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Is Grease the Word?

August 16, 2022 | by Dina Coopersmith

Olivia Newton John’s death got me rethinking Grease’s messages regarding relationships and gender.

When I was 10 years old, my next-door neighbors got a VCR and played the newly released film Grease on a loop.

I spent that epic summer hopelessly devoted to Sandy and Danny, singing the words to all the songs, not understanding much of their innuendo, but never tiring of them. I still love those songs to this day.

The death of Olivia Newton John got me rethinking the film’s messages regarding relationships and gender.

The iconic musical tells the story of Sandy, a sweet, demure Australian girl vacationing in the US with her family, and Danny, a local boy (played by John Travolta), she meets at the beach. They share a whirlwind summer romance. By a twist of fate, she ends up staying at the same high school as Danny as a transfer student for senior year.

Sandy quickly discovers that Danny, back in his role as leader of the greaser-gang at school, is not the same Danny she thought she knew. Amid high school drama, dances, prom-night, hook-ups and adolescent angst, Sandy has to figure out if she still loves Danny, despite his bad-boy persona when he's with his buddies. She ends up changing her look and attitude to impress Danny and win him back.

"You better shape up, 'cause I need a man

And my heart is set on you

You better shape up, you better understand

To my heart I must be true

Nothin' left, nothin' left for me to do"…

As a young girl, I didn’t understand much of the sexual dialogue, but it still bothered me that Sandy had to put on tight pants and a low cut shirt, and smoke to get the guy of her dreams.

Why did Sandy have to put on tight pants and a low cut shirt, and smoke to get the guy of her dreams?

What happened to "You better shape up"? Why does Sandy succumb to social pressure, abandon her wholesome image, and conform to the kind of girl Danny is looking for? Why does Sandy have to change for Danny and not the other way around? Why doesn't he tell his dumb friends to go jump in the lake and accept Sandy for who she really is?

Why did she have to say goodbye to Sandra Dee? Couldn't she just be true to her heart?

 I Got Chills, They’re Multiplying

Some women crave relationship so desperately that they mistake the attention they get for their external appearance ('I got chills, they're multiplying and I'm losing control') for real love, when in fact there is no relationship there at all. It's only a matter of time before "you break my heart in two, tears on my pillow, pain in my heart, caused by you, you, you…"

Have things improved since the 60s and 70s? Single women today are more empowered than ever before. And yet, almost 40 years after Rizzo plaintively sings 'I don't steal and I don't lie, but I can feel and I can cry', writes Margaret Wente in a Globe and Mail article entitled Why are good men so hard to find? ”Large numbers of women admit their private lives are a sad mess.”

What can we tell our daughters to help them find happiness and committed relationships? How can we teach our sons about becoming a mensch?

Says Wente: “Sexual liberation is a fabulous thing – in some ways. But it can also turn men into louts, because women don't expect much in return for access… Women have always been the gatekeepers for sex –this means it's up to us to make the rules.”

She quotes sociologist Mark Regnerus who writes in Cheap Sex: "[I]n the domain of sex and relationships men will act as nobly as women collectively demand."

In Ethics of the Fathers, (5:19), the Sages tell us what true love is:

"Any love that is conditional upon something (external), if that thing disappears, the love will fade, but a love that is unconditional will never fade away".

What does it mean to find unconditional love? How do you know if "[he's] the one that [you] want, [he's] the one [you're] looking for, ooh ooh ooh"?

Love must be based on something that doesn’t fade away, like character, inner essence, admirable attributes, and life values. If love is based on purely external factors, it's doomed to disappear as soon as those "conditions" change, as they inevitably will.

As a mom of one happily married daughter and four sons ranging in age from 11 to 25, I think we need to teach our teens as they reach adulthood to be true to themselves, to figure out their strengths and inner character, and to look for inner essence and character in others. If they really know themselves, they will be less likely to develop a fake persona based on social mores and expectations.

Sure, it's possible to have "summer lovin', happened so fast …" but that sort of love is not going to last. Instead:

"I better shape up

if I'm gonna prove

you better prove

that my faith is justified

are you sure?

Yes, I'm sure down deep inside!"

Rest in peace, Olivia Newton John. You were incredibly talented and you gave us some awesome songs to belt out in spinning class! But I think we deserve a remake of Grease that celebrates the real power of women.

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