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Glow: Wrestling With Sisterhood

Have you ever watched WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment)? Have you ever met a professional wrestling fan in real life? Other than vaguely smelling what The Rock was cooking in the early 2000’s, I knew nothing about wrestling. That is, until I met my husband, Ivan. He is a lifelong wrestling fan who helped me understand why people love the sport. Ivan loves sports and teamwork, and film and good storytelling. Wrestling is the ultimate combination of both: live athletic theater. It’s not about whether it’s real or fake as NPR’s Raidolab pointed out in their episode “La Mancha Screwjob”. It’s about incredible athletes telling a story, a story that only works when they’re operating as a team. You can’t have a good hero without a great heel, and you can’t have a glorious finishing move without taking the perfect fall. Wrestling only works when the performers are committed to each other’s success and know how to make one another look great in the ring.

The new Netflix original series “GLOW” captures these themes well. Set in the mid 1980s, the show follows a motley group of young actresses and athletes who are trying to become the “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.” Most of them know nothing about wrestling, but very few other opportunities were open to them as female performers. As they commit to being part of GLOW, they develop their own narratives and partnerships. They gradually progress from being fearful and selfish to fighters who support each other. With true feminine resourcefulness they scrape together something from nothing to create a new entity they can own together.

Wrestling provides a creative backdrop for the series to explore women’s relationships with one another and the world around us. As each of the women develop their wrestling characters, it raises questions about identity and stereotypes- particularly for the women of color on the team. They are confronted with racial prejudice and the tensions of how they are depicted to the audience. Filling a narrow stereotype gets a bigger reaction from the crowd but doesn’t change popular perceptions.

The lead character, Ruth (played by Allison Brie), struggles with having very little sense of self and therefore doesn’t know what role she is supposed to fill. She has deeply betrayed her best friend, Debbie (Betty Gilpin), and now must play opposite her as her wrestling partner. The two friends cautiously move towards resolution as they are forced to commit to each other in the ring. Ruth finds her stride as the “heel” of the pair, serving Debbie by selling spectacular falls and foiled villainy. This is one of the great strengths of the show, demonstrating how women can accomplish more by making each other look good. Just as competitiveness and resentment don’t work in the ring, they’re not our best strategy in life either.

This theme of symbiotic encouragement highlighted in “GLOW” brings to mind one of my favorite accounts in the Bible. It’s in Luke 1 where we read about the relationship between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth. Both of these women are experiencing miraculous pregnancies, Mary because she is a virgin, Elizabeth because she is past childbearing years. God could have chosen any time for these births, and I think it’s no accident that God choses for them to coincide. Imagine how lonely and doubtful each woman could have felt. To be experiencing something so momentous was a great honor, but easily could have made them feel alienated from their peers and worried about how others perceived their situation. For Mary especially to be young and unmarried at the time of her pregnancy, she had much to fear from the people around her. It is no wonder that the first thing we see Mary do after being visited by the angel Gabriel is to go visit her newly pregnant cousin Elizabeth. Look at what happens when they come together:

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”- Luke 1:39-45 (NIV)

What a beautiful testament of mutual encouragement and affirmation. The Spirit fills Elizabeth and she is reminded that her child (John the Baptist) is called by God to play a very important role in the redemption story. Through the Spirit’s leading she extends that confirmation to Mary pronouncing that she is indeed carrying the Son of God. Both remarkable women were presented with a spotlight in God’s grand production. This could have created competition between them. Instead they praise God together and rejoice over how God has blessed the other. They use the role they have been given to build each other up in a way that only the two of them could, and to double their worship.

Even in the womb Jesus was bringing people together. This is the very good invitation that Jesus offers and that GLOW, along with the world of professional wrestling, intuitively recognizes. None of us are meant to be alone or to function by ourselves. When we come together to draw out the gifts in others and commitment to each other’s success, we experience more of what God created us to do.

Viewer discretion guidelines:

Be advised that GLOW has adult content, including nudity and multiple brief sex scenes. The costumes are period-authentic which means 80’s skimpy leotards. Most of the nudity is not tonally exploitative and usually occurs in a locker room setting. Drug use is also depicted (again…the 80’s.) The show is creative and well-written but may not be helpful for everyone, use appropriate caution.

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