This article contains spoilers about the first three episodes of GLOW.
If you're familiar with the real story behind Netflix's new series GLOW, you probably know it's a controversial topic. And the show's co-creators and co-executive producers are the first to admit that their inspiration isn't necessarily a progressive story, even though the show includes plenty of empowering scenes.
"Empowerment versus exploitation: They were both there. That's what makes it interesting," GLOW co-creator and co-executive producer Liz Flahive told Vanity Fair. Aside from the rampant sexism the women are exposed to on a daily basis, that exploitation also manifests in the racist stereotypes they're forced to portray in their wrestling personas.
In the Netflix show's third episode, Arthie (Sunita Mani) is forced to play Beirut, a gun-wielding, terrorist-like character who promises to "destroy your American way of living." Some of the other stereotypes the GLOW characters are forced into by director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron) include "Fortune Cookie," played by Jenny (Ellen Wong). "I am one who is cute like panda," Jenny (who isn't even Chinese, but Cambodian) says in an exaggerated accent as Fortune Cookie. She pretends to ask for help, before yelling, "Trick you! Because I am fast like dragon."
A Black woman, Tamee (Kia Stevens) is also forced to play the "Welfare Queen" as her wrestling character. "I let the government pay for all of my shit, and I lives like a queen," she says, while wearing a fur coat.
It's an aspect of the show that's true to its source material; Vanity Fair notes that there were plenty of stereotypical characters among the original Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling. According to the magazine's research, there was one terrorist-inspired character named Palestina, who claimed to be "not afraid to kill."
But Alison Brie's character, Ruth, doesn't immediately fall into one of these stereotypes. It's decided early on that she'll play a villain. In real life, Ruth slept with Debbie's (Betty Gilpin) husband, and Debbie is the show's star. Ruth presents her original character idea, the Homewrecker, to Sam (Marc Maron) and Bash (Chris Lowell), but they're not on board.
The episode ends with Sam asking Ruth, "Who do you think you are?" before the camera pans over to Ruth, who has a confused look on her face.
The show doesn't glorify the original G.L.O.W.'s problems, but there is a sense that we're supposed to feel sympathy toward Ruth. She's an actress who's struggled for years to find female roles with any depth and to find recognition in her industry. But really, all this scene does is emphasize that even though Ruth is a down-on-her-luck, scrappy protagonist, she's still got it better than most of the other women.
Ruth doesn't immediately fall into a stereotype; she's not forced into a box the second people see her. Yes, it's awful that people like Sam feel the need to comment on how attractive she is — but no one's first thought is to label her a terrorist or a welfare queen. Even though she's struggling to keep a job, Ruth still experiences privilege.
Aside from her physical qualities, we also know that Ruth has some advantages when it comes to her poverty. She's still receiving occasional money from her parents; she still has enough cash to afford taco trucks and takeout without ever having to cook for herself. (Yes, she's eating a lot less than the average person, but still — people on a budget usually have to prepare their own meals.)
Ruth isn't evil, and it's fine to root for her while watching the show — but it's also important for us to recognize the inherent privilege she has in relation to her peers.