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  • Writer's pictureMatt Dod


Updated: Apr 27, 2020

Sexism. Power. Spandex.

If you were a fan during wrestling’s peak in the late 90’s, you may remember women’s in-ring action, as little more than over-sexualised mud wrestling and the cringe inducing performances in such progressive matches as the bra and panties stipulation, seeing a set of women aim to win a match by removing their opponents clothes to the jeers an slobber of the crowd.

But today, wrestling is something different for women. And before the 90’s it wasn’t always this way.

From the Fabulous Moolah and her evil dominance, Alundra Blaze and her high-paced athleticism or any of the amazing women featured in Japanese Wrestling throughout the 80’s and 90’s who would have kicked most of the male performers head’s in at the time.

Yes, there has always been sexism and an audience ready to lap up a young woman barely dressed. It’s interesting and important to examine how perception of women in wrestling has changed in the squared circles history, for better and worse.

And with the success of programme, Glow, The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling on Netflix, so successfully tackling the aforementioned ideas, as well as a host of other topics that effect women in sports – I want to explore this storied past and see if I can learn more about the struggles and successes of female performers between the ropes.


In 1985’s Los Angeles The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling was born. A programme built around white women rapping, glorified racial stereotypes and typical 80’s wrestling matches.

The original cast consisted of a rag-tag group of would be actors, few of who had any experience in wrestling.

They were hastily trained to the best of his ability by Mando Guerrero of famous wrestling family, Chavo Guerrero Senior, Junior & most notably Eddie Guerrero.

Mando was an experienced wrestler and had worked with other productions as a stunt man. But he only had so much time to impart his knowledge at Barberella’s all-women gym.

Which was owned by the mother of Sylvester Stallone, Jackie – who was featured regularly on-screen during GLOW’s four series run.

The show runners, producers and writers were said to be hard to work with and disrespectful by some sources. The women were made to work when they felt unsafe or were injured and kept under extremely close watch by the television production company, signing contracts which forced the performers to live together in a communal set of houses, and even had a curfew.

Even through these adversities, the women did their best to learn from Guerrero and take their new skills to perform for the live crowd and the fans at home as best they could, gaining notoriety as a television show that had great entertainment despite it’s rough edges.

The original Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling inspired a fictional series.


Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch’s wrestling-based, nostalgia-fest is a warm and emotionally driven wander through the world of 80’s glitter, hairspray and leather.

Based on the true story of The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling television show which aired in 1985 in the states. This Netflix original aims to shed light behind the curtain and smoke and show a fictional world which is so familiar to fans of wrestling at the time.

Glow’s character driven first series focuses on the empowerment of women through their journey’s to overcome stage-fright, stereotypes and the social norms of the neon 1980’s.

It’s smart and quick with it’s observations and quips, but there is a deeper understanding portrayed by it’s wonderful cast of powerful, funny and interesting characters. Most of which we see striving to improve, both in their abilities within the ring and their performances in-front of the live crowds, but also in their growth as people and their personal relationships.


One of the stand-out aspects of both versions of GLOW is just how progressive the gritty realism of certain aspects of the shows are. The Netflix version shows women in a way that many have commented feels authentic – something which when juxtaposed against the wild over-the-top wrestling segments, seems all the more relatable.

From basic human actions such as breast-feeding being shown in a not-so glamourous way. The character’s waking up not plastered in tons of make-up as is so often the case with film and television. The women have rough edges and flaws, they have hairy armpits and bad-breath and that’s because they are human, not Hollywood versions of what a woman acts or looks like. This is incredibly refreshing and I hope empowering to younger audiences who can learn from this more realistic take.


On the other hand. 1985 in wrestling was about as far from realistic as you could get, especially as the bigger promotions like WWE made headway towards a larger audience base. The characters on screen in wrestling were starting to become more outlandish, more colourful and larger breasted as audiences interest in realistic, battle hardened veterans waned.

With this came more typically glamourous outfits for both the male and female performers. The latter moving towards more revealing and titillating garb aimed at pleasing a growing young male contingency in the audience.

From grappling goddesses to vicious valets, 1985 was a time for women to be seen more as beautiful than athletic. Something that has taken a lot of time and a lot of hard work by some of the pioneers of modern women’s wrestling to reverse.

Working within similar genres, there are evidently may similarities between not only GLOW the 80’s wrestling series & Glow on Netflix but also with the modern era of women’s pro-wrestling. If we take a look for instance at how WWE has developed it’s female performers over the last 30-or-so years since GLOW originally aired.


The Bechdel test is a system for measuring how women are represented in fiction. To access a piece of work, one must ask the question: “Does the work feature at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man?”

According to internet databases, about half of all films meet the criteria set out by the Bechdel test.

Bechdel herself said of the test: “Passing or failing the test is not necessarily indicative of how well women are represented in any specific work. Rather an indicator for the active presence of women in the entire field of film and other fiction, and to call attention to gender inequality.”

With women in all forms of wrestling, they operate in a world where overcoming their opponents becomes the focul point and thus pass the Bechdel test.

However beyond this WWE, especially in the 90s were incredibly relaint on stories that revolved around one character stealing another’s wrestling boyfriend.

A common miss-step in telling a women’s story is having her main drive and hurdles be related solely to a male character. Something that has been prevalent in wrestling since women stepped between the ropes in the 1940’s all the way until today.

GLOW on Netflix initially starts with a backstory of two old friends becoming enemies when one betrays the others trust and sleeps with their husband and father of their child.

This quickly becomes one driving force between two main characters but is by far the biggest emotional pull of the show. It is merely a thread that leads the cast through a story of growth, acceptance and maturity in the face of hard emotional struggles and handles the depiction of emotion between female characters exceptionally well, leading away from merely squabbling over a man – through various other trials and tribulations.

The Director of the show, in the storyline is gross misogynist Sam Silvia – played by the wonderful and hilarious Marc Maron.

The character is reckless and doesn’t spare a thought for the women whom he hires to put their bodies on the line. However, throughout the series is forced to appreciate the women’s talents, their desires to improve and to pull together for the betterment of the production.

His hand is forced and the women are shown to be more powerful when allowed to express themselves. The show is funded by an all male corporation, headed up by a dim-witted, rich boy but they eventually succumb to the women’s abilities too, which although completely fictional and not representative of what happened in the original gorgeous ladies of wrestling, has a inspirational feel and is a welcome change to the truth.


The original Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling series shows us how women were mistreated, disrespected and stereotyped in our cultures recent past, The Netflix series Glow, reminds us of the strength of humanity, the warmth of friendship and what you can achieve if you work hard, and support one another, even in the face of adversity. WWE one the other hand, has lived through it all.

At it’s start women were sidekicks, who looked good and walked to the ring with the men. They became athletes and wrestlers then models and sex objects until Today in pro-wrestling, women have worked hard to break down the stereotypes and put on consistently athletic and explosive matches that stand on their own, pulling away from cliché sexist storylines and combatting people’s outdated perceptions earning respect for what they truly are. Wrestlers.

For more, there is an excellently executed analysis and behind-the-scenes insight in the documentary which is featured on Netflix: GLOW – The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (documentary on Netflix)


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