Skip to main content

Why don't we remember Dirty Dancing as the feminist, sex-positive, pro-women's rights film it is?

Why don't we remember Dirty Dancing as the feminist, sex-positive, pro-women's rights film it is?

Share this story

Hack Week Badge

Welcome to the second annual Verge Hack Week. We're totally blowing up our site: we've given our reporters and editors the entire week to play with new tools and experiment with new storytelling ideas, while members of our amazing product team have gathered in New York to help build all sorts of interesting new things. Learn more.

Dirty Dancing is the most important mainstream film of the 1980s. That may not be saying much, considering the decade doesn't stand up to the unapologetically sexy and violent studio films of the 1970s and the dialogue-heavy indie movies of the 1990s. I suspect its place in the '80s has been responsible for its status as pop culture kitsch, and that's a shame.

Dirty Dancing should be remembered for all the audacious risks its script and direction took, and not for a single, cutesy lift. That's why I've created this quiz, to remind people who think they remember Dirty Dancing about what the film actually had to say.

Don't read the rest of this story until you complete the quiz!

Dirty Dancing — like so many great films with female protagonists — has been wrongly generalized as a mindless romantic comedy. I don’t want to give that aspect of the film short shrift, because it’s funnier than most films, and more romantic than all films, but it’s also feminist, sex-positive, and pro-choice. And it expresses these traits in proud, blunt fashion.

In the opening scene, we learn Baby has progressive views, and hopes to help those less fortunate than her, but those views and aspirations have never been challenged in the real world. Baby’s good spirited, but naive. Over the course of the film, Baby learns the value of hard work, discovers her sexuality, loses her virginity, doesn’t judge the sexuality of her peers and her own lover, helps a young woman through an abortion, and stands up to her father whose actions don’t always match his beliefs.

Baby is in control of her identity and flexes against those who question that. And she can carry watermelons like a pro. She’s badass.

Dirty Dancing wouldn't be made by today's risk-adverse studios, which is why it shouldn’t be perceived as some forgettable film from the 1980s. It doesn't have superheroes or computer-generated aliens or explosions, but it does have genuine substance. Now go watch it — again!