaton or Kate Winslet. This is a problem, and the solution is fairly easy: Don’t do that. Those with power and privilege to condemn and eradicate the acceptance and protection of abuse should do just that, and this storyline served as a significant reminder of it.
Sam’s reaction also highlights how vital it is for women to have male allies in the workplace and the Me Too movement. If it means a crowbar to a windshield or simply saying “this is not your fault,” it matters and is necessary to create a shift in culture. Part of that means men doing what Sam did and simply understanding that it’s not about him. Via Sam, the viewer got the moment they wanted, and really the reality they want to see: a man using his power to stand up for a woman, and offering comfort that can help diminish the trauma of sexual harassment.
Hollywood is moving past Debbies, but they’re still out there. We can understand where they’re coming from but still must demand better from them.