May 15, 2019

Mum questions what on earth anyone was thinking having a bunch of preteens celebrate this sexist, don’t-be-yourself, do-anything-for-a-man garbage.

When I was in the seventh grade, I played Sandy in our school’s production of Grease. This is still one of the biggest coups of my life; after all, the lead role usually went to an eighth grader. But I was perfect for it — an innocent, naïve girl just like the character, and I had a crush on the boy playing Danny. At dress rehearsal, when I came out wearing spandex pants and a black crop top in the final scene, he blanked and forgot all his lines. The boy playing Kenickie helpfully prompted, “Tell her you love her!”

The fondness of that memory hadn’t faded when I bought tickets to a local junior high school’s performance of the show.

Why are we letting young kids celebrate this sexist behaviour?

But just a few minutes into it, I wondered what on earth anyone was thinking having a bunch of preteens celebrate this sexist, don’t-be-yourself, do-anything-for-a-man garbage.

As we open, big man on campus Danny Zuko is lying to his friends — in a catchy tune — about how he slept with a girl he met over the summer. While Sandy’s new friends want to know if it was love at first sight, Danny’s friends instead ask if she “put up a fight.” (“Did you sexually assault her? Dum-doobie-doo.”) Ah, romance.

Then, surprise! She enrolls at his school… which she doesn’t realize because he’d lied and told her he went to Catholic school. The first time they spot each other at school, Danny blows her off in front of his friends, then lies again (seeing a pattern?) and tells them she’s just a family friend.

Naturally, after being humiliated and mistreated this way, Sandy spends the rest of the play obsessing over him.

When it becomes clear he’s seeing other girls (and at one point rubbing it in her face), she gets mad for five seconds and then decides he’s still the one for her.

Then he asks her to “go steady” just so he can get further sexually with her at the drive-in, to the point where she’s physically fighting him off. Again, she gets super mad for one scene and then sings a sappy song about how devoted she is to him.

grease

But the kicker, of course, is the ending. The whole play, she has been coerced into things she doesn’t want to do: drinking, smoking, getting her ears pierced in someone’s bathroom… and for the big finale, she goes completely out of character, dresses seductively, uses a phony deep voice, and takes up a deadly habit to impress this guy who’s been lousy to her. (For his big transformation, he joins the track team. I mean, I guess it’s something.)

Even if you sanitize all the other stuff that’s not appropriate for kids to reenact (Rizzo’s pregnancy scare, Vince Fontaine acting the pedophile all over Marty, the entirety of the “boys will be boys” banter), you’re still left with that final message. It doesn’t matter who you are. Slap on some makeup and turn yourself into someone else so a guy will be proud to show you off to his buddies — even when he’s mostly terrible.

Girls seriously can’t win!

I’ve tried to see it another way. I wanted to believe that Sandy’s transformation is really about her claiming her sexual power and freedom because she wants to, but nope. There’s no hint of that. All that precedes this significant change is her moping around about how no one likes her the way she is. This provides a super opportunity for her to realize that everyone should kick rocks and she should get some better friends. But no; it’s time for a makeover so she can fit in better and land her man.

On top of that, it solidifies the idea that girls can’t win no matter what they do.

Danny’s embarrassed to be seen with Sandy because she’s too wholesome, yet they love to slut-shame Rizzo. Boys get to decide just how sexual a girl can be before her reputation is ruined, yet they have no such rules for themselves.

If adults still want to keep the movie in a sacred spot in our lives because it was entertaining and we still remember how to do the hand jive, I think that’s okay. But it’s long past the expiration date for this kind of messaging to adolescents who are just starting to figure out who they are and what relationships are all about. Sandy could have done so much better.

And Vince Fontaine belongs in prison.

“This article by Jenna Glatzer, originally appeared on Ravishly and has been republished with permission.”

Jenna Glatzer is the author or ghostwriter of more than 30 books for all five of the “big five” US publishers. Her work includes Celine Dion’s authorized biography (Celine Dion: For Keeps) and a biography of Marilyn Monroe authorized by her estate (The Marilyn Monroe Treasures). Jenna also has credits in the Washington Post, Salon, Newsweek, Woman’s World, Bella, MSN, Writer’s Digest, Success, and many others. She’s a single mom living in New York with one awesome daughter and one entertaining leopard gecko.

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  • My mum never let me watch it for all these reasons

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  • Definitely need to be careful what we are messaging to girls and there are a lot of other options out there.

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  • I’m not sure that I have ever seen a school perform this as a play – and i’m a teacher!

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  • I think the content is a bit too adult for school plays anyway.

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  • I loved the movie then and still do now. I think the kids love to do this production because there is a lot involved. Cars and dancing and they probably love the outfits too. Let them choose and leave it at that

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  • I liked the movie and the musical. Each to their own.

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  • I still love it. Grease is the word!!!

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  • I considered it trash at the time and now I see why! Yes, it’s absolute rubbish. It captures the backwardness of the era and all its other music.

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  • I love ‘Grease’ it is such an iconic movie. This day and age we have a brain and I believe are not totally influenced on how to act because of movies such as this one. Children are getting smarter and are being themselves. I have been going to the school play for a lot of year and this year (which was last week) was the play on ‘Grease’. As I said before I love ‘Grease’ but these kids destroyed it. It was the worst musical I went to, because I know the movie, love the movie and I expected more. I think there are many more plays out there for students to act in, and I would like to see new ones, not the old ones over and over again. I had to watch the “Grease’ movie to recover from last week. But the kids did their best.

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  • I’ve never been a fan of Grease, I agree though. There are plenty of other amazing play/musicals that they can choose from at school.

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  • I agree with all Jenna’s comments….I mean what is the grease lightning song REALLY about!?!??
    plus the fact I’m OVER the movie and OVER the songs…they’re played at every party still on some radio stations..enough is enough…

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  • In the past i would have blown this article off as thinking too much about things and not worry about it. However in the past couple of years i have been realising that the keeping of girls just below boys in society is pervasive. For example how many childrens books have a girl hero? When you go to a store to buy kids clothes, the boys clothes have words like superhero, you’re awesome, you can do anything etc, whereas a lot of the girls clothes have rainbows and fairies and unicorns etc. Although i like rainbows and unicorns, to me it shows that there really is a slight difference in the way we treat males and females. And it’s time we noticed it and stopped it.

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  • Yes there could be much better plays for school children to preform, the thing that always bothered me with Grease was they way it was not cool to be a quiet reserved female and that she had to change her appearance and what she wore to get a boys attention, does this not say enough of how females are always dressing to get attention from males?

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  • Guess there is always something to complain about in past works – even Shakespeare comes in for a make-over in certain plays, but that is what it was back then and if you want to make a point, make that point. That’s what it was like, but these days it is so much better [but the songs are good].

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  • It is a great musical and the acting is superb. If you are concerned don’t let young ones watch it if you don’t consider it’s suitable.

    Reply

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