GLOW exploded on to Netflix screens this time last year, bringing a long overdue feminist dynamic to the hyper-masculine world of wrestling. For seven years I’ve been a wrestler and referee (for Eve and Lucha Britannia) and during this time there has been a lot of ground broken in the world of women’s wrestling to move it along from titillating to tenacious, but GLOW cast the women outside the ring in a light never seen before, and the new series is set to bring in even more people to an under-funded industry that is fast trying to change its ways.
If you haven’t seen GLOW (why not? No, really) it is loosely based on a real-life group of women in the 1980s who were plucked from obscurity to take part in a terribly-organised TV wrestling show. Series one brought us a variety of nuanced female characters, and gave us a healthy dose of lycra-based training montages. But it was criticised for not fully exploring the most problematic elements of the wrestling industry – such as being written almost exclusively for a male gaze and reliance on typecasting.
But since GLOW launched, people have wanted more bad-ass hard-femme heroes, not simply toned women who put on a leotard for a novelty factor. Rather than dismiss GLOW as separate to the world we inhabit 30 years later, the female community both inside and out of the ring have upped their game in the face of this attention. Wrestling has become more female, more self-reflexive and more determined to move past its reliance on an angry, shouty and outdated world-view. In the weird world of wrestling, GLOW has shown that the industry needs to change or hang up its boots.
So what’s happened for us, the wrestlers, in the last year? Firstly, wrestling behemoths the WWE are trying to cover up their history of wrong-doing to women on all fronts. Ten years ago, women in the ring could look forward to the occasional on-screen match so long as they only wore their underwear. Since last June, the WWE has brought MMA goddess Ronda Rousey on to the show, had its first-ever women’s tournament (The Mae Young Classic) and Royal Rumble match, and female matches are no longer a token inclusion but billed as main events. It has also hired more female talent from wrestling schools across the world than ever before, choosing (shock) plus-size and LGBTQ icons over fitness models.
Secondly, GLOW is the first TV show to examine how wrestling uses racism and sexism to tell stories - only now is wrestling starting to explore these issues from within (check out critical podcast World According to Wrestling or my upcoming book on feminism and wrestling, Unladylike). For those who query this - it is 2018 and the WWE still have an Russian character who actually talks in an accent phonier than Alison Brie’s ‘Zoya the Destroya’. Series two of GLOW is set to take this even further – introducing an openly gay sex worker as a main character, when the sport has forced many to stay in the closet. Female characters of colour will take on racial stereotyping and, emboldened by the #MeToo movement, the plot will address the sexual harassment of women in the industry.
Finally, GLOW has helped create a more diverse space within the world of wrestling. There are many newcomers to wrestling those who don’t indulge in the nostalgia shared by many wrestling fans because they didn’t watch wrestling as children. There are many who see through the racial stereotypes wrestling have tried to forget and find it in excusable. As a result, they don’t care who Randy Orton is (he’s a wrestler who looks like a very muscly thumb), they just want to see women beat the crap out of each other in a live environment.
And it doesn’t stop at coming to a show. Since GLOW, feminist promotion, Eve, have started running femme-only weekend classes to teach wrestling to all-comers, which are a bit like a riot grrrl St Trinian’s. The huge rise in popularity also meant that Eve held the largest women’s wrestling event in European History in May at York Hall - steel cages, ladders and metal suitcases all in attendance.
Although at first fans sneered at GLOW for diminishing the power and purity of wrestling, they clearly couldn’t anticipate the good it would do for women who actually bust their asses to be taken seriously as wrestlers. So from today, we will all be there in our lycra, binge-watching the entire season, and hoping that the next 12 months will bring even more attention and love to the world of women’s wrestling. Why not join us by coming to see a show, and you may even find yourself body slamming someone in a ring 12 months later.