In defence of Dirty Dancing

A little while ago, I asked for feminist film suggestions on Twitter. I was almost drowned with enthusiastic responses, and will hopefully be able to categorise them all into some sort of blog post at some point. 

One suggestion really stuck out in my mind. @ayiasophia suggested Dirty Dancing, but also mentioned that she had gotten some stick for suggesting it as feminist in the past. Now I must admit, I did scoff a little myself for a few seconds. But then I thought about it. Could Dirty Dancing, in actual fact, be one of the most quietly fervent feminist films around?

What? This blog post needed a picture. Its hardly my fault if a half-naked picture of Patrick Swayze just happened to present itself to me. Its not objectification, honest

What? This blog post needed a picture. Its hardly my fault if a half-naked picture of Patrick Swayze just happened to present itself to me. Its not objectification, honest

Firstly: allow me to declare that I love this film. I've watched it many, many times: on my own, with friends, in a packed cinema with smuggled in wine (yes, we ended up dancing in the cinema, but it's okay because everyone else in there was too), I've seen the stage show twice. Most of all, though, I remember this film from my childhood. If the weather was bad, they used to let us watch it on video instead of PE. My mum and I knew the soundtrack off by heart. To this day, She's Like The Wind makes me weak at the knees. However, it's always felt a bit guilty, loving this film. After all, it's pretty frivolous, right? or is it? 

When I was younger, the subtleties of it totally passed me by. It was, as far as I was concerned, a film entirely about kicking bridges, pretty dresses, dancing, and of course watermelons. I even remember vaguely wondering what was dirty about it. Of course, when you watch it as an adult you realise they're lolling post-coitally around in bed for a lot of the time. And they used to show us it in school! 

Baby is, it's safe to say, not defined by her looks or sexuality at the start of the film. She's smart, and she's going to change the world. She's not what would be considered particularly beautiful. Her sister, on the other hand, is defined by her looks. She's that stereotypical, air-headed woman who thinks her appearance is what matters.


My views of feminism are strengthening constantly these days. It's tempting to define it as not needing a man, but I think it's a real shame to exclude men and relationships from a working definition of feminism. In my opinion, a feminist heterosexual relationship is one in which you are free to be consumed by love at its frightening best, and yet its about not being defined by your relationship with men. 

At first glance, this film is about getting the guy (and what a guy!). But when you think about it more deeply, the reasons why she gets the guy are really important and quite admirable. It is her ideals, her intelligence, and her ability to be an all-round decent person that gets her the guy rather than how drop-dead gorgeous she is. Her sister, who does try to use her looks to get her way, fails miserably. There's also that pro-choice storyline, and who could possibly forget Jonny's speech about how he's used by rich women- he's the one who is objectified here, not Baby.  
 

So, when you think about it, its actually the perfect film for the school to have been showing us as children, and for my Mum to watch with me time and time again. It's about a young woman who learns that she'll be loved because of who she is, rather than what she looks like. It's about her learning about and pretty freely enjoying sex and love but not being defined by it. She is her own person throughout and at the end... Well, off she goes, like the wind. 

I've noticed that a few of the feminist films that were suggested centre around revenge, usually against men. But there's none of that here. There's an acknowledgement that  men are present, enriching and important, but they are not the be-all-and-end-all of being a good person. Jonny is a support to Baby, but not a crutch - and to me, that's exactly what a healthy relationship should be. 


Hxxx