Rewatching my favourite childhood film and why I see it differently now: Grease

Content warning: date rape; rape culture; pregnancy

Grease is the word… or misogyny. Misogyny is the word.

Watching Grease now as a twenty-year-old woman, a bit more worldly wise and actually taking notice of the plot, I don’t love it as much as I used to. I still can have a good shower sing-song to ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ but now I can’t watch the film without feeling slightly repulsed.

The objectification of women in the film is sickening: ‘Are her jugs bigger than Anette’s?’ while later Danny refers to Rizzo as ‘sloppy seconds’. How delightful AND the women just take this treatment!

Danny betrays Sandy’s trust when mouthing off to the T-Birds just to boost his ego. Whilst Sandy is dreaming of her summer romance with a gentleman who didn’t lay her hand on her, Danny describes how he was getting ‘friendly in the sand’ with his chick.

‘Chick gonna need to put out before she gets in’

‘Chicks will cream’

‘Did she put up a fight?’

How charming… doesn’t everyone love the shameless enforcement of rape culture? If this doesn’t demonstrate how men are shown to just use women as objects for sexual gratification, one of the T-Birds actually says in one scene how ‘they’re only good for one thing’ and shortly after wolf-whistles Sandy in diner. The patriarchy at its finest.

If the men aren’t bad enough, the women then tear each other down too. Sandy is shamed for being ‘pure’ and a ‘goody two shoes’… ‘won’t go to bed ‘til I’m legally wed’ as sung by Rizzo in ‘Sandra Dee’. Sandy is framed as being frigid and boring whilst the Pink Ladies peer-pressure her into smoking and drinking wine. Rather than boosting Sandy up after her heartbreak, bitchiness kicks in when the girls are probably just intimidated by her strength of character.

Then there’s Marty who is charmed over by a much older man at the dance. Although Marty can be assumed to be a consenting adult according to her school year, Vince Fontaine takes advantage of a young girl’s innocence and bowls her over with his fame, how wonderfully appropriate… NOT! Marty later informs Rizzo she caught Vince ‘trying to put aspirin in [her] coke at the dance’… the 50s of date rape!

We can’t forget the lovely bit of slut-shaming when Rizzo thinks she is pregnant and word gets out. Patty Simcox whispers to her friends ‘That’s the girl I was telling you about’. There’s no question over helping Rizzo or sitting some responsibility with the father. Instead, Rizzo is made to feel like an outsider.

This film promotes women changing themselves to fit with ideals set by the male gaze. Towards the end of the film, before the iconic black leather trousers and red heels scene (I still want that outfit), Sandy thinks the only way she’ll fit in and meet Danny’s expectations is to change herself, put on some tight fitting clothes and light up a cigarette. ‘Goodbye to Sandra Dee…’. I wish I could just give poor Sandy a good shaking and say HE DOESN’T DESERVE YOU, YOU ARE TOO GOOD FOR HIM HONEY!

In conclusion, Grease has some absolute tunes but I think it should be watched with caution. Perhaps you can argue it was a sign of the times but I think we all know the same attitudes are still held up in society now, maybe just a little less obvious…

Photo courtesy of Myke Simon

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