In her book How To Be A Woman, Caitlin Moran addresses the subject of abortion. "Abortions are never seen as a positive thing, as any other operation to remedy a potentially life ruining condition would. Women never speak publicly about their abortions with happy, relieved gratitude. People don’t make jokes about it, despite the fact that all the truest jokes are about vexed topics, and cover every other subject including cancer, God, death." In just one episode, #Netflix's GLOW has managed to do exactly this — deal with abortion in a sensitive, practical manner, and even make some jokes while doing it.
GLOW has received praise for everything from its witty writing, to its bold portrayal of women, to its accurate depiction of the '80s. But there's one thing that stands out as being truly innovative — and no, it's not the robot full of drugs (though I'm surprised there isn't one of those in every Hollywood home by now). As you could probably tell from the introduction, I am talking about the abortion subplot of Episode 8, "Maybe It's All The Disco," as GLOW handles a difficult subject with impressive poise.
(Sidenote: Sorry for referencing Caitlin Moran. I don't like her either. But she does have some good things to say about abortion.)
A Grounded Portrayal Of A Stigmatized Subject
Accidental pregnancy is a well worn plot for TV shows, featuring in everything from soap operas to sci-fi. And yet, abortion is an option that is almost always ignored, or only briefly considered, with carrying the baby to term shown as the moral, or only choice. It's rare to see a realistic depiction or even discussion of abortion on television, which of course only contributes to the stigma. Gilmore Girls, a show featuring several pregnancies, never so much as utters the word; Glee, which dealt with teen pregnancy in its first season, brushes off abortion within a few lines of dialogue. If abortion does feature in a show, usually it's a melodramatic affair, with the woman in question agonizing over the decision and dealing with grief in the aftermath.
GLOW avoids all of these pitfalls. When Alison Brie's lead Ruth Wilder discovers her pregnancy in Episode 8, there is no yelling or crying. In a show in which everything is loud, from the wrestling to the costumes, Ruth's decision to terminate her pregnancy is characterized by quiet, somber contemplation. In Brie's excellent performance we see Ruth's shock, with the pregnancy as a cruel reminder of her affair with her best friend's husband. Although we aren't let in on her thought process, it's clear that Ruth is weighing up her options seriously, remaining quiet and removed even as her fellow wrestlers invite her to a roller disco.
Finally, she makes her choice. In a touching moment of relationship development, Ruth reaches out to her coach, Sam Sylvia, and he drives her to the abortion clinic. There is no tearful heart-to-heart, no moral lecture. After teasingly playing the role of her husband at the clinic, Sam drops the act and asks her, seriously but without pressure, if she really wants to do this.
Ruth takes a second, then replies in a somber, but down to Earth manner. This just wasn't the right time for her, she explains, or the right baby. When I heard these words I teared up. While at university, I interviewed an old friend about her own decision to get an abortion, and she said much the same thing. "You shouldn’t have a baby because you got pregnant, you should have a baby because you want to be a mother. That’s how I thought of it at the time – like saying I’m not ready for you yet, baby, but I’ll meet you someday."
This Choice Isn't The End Of The World
Talking to The Hollywood Reporter, the cast and writers explained that they felt this was an important topic to broach on GLOW. Brie put it best, saying "Women should be able to make that choice, and it doesn’t have to be the end of the world." True to the sentiment, Ruth's terminated pregnancy is never mentioned again on the show. This was a momentary problem, discovered, deliberated on, and dealt with in a day, as it is for many women.
What I found particularly impressive was the fact that Ruth, about to go into her operation, quickly made a joke to Sam: "In Soviet Union, abortion is only thing there is no line for." As rare as it is to see a terminated pregnancy portrayed practically, it's even more rare to see it joked about. The only other lighthearted examples are from Scrubs — the episode "My Best Friend's Baby's Baby and My Baby's Baby" features plenty of jokes about abortion, but ends with Jordan sincerely discussing her own terminated pregnancy.
And of course, who could forget that hilarious moment in "My Bright Idea," when JD yells "abort the plan, abort the babies!" right in front of a priest — only for the priest to later say "oh don't worry, I'm pro choice." This bit does not make fun of abortion, but it helps to reduce the stigma by turning it into a joke. Ruth's own joke, just as she terminates her own pregnancy, proves that abortion doesn't need to be a heavy, emotionally fraught topic — and that it's possible to have a sense of humor about it. It's no surprise then, that Planned Parenthood have praised GLOW for its "authentic portrayal" of this experience.
As with many topics, a good media representation of abortion can go a long way to easing the real-life stigma people face when considering their own options. With any luck, GLOW will inspire more showrunners to broach the subject in a grounded, sensitive way — because ignoring abortion as an option only perpetuates the idea that it is a taboo subject, and something that should only be considered as a last resort. Here's hoping that three decades after GLOW is set, we might finally be able to approach this issue with an open and accepting attitude — and a joke to lighten the mood.
Tell us in the comments: What do you think is the most revolutionary moment in GLOW?
(Source: The Hollywood Reporter)