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Thursday, June 1, 2017

"Dirty Dancing", Feminism and the Female Gaze

Movie critic Katarina Gligorijevic has published an article titled Dirty Dancing, Feminism and the Female Gaze. Here are excerpts:
.... the love story, while it is central to the plot, goes down a totally different and distinctly feminist route than it would in the average romantic comedy or dance film.

No matter how you interpret the film, one thing about the way it was composed and shot remain fascinating and undeniable – the fact that the eye of the camera is a distinctly female and desirous one. Not only does Dirty Dancing provide a fascinating and rare feminist narrative in a genre usually rife with gender stereotypes. It’s also one of the few examples of a film that employs the female gaze. Throughout Dirty Dancing , and very much contrary to the rom-com standard, Patrick Swayze’s working class dancer is presented as the “sexy one”. He takes centre stage as the object of lust and desire. Jennifer Grey stands at the sidelines ogling him, and along with her, the audience.

It’s no wonder that Dirty Dancing inspires near-mythic allegiance among women of a certain age. It may be the only film we’ve ever seen in which the male love interest is the one placed squarely in the centre of the frame to be admired for his physical prowess. Ostensibly, films in the romance genre are always “for women” but it’s rare that the male lead is objectified in the way Swayze is here.

In one of the film’s key scenes, which I always refer to as the “the way I feel when I’m with you scene,” Baby visits Johnny’s trailer and the two finally admit their real feelings to each other. As they are about to begin their first real sexual encounter, Johnny isn’t the aggressor, he’s the one who stands, half naked, in the centre of the room while Baby circles him like a hungry shark, starts dancing with him, and seduces him.

In fact, it’s not until the very end of the film, when he famously declares “nobody puts baby in a corner” that Johnny does any traditionally or stereotypically male lead-taking. Even then, he does something that’s kind of feminist, as far as romantic gestures go. He calls Baby by her real name, Frances, which nobody else uses. He acknowledges her in front of the entire resort as his peer and equal, a woman (not a little girl) who he has learned valuable life lessons from. ...

Sex isn’t something that happens to Baby, as it often does in other coming-of-age films, which frequently seem like cautionary tales about the dangers of being female and sexually curious. It’s something she choses with enthusiasm and (shockingly!) suffers no ill effects as a result. Baby has a great experience with a caring lover, and then at the end of the summer she goes on with her awesomely ambitious life. She doesn’t change her plans to be with her man or cry bitter tears at having to leave him. It’s impossible to overstate how rare a role model like Baby is in films aimed at teenage girls and young women. ....

It’s no coincidence that the film is loved with an almost obsessive passion by generations of women. It’s because, whether they know it consciously or not, it answers a deep need we all have to see ourselves fairly and positively represented, to see a positive love story with a strong female protagonist who isn’t afraid of her ambitions or her desires. And of course, our deep need to ogle hot dudes who can really dance.

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