Revisiting Dirty Dancing in a Post-Roe World
The 1987 classic Dirty Dancing remains a favorite for many, even 35 years later. It’s a classic boy-meets-girl story with a few twists along the way, making it an interesting and entertaining story that keeps people coming back to it year after year.
Dirty Dancing is known for its risque moves, dynamic actors, and the fact that it’s a beautiful love story. In many ways, it’s light-hearted, fun, and has an easy plot to follow. Everyone remembers the dance at the end of the movie and the iconic “lift” between Johnny and Baby. However, there’s one part of the movie that isn’t talked about as frequently, because it doesn’t have the same lightheartedness as the rest of the film – Penny’s abortion.
Penny is Johnny’s friend and long-time dance partner. She ends up getting pregnant by a waiter named Robbie and is told that she needs to “take care of it” if she wants to keep her job.
In 1987, Roe v. Wade was still in place, and yet, there were still dangerous repercussions. Let’s take a look at what Penny had to go through, and how this particular plotline in Dirty Dancing might be viewed today.
The Language of Abortion
The word “abortion” is never actually used in the film, which is why it makes this scene so easy to “skip” or forget about. Some people over the years haven’t even realized what it’s about. However, the language used makes it very clear that not only did Penny receive an abortion, but it was extremely dangerous — nearly taking her life.
Once Penny returns, she is in a state of complete shock. She uses very vivid, frightening descriptors to explain the event, including the fact that it was performed by a doctor with a “dirty knife and a folding table.”
One of the big problems was that Penny had absolutely no social support from her place of employment at the resort. She was scared and didn’t know who to turn to, so she was forced to get an illegal abortion. It was only after she returned and was extremely sick that she finally admitted what had happened, and started to receive support from Johnny, and those closest to her.
Back to the Future
It’s important to remember that although this movie came out in 1987, it was set in 1963. That’s a full decade before Roe v. Wade was legalized. During that time, self-induced abortions weren’t uncommon. Penny might have found a “doctor” to perform the termination for her, but many women tried to take care of things on their own, leading to dangerous health issues like:
- Poor wound healing
Now, with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, there are worries that we’ll see an increase in self-induced or illegal abortions once more. Women who live in states where abortion is illegal might not see another option, and if they don’t have access to the medical care they need, taking matters into their own hands might seem like the best idea, even if it’s dangerous.
What We Can Take Away Today
It feels a little strange to think that we’re currently in a similar situation to those women in 1963. While the abortion laws have been given back to each individual state, there are plenty of places across the country where it’s illegal.
Thankfully, even though things might seem a bit grim (especially if you live in a state where abortion has become illegal), there are things you can do to help yourself or other women who might be struggling with what to do if they experience an unwanted pregnancy, including:
- Leaning on a support system
- Looking into available resources
- Identifying needs and concerns
As a whole, society needs to make some changes in light of the Supreme Court rule. For example, employers should provide better mental health care accommodations. If the resort in Dirty Dancing had better healthcare provisions, Penny may have been able to get the help she needed. Or, at the very least, she would have been able to talk to a mental health professional before or after the abortion to work through the trauma she experienced.
We also need to educate ourselves and others more often. Unwanted pregnancies happen for a variety of reasons, and it’s easy to give into stereotypes. By educating yourself and others, you can do your part to support women during this step backward in history.
There is a Dirty Dancing sequel in the works, and while Patrick Swayze is no longer with us, Jennifer Grey is slated to return. It will be interesting to see if the new film pushes the envelope and serves as a pioneer in sensitive (but important) subjects the way the first one did. Until then, consider revisiting the original Dirty Dancing, and pay attention to Penny’s story. It’s more important now than ever, and might give you a different perspective on the new Supreme Court ruling.