There’s something we need to talk about, right now, this second. Literally. Because I’ll let you into a secret, dear viewer: there are people out there who think having hair like David Bowie from Labyrinth is a good idea (but we’ll get to that later.) There are also people out there who think Grease is a feminist film. Or, I don’t know, you could be one of them- and I think you’re fully entitled to your opinion. But right now, I’m going to be awfully pessimistic and write about why Grease is a sexist film with small nuggets of feminism (small nuggets, you hear me?)
So, in no particular order:
- It’s full of horrible references to abuse and rape, including once, in an otherwise rather catchy song, the line “Did she put up a fight?”. There is also a very unpleasant bit where sweet, innocent Sandy is trying to watch a movie at a drive-in and Danny, the love interest who is an interesting combination of moron and Elvis impersonator, tries to touch her without her permission before assaulting her. After this, she very rightly shouts at him and leaves, but within five minutes she’s back with him. Why???
There is some rather unpleasant fat-shaming of one girl, who, despite being perfectly thin and attractive, is forced into wearing baggy jumpers and talking about dieting the whole movie. She also readily accepts an invitation to the high school dance-off from a boy who tells her that there is “more to you than fat”. Romantic, huh?
There is also some very unpleasant slut-shaming (“Sloppy seconds aren’t my style”, and that’s from the male lead we’re supposed to be falling for!) of Rizzo, who is not only the best character in the entire film, she is also the only feminist character in the film. At first she decides to try and ignore her ‘bad reputation’, but by the end she’s singing a feminist-ish song about how she’s not a bad person and there are worse things she could be doing with her life than going out with boys. Unfortunately, though, the last scene she gets she’s hanging out with her cool female friend on a ferris wheel (actually, just don’t ask) when her loser ex-boyfriend comes up to her and tells her that he’ll “make an honest woman” out of her. Instead of pointedly replying “Excuse me, can’t you see I’m hanging out with my friend here?”, she is delighted by this and runs off with him. Because no girl can be happy without a boy, right?
There is also the issue of Cha-Cha, which is unfortunately an issue I’ll be debating on my own, as no-one else seems to really give a damn. Cha-Cha is another high school person, Danny’s ex, who is the typical big-haired, flirty rival for the male lead’s affections. This film stereotype, which we’ll call the Lesser Spotted Big Haired Romantic Obstacle (or, then again, perhaps not), is pretty common as a small object in the path of Muscular White Boy marrying/dating Beautiful White Girl. She’s often one of the few black/ethnic minority characters in the film, but that’s kind of a different discussion. In this film, Cha-Cha gets in the way when Danny is dancing with Sandy and dances with him instead, meaning that they win the dance-off. She is portrayed as being a bad person for this, although Danny could have stopped and said “Bog off, can’t you see I’m dancing with Sandy!”. But he doesn’t! He doesn’t say that, so she just keeps dancing with him. Cha-Cha is just a plot device; she’s not even a character. But if there’s a sequel- and I’m aware that it’s a teeny bit late for that by now- I’ll hope she’ll be in it.
- Another problem with this film is that pretty much all the female characters apart from Rizzo and Cha-Cha, who’s barely even a character at all, are portrayed as being incredibly stupid. This doesn’t even mean just Sandy, who is more naive than stupid, but also all her friends, like Frenchy, who, in a hilarious but completely irrelevant sequence, gets a weird and slightly hallucinatory vision of her guardian angel coming down and singing a really offensive song to her, which, even though it contains lines like “Who wants their hair done by a slob?” and “But no customer will go to you, unless she was a hooker!”, she thinks is complimenting her right until the end. Of course, this is kind of a moot point, because while most of the female characters are very stupid, all of the male characters are complete idiots.
- Another unpleasant theme in the film is the boys’ supposed ‘ownership’ of the girls, including one bit where two of them are about to have a car race and one of them says to the other, “We’re racing for pinks!” Of course, what he actually means is pink slips, or ownership papers (I.E., the winner gets the loser’s car) but Danny assumes, in his horribly entitled popular-boy way, that the boy means they’re racing for the ownership of the Pink Ladies, the supporting girls’ group that Rizzo, Jan and Frenchy belong to.
- And then there’s another thing, which doesn’t play a huge part in the film, but is extremely disturbing. At the dance-off, Marty, one of the Pink Ladies, who doesn’t have a date, goes off with a creepy TV show host called Vince Fontaine who is at least one thousand three hundred and fifty-four years older than her, and everyone knows age gaps like that are only appropriate on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. After all, the disparity between them is obvious- Marty is young and attractive and has a nice prom dress to boot, and Vince Fontaine is, well, creepy and old, and he also wears an extremely unpleasant baby blue suit. Listen, I don’t want to make a big deal out of anything, but there’s this… other thing as well. Marty says to Rizzo after the dance, “I caught Vince Fontaine trying to put aspirin in my coke at the dance.” Now, a lot of people have said this is just a little joke about the urban legend from a hundred years ago that aspirin in coke makes you drunk, but I’m not so sure. I don’t want to be too suspicious, but let’s get suspicious here. After all, aspirin is for headaches and stuff, so unless Marty had explicitly told Vince she had a headache, why would he ‘try’ to put one in her drink? I think there’s definitely an implication here that that ‘aspirin’ might not have been, well, an aspirin. It’s so creepy and wrong, but that’s not even the worst part: the worst part is that the film treats the whole thing with Marty and Vince, including this, as completely normal and okay. *Shudder*
So that’s a list of the reasons Grease is sexist, and I’m sure I didn’t even list all the reasons. You have to understand that I don’t hate Grease: in fact, I found it quite funny (in a stupid way.) I find it a little weird, though, that when people talk about Grease being feminist, they only debunk the theory that it’s sexist because Sandy has to ‘change’ for Danny at the end, and ignore all the things in that list. So, for your delight, blog viewers of my heart, here is a list of the reasons Grease is not sexist.
- Because Sandy has to ‘change’ for Danny. At the end of the film- SPOILER ALERT- Danny accepts that he’s been a moron and Sandy would never want to date him, and he dons a cardigan in a pathetic attempt to be like her. Sandy then appears in skin tight black leggings (God, she must be boiling), lipstick and massive Jareth hair (see, I said I’d come back to that!) The idea is that Sandy is now much cooler than Danny, because she now looks a bit more like him, so they are equal. Of course, this is debatable for a number of reasons- like
- Throughout the whole film, he’s been ashamed to be seen with her because she’s so uncool. Now, though, they aren’t equals because he’s WEARING A CARDIGAN, and anyway, they never were because he’s a malicious idiot and she’s just really, really stupid (no offence, Sandy.)
- Also, now she’s so much cooler, SHE should be the one brushing HIM off! Seriously, Sandy, this is your chance!
- Probably the most important reason is that while Danny literally just puts on a cardigan, which he takes off again three seconds later, Sandy has changed her entire appearance, putting on a ton of makeup and exchanging her Violet Elizabeth hair ribbon for some incredibly uncomfortable-looking clothes. She’s also now expected to do an entire dance sequence in high heels- what the hell???
But it’s not a sexist scene, really: compared to the rest of the film, that’s like strident feminism. Rizzo’s song (no, not the first one, idiot! The second one) is also what you might call proto-feminist, but that’s kind of another story/blog post.
So, that’s why Grease is sexist! That was fun, right? No? Alright then. But you wouldn’t hate me for hating the sexism in this film if you saw how much I laughed at Beauty School Dropout.