The scene between Ruth and Debbie is remarkable in part because of how well Ms. Gilpin simultaneously conveys Debbie’s anger with her co-star and her exhaustion with her own situation. No, Ruth shouldn’t have to pretend to enjoy Tom’s lechery, she says. But, she adds, “Feminism has principles. Life has compromises.”
“GLOW” is, at its core, about how women make art in an imperfect industry. In the wrestling ring, that means literally embodying the stereotypes they’ve had imposed on them — pinups, bitches, vixens, hags. It can be empowering, and it can be objectifying, and sometimes the two are inseparable. (The episode’s title, “Perverts Are People, Too,” refers to the cast members meeting some of the more attentive male fans who keep the show on the air.)
In the season’s fantastic fourth episode, for instance, Tammé Dawson (Kia Stevens) reveals to her son, a student at Stanford, that she’s been playing an African-American cliché, “Welfare Queen.” It’s uncomfortable to see him watch a taping of the show, where his mother embodies this racist stereotype while the crowd chants at her “Get! A! Job!” (The cadence, incidentally, sounds not a little like “Lock! Her! Up!”)
But Tammé is also great in the role; her Welfare Queen is powerful and swaggering and unapologetic, and audiences — whatever subconscious prejudices the character is tweaking or appealing to — love to watch her. “You were right, it was offensive,” he tells her. But also: “You threw a white girl across the ring? When did you get that strong?”
Out of the many ways in which the world has typecast them, the women of “GLOW” have made incendiary, punk entertainment. They’re working with the world they’ve been given. Just so, the showdown between Ruth and Debbie is about the strategies they’ve each developed to apply their minds to an industry that wants to see them as bodies.
The point of the scene is not so much who wins the argument, but why the argument happens in the first place. One of them has been harassed, one of them has been dismissed, yet here they are, pitted in the ring against each other. That’s one of show business’s oldest moves.