You remember Sandy Olsson, right? From Grease, of course—one of the most-loved, well-known musicals. In case you somehow haven’t seen or even heard that “grease is the word,” this movie came out in 1978, but takes place in 1958, as they were feeling the ’50s nostalgia. And if you haven’t seen it, beware that I’m spoiling it below. (But you really should watch it sometime; it’s a classic in my opinion.)
Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) meets Danny Zuko (John Travolta, in his prime) during the summer on the beach. Long story short so I can get to my point, they think it’s just a summer fling until her family decides to move there in the fall. So she ends up at his high school just in time for senior year, and it’s a modern-day Romeo & Juliet…only instead of their families at odds, it’s the fact that they’re from different cliques entirely. He’s a bad American boy, she’s a good Australian girl, and they have nothing in common, so they think. It starts off badly, and then he tries to become a jock (but can’t hack it), and then one of the popular girls, Frenchy, befriends Sandy and gets the rest of the “Pink Ladies” to take pity on the star-crossed lovers and help turn her into one of them (or possibly even sexier). So she changes in the end, which really turns him on and ensures that they can easily be together now as they drive/fly off into the sunset.
I’ve heard people say that this movie is anti-feminist, or just plain wrong and not a good example for young women, because of how Sandy conformed and changed herself for a guy.
I’m here to dispute that.
While I see the point in encouraging young women to be themselves and feel good about that, I have a rebuttal. What if Sandy wanted to change, not for Danny, but for herself? High school is a difficult time already, when you are only just beginning to learn more about who you are and want to be. You don’t have to even fully know that by the time you graduate, but many of us are still figuring it out at 20, 30, and so on.
I think Sandy did what was best for herself at the time. Besides, let’s not forget, it’s a movie…a musical. It doesn’t mean that she’s going to be with Danny forever. (I am purposefully not talking about Grease 2, because I’m still trying to forget that one exists….) And I’d like to think that Danny’s reaction to her transformation was empowering, and put her in control again. It was a way for Sandy to show him she’s interested, while still letting Danny make a move back. I think you could also say it was symbolic, as movies are…that it was not about changing her wardrobe, hairstyle, or status for the guy, but about the compromises to be made in any relationship, and the moviemakers just didn’t have the time to show that in a subtler way.
I think that these days there is too high a sensitivity for what is deemed anti-feminist or sexist. Also, a lot of entertainment is deemed unworthy because people are looking for a hidden meaning as opposed to just enjoying it for pure entertainment value. And like Roxane Gay from Bad Feminist says (see my book review and discussion for more elaboration), once someone in authority who has been labeled as feminist says something, everyone usually thinks that if you disagree, then you are not a true feminist.
But I say, let them watch Grease!
(Image Source: Paramount Pictures)