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Opinion | How a wrestler said #MeToo

We look at an increasingly relevant episode of the Netflix series GLOW, where Alison Brie plays a female wrestler sexually harassed in a hotel room

The episode opens on a female wrestler who dresses as a wolf, being stalked by a man who declares himself her worshipper. He’s dressed like her as he chases her down in a parking lot.

It’s all about boundaries. GLOW—the rousing Netflix series about the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling, created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch—not only offers a direct, unflinching reaction to Harvey Weinstein and similar predators, but proclaims how a sordid, seedy fanbase (for 1980s women’s pro-wrestling) may not be a bad thing as long as lines are drawn. This is the fifth episode of the second season, and the title savagely cuts both ways: “Perverts Are People, Too."

Ruth is a scrappy can-do girl, an unlikely heroine restless with ambition who is forcing her colleagues—a squad of increasingly self-aware divas—to dream. She is brimming with ideas to turn their second-rate wrestling show into something greater, and after repeated dismissals from her misogynistic boss, she has finally found an eager ear. Not just any ear, mind you. It belongs to the owner of the network, who has asked her to a meeting to discuss the direction of their wrestling show. This, Ruth believes, is her chance to shine. A wrestling star is born.

Arriving at a hotel, Ruth is told network head Tom Grant isn’t at the restaurant but instead expects her at his private bungalow. We see the confidence knocked out of her, replaced by crushing disappointment. Alison Brie expresses Ruth’s deflation heartbreakingly, forcing herself to square her shoulders and go knock on that door. She seems to be telling herself how strong she is. The door is opened by another network executive, and she’s overcome with delight. This is a meeting after all, Ruth smiles, relaxing with a Zinfandel before Grant dispenses with the executive, sending him out on an errand.

As we now know vividly—from brave women who have spoken about the way they have been forced into similar hotel-room position—this is not behaviour unique to a few men. Ruth’s guard is up, but she is unsure what to do when this tall man who owns the network asks if she would demonstrate a wrestling hold on him. As she reluctantly holds his neck in a light chokehold, she is sickened to find that ear she wanted now pressed against her breast. She pulls away, and when Grant goes to set up the jacuzzi for her, she looks around nervously and marches away, fleeing as if she’s stolen something.

The fallout is immediate.The wrestling show is swiftly dumped into a late-night time slot. Ruth’s friend Debbie can’t imagine why this happened after the show was finally finding its stride, and Ruth tells her what happened. The two have quite a history—Ruth’s affair with Debbie’s husband irreparably damaged their marriage—but they have worked through a lot, and this is a point when she needs Debbie on her side. Instead, Debbie tears into her for her naïveté, saying she should have led Grant on instead of humiliating him by escaping. “Feminism has principles," Debbie snarls, “Life has compromises. Congratulations, Gloria Steinem. The one time you keep your legs shut, we all get f***ed."

It is a jarringly harsh moment in a largely light series, but it demonstrates the brutality with which victims can be gaslit by those who know them best, as well as the implication that Debbie might be advocating compromise because she may have herself compromised in the past and needs to justify her actions. Filmed weeks after the Weinstein exposé last year, the episode marks its intent—Ruth says the words “Me too" during a phone conversation—and its exploration into consent is deep: we watch a man refuse to make love to his wife until her consent is genuinely, actively enthusiastic, and we see another wrestler smilingly choose to put a fan in a headlock because his request is innocuous and free of malice.

Ruth starts actively blaming herself for the plummeting future of the show, and in the next episode, she finally comes clean to Sam Sylvia—her nightmarish boss, played by Marc Maron—expecting to be turned into toast. Sam explodes, but not the way Ruth anticipates. For all his boorishness, Sam can’t stomach the horror she faced, and his response is to coolly grab a tire-iron and shatter the windshield of Grant’s pretty convertible. This may not be enough punishment, but Sam standing by Ruth is a consequence of how she has gradually bettered him over the last season and a half, and his unambiguous stance makes this one of the most satisfactory television moments of the year.

Pro-wrestling is about binaries, where heroes routinely turn into villains and vice versa, to shock the audience and mix things up. Being a victim of assault is entirely outside one’s own control, but with this great (and tragically relevant) story arc, Flahive and Mensch bravely remind us of a simple truth: anyone can be an ally, anyone can be an asshole. Your move.

Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online. Raja Sen is a film critic and the author of The Best Baker In The World (2017), a children’s adaptation of The Godfather.

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