Grease: My Problematic Fave

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By Claire

Last night, I watched the Australian broadcast of FOX’s production of Grease Live, and boy oh boy did it resurface some emotions. 

Obviously, these emotions started with my love of live theatre and the bitter realisation that I’ll most likely never be in a production of Grease now that I’m 2 years out of high school. Then arose my new-found love for Jordan Fisher, the guy who played Doody (Hello babe, where have they been hiding you?). All of these emotions are evidently displayed in my live-tweets of the 3 hour broadcast, (including one that was broadcasted on the television—Mumma, I’m famous!) where the most potent and obvious emotion I was feeling was, OH MY GOD, I FREAKING LOVE GREASE.

This isn’t new, I have always loved Grease, and this love would come and go, resurfacing from time to time. In Year 11, studying for my Studio Art exam, in Year 12, backstage at West Side Story gossiping on the rumours of doing Grease the next year (note: I wouldn’t have been able to do it anyway, since I was heading to University, but the excitement was still there.  They actually ended up doing Legally Blonde instead. CAN I LIVE?!) And this glorious picture of the Pink Ladies, which represents most of my emotions, has been my cover photo on Facebook for about two years now.

 So obviously, my Grease-lover card is in check.

Grease, however, is a Feminist Nightmare. The backdrop of 1950s America is the hub of blatant sexism, particularly amongst the T-Birds. The T-Bird side of Those Summer Nights perpetuates rape culture and the sexist notion that girls are only good if they put out. The song is also riddled with the damsel in distress trope. Furthermore, the T-Birds pressure Danny into thinking he can’t show his true emotions for Sandy when they reunite, turning him into an outright dick. Let him love his girl, dammit.

The T-Birds during Those Summer Nights

There is also the constant reminder that you need to change in order for people to like you: Sandy at the carnival in the infamous black spandex number, Danny joining the track team; naming and shaming Frenchy for being a Beauty School Drop Out like Frenchie is a wounded animal and needs to scurry along back to high school because Ya Blew It, Kid; slut-shaming Rizzo for being a promiscuous woman, and virgin-shaming Sandy for being a “good girl”…

Sandy's famous transformation is complete

And I could go on.

Grease has many faults, but despite acknowledging this, I can’t help but to love it. It seems hard to justify, but bear with me.

Is it the dreamy 1950s costuming and aesthetic that I have always loved (sexism aside)? The catchy songs that I seem to know all the words to and will always make me happy? It’s definitely both of these things, but most of all, I love the Pink Ladies.

Not only did I need a Pink Ladies jacket, like, yesterday, but no matter how flawed they are, they have redeeming qualities which I have always remembered and carried with me.

Frenchy, who is nice to the new girl without the bat of an eyelash, and continues to root for her despite Rizzo’s immediate distaste for her. And who can forget the legendary “Men are rats” wisdom I hold with me to this day?

Jan, who loves to eat and sing along to the toothpaste ad, and ends up going to the dance with a guy who likes her just as she is (“I think there’s more to you than fat” even though she is not fat at all, thank you very much Mr. Putzie).

Sandy, who sticks up for Rizzo when Patty Simcox slut-shames her, despite Rizzo being less than friendly previously. The girl who is teased for sticking to her “good girl” values, and feels like she has to change in order to be worthy of Danny, in a country that isn’t her own.

Rizzo, who is unfairly treated because she likes to have control over her body and take charge of her destiny. There Are Worse Things I Could Do, while perpetuating heteronormativity and the idea that men-and-women-need-to-be-together-and-that’s-the-end-of-that, is heartbreaking, demonstrating the pressures and stereotypes placed on Rizzo as a woman who enjoys fooling around, who, like Danny, feels like she can’t display her true emotions.

I love these women. And I will hold them dear to my heart, flaws and all. I will resume my search for a Pink Ladies jacket on Etsy or EBay, try to wear as much pink as I can and be singing the entirety of the Grease soundtrack for the rest of time, because Grease may be inherently flawed, and problematic, and made in the 70s, set in the 50s, perpetuating antiquated gender-roles but gosh darn it, I love it so.

Cause a Cine do not own any pictures used in this post.
1 comment on "Grease: My Problematic Fave"
  1. While there's no denying that the world of Grease is incredibly sexist, I learnt that the original ending is not as bad as the film/current theatrical version. In the original production of the musical, Sandy's transformation is actually her becoming herself. It is her "good girl/innocent" look and attitude that she has been forced into by society's expectations and her dramatic change is meant to be her throwing away those expectations and choosing to be who she actually wants to be. The original 1950's musical was written a lot grittier than the film adaption (that current musical adaptions adhere to). Of course, this means that the narrative lacks the connotations that surrounded this moment originally.
    This is in no way an excuse for the horrible sexism present throughout the show though; I just thought it'd be interesting to share the knowledge I have.