Things about Dirty Dancing you only notice as an adult

If you haven't watched Dirty Dancing lately, you might be surprised to see how well the movie has held up since its release over 30 years ago. The chemistry between Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze is still as intense and palpable as it was in 1987, and the dancing is just as kinetic and sexy as you remember it. But the real surprise is just how feminist and empowering the film is for women, even by today's standards. 

It's been hailed as a feminist masterpiece by more than one critic, and remains beloved by women who came of age with a copy of the movie on a VHS tape. So why is it so revered all these years later? Here are things about Dirty Dancing that you only notice as an adult. 

If you somehow haven't seen this classic, stop right now and watch. Spoilers ahead.

It passes the Bechdel Test

Not only does Dirty Dancing pass the Bechdel Test, it passes it multiple times. Toward the beginning of the film, Baby and Penny talk about Penny's dancing abilities. Baby tells Penny that she envies her, which understandably irritates Penny; it's a naive thing to say that considering the class chasm between them. But nonetheless, they're both major, named characters, and they have things to talk about that aren't men. 

Later in the movie, they talk about dance moves a second time, and Penny helps Baby master them. Then later, a tearful Penny she tells Baby that she's scared about getting the abortion. Baby reassures her that she'll be fine, and Penny thanks her. 

Finally, in another exchange, Baby's sister Lisa offers to do her hair so she'll look pretty, as she says, but then reneges, telling Baby that she's already pretty in her own way. That's a lot of girl power for a humble 1987 "chick flick."

There's some musical foreshadowing

Dirty Dancing had a carefully-curated, era-appropriate soundtrack, most notably featuring Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes on "I've Had the Time of My Life." Many of the songs on the soundtrack also correspond to events in the plot; "Hungry Eyes" plays as Baby and Johnny are falling for each other during dance practice, for example, and "Yes" plays as Lisa decides she's ready to go all the way with Robbie. 

There's also some clever musical foreshadowing that you might not notice as a kid. The first time Baby enters the staff only dance hall, "Do You Love Me?" is playing. The lyric, "Do you love me/ now that I can dance?" foretells Baby and Johnny's romance, as he falls for her only after she, as the song suggests, learns to dance.

It shows the danger of illegal abortion

One of the ways in which the film was surprisingly subversive was in the way it depicted the mortal dangers of illegal abortion, a bold move for any film, even today. But in Dirty Dancing it's a major plot point — something screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein put in because she feared Roe v. Wade would get overturned — and the reason Johnny and Baby have to dance together; Baby steps in so Penny can terminate her pregnancy. 

While Penny's initially under the impression that a medical doctor will be performing the abortion, it turns out that the practitioner is a "guy with a dirty knife and a folding table." After the procedure, which was terrifying and extremely dangerous, Penny is left in serious pain. She clearly could have died had Baby not summoned her father — an actual medical doctor — to make sure Penny would survive. 

The film is shot from the female gaze

The vast majority of Hollywood films are made by men, so it's not surprising that most films are shot from the perspective of men. But Dirty Dancing was different, as it clearly showed the world from a woman's point of view. This bucked the trend not only in 1987, but also today, as Hollywood clearly struggles with gender diversity and related issues. 

For one, Baby is a scholar from a rich family, typically a male role in film, and Johnny is the sexy dancer admired for his body and physical prowess. Additionally, Baby teaches Johnny the lesson that he can "fight harder," showing the power of her feminine strength. And in their love scene, he doesn't act as the stereotypical man in charge, ravishing his female counterpart. Rather, Baby takes her time admiring Johnny's physique and running her hands over his body, which the camera deliberately shows to the viewer. As an adult, you can't help but appreciate the nuance.

Johnny's sexuality is treated like a woman's sexuality

In many films (and other media), men are depicted as sexually confident and braggadocious while women have to navigate the virgin-harlot dichotomy. However, that's turned on its head in Dirty Dancing when it comes to Johnny's prior experience, which is depicted as more traditionally feminine than masculine. 

After he and Baby have consummated their partnership, she asks him about his prior history with women. Johnny doesn't brag about his experience, which as it turns out, is substantial. Rather, he hesitates at first to answer as he has concerns about how he'll be perceived, something women have to deal with on a regular basis. He eventually opens up, telling Baby about his experience with the older women at Kellerman's. 

At first, he wondered why these women would slip their room keys to him, briefly concluding that they must care about him. But then he realized that they were just using him, and that they didn't really care about him. Johnny's tender way of processing this emotionally harrowing experience definitely resonates with many women.

Baby's a feminist

Baby was a pretty revolutionary character for an '80s teen rom com in that she's a strong, solid feminist. She knows what she wants, whether it's personal ambitions (like joining the Peace Corps), or who she wants to sleep with (Johnny, of course). And once she decides that she wants something, she isn't afraid to go after it. 

She's reverent of Penny, not petty or jealous, and even gets her money for an abortion. She doesn't need a man, so she rejects men who are not Johnny (like Neil) as she's just not that into them. She stands up to men, too, like her father when he doesn't practice what he preaches. When Johnny gets fired, she doesn't chase after him or uproot her life. Rather, she stays put. And at the end of the movie, she doesn't have to change for her man. Instead, she's off to Mount Holyoke, a well-respected women's college, and the world is her oyster. 

It shows the power of class privilege

As a kid, you're not likely attuned to the class commentary in Dirty Dancing, but as an adult it's hard to miss, as class privilege plays out several times throughout the film. For one, Johnny gets fired for stealing the wallet, even though he didn't do it and everyone knows it. But since Baby admitted to everyone that they're sleeping together, he's given a pink slip. 

Additionally, the rich guests — Baby included — have agency and are confident they can do anything in life. Plus, money insulates Robbie from dealing with the consequences of getting Penny pregnant, so he abandons her, even though he could easily give her the money. Even Baby's dad, who says people are all equal, has to do some internal work to accept Johnny and let Baby be with him.

Robbie reads Ayn Rand

Both kids and adults notice pretty quickly that Robbie's a real jerk, especially because of the way he treats Penny. But unless you were an extremely precocious and literate child, you might not have noticed that Robbie's a fan of Ayn Rand. 

He shows his copy of The Fountainhead to Baby while setting the table, and tells her that "some people count, some people don't." It's clear that Rand's philosophies, particularly Objectivism and self-interest, had an impact on him and he legitimates his treatment of people with her theories and ideas.

Women aren't automatically punished for doing the deed

Penny certainly pays the price for intimacy in the movie: she gets pregnant, is abandoned by the father, and suffers the consequences of illegal abortion. But not every woman is punished for doing the deed in Dirty Dancing, unlike many other contemporary films of the era. 

Notably, Baby is able to have consensual, non-marital sex — and really enjoy it — and nothing horrible happens to her. In the end, she and Johnny are the stars of Kellerman's, and everyone sees them perform the climactic dance together, perfectly executed lift and all. In the context of '80s slasher films, where women would often get killed after losing their virginity, this stands out. Baby even makes the first move on Johnny while he stands shirtless before her. Plus, Penny tells Baby that she'll still be able to have children after her botched, illegal abortion, somewhat mitigating her "punishment."

Baby's father really respects her

Baby's father is a pretty stand-up guy, which is evident to anyone who's seen the film. But their relationship really is something special, which you only notice as an adult. For one, he gives her $250 when she asks for it — that's a lot of money, especially in the film's 1963 setting — taking her word that it's for a good cause. He does remind her that she can tell him anything, but he respects her wishes when she says she can't tell him what the cash is for. 

Even though he tells Baby that he doesn't want her hanging out with Johnny and his friends after he helps Penny, in the end he comes around because of the lessons he learned from Baby holding him accountable. This is not how many classic father-daughter relationships have been depicted in Hollywood, which is often father-knows-best.