Arts and Culture

Victim or Villain? How High School Musical’s sexism failed Sharpay Evans

Zara Agha

Ah, Sharpay Evans. You love to hate her. She’s one diva in a long line of overtly feminine women who are routinely demonised in Hollywood. That’s right, I’m suggesting Sharpay is more victim than villain.

High School Musical’s success comes largely from it’s criticism of gender roles. Troy Bolton refuses to “Stick To The Status Quo”, asserting his desire to be an all star athlete and a theatre geek. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. His masculinity isn’t compromised by musicals, but enhanced, because who doesn’t love a hunk with a soft side? However, the same elasticity is denied to Sharpay, whose villainy stems from her aggressive female ambition.

Sharpay’s intelligence is only seen in her various schemes, otherwise she’s just the superficial dumb blonde. Shaming her confidence, the Wildcats in HSM1 cruelly remark that Sharpay spends all her time ‘shopping for mirrors’. Her excessively pink locker, bedazzled convertible and need for designer shoes only furthers conceptions of her as vain and superficial. When such feminine characteristics are associated so strongly with the villain, it’s clear we should mock and reject them.

Meanwhile, Gabriella’s respectable outfits fashion her as the modest, naturally beautiful heroine. Sharpay is routinely offset by ‘genius girl’ Gabriella, who mocks cheerleaders – the epitome of teen femininity. Sorry Gabriella, but your refusal to conform to mainstream femininity isn’t anything new. The heroines of teen films are always the modest plain Janes, and never mean girls like Sharpay.

Even Sharpay being blonde and losing her man to a modest brunette is a sexist trope. Blondeness in cinema is ‘inherent to female sexuality’, which, of course, is taboo. God forbid a woman going after what she wants. Truth be told, Gabriella is never forward. In HSM, Troy seeks Gabriella out, be that following her after class, waiting at musical auditions, or even climbing onto her balcony after she rejects him. The most Gabriella does is unknowingly move to the same school as him. Meanwhile, Sharpay showers Troy with compliments and college scholarships.

Throughout the franchise, Sharpay’s passion for the traditionally feminine sphere of musical theatre is belittled. Musical theatre is validated only when Troy and Gabriella sign up. However, Troy’s investment in sports and Gabriella’s success in traditionally masculine sciences balance their interest in such a feminine sphere.

Costuming reveals Troy and Gabriella’s saving grace of male spheres (sports and academia) amongst feminising showtunes

Sharpay, the most ambitious character, is never rewarded. She loses the lead role in HSM, HSM2 sees her own brother prevent her from performing, and she’s rejected from Juilliard in HSM3. That’s despite dedicating her entire life to theatre, though Troy, with his limited experience, somehow bags a theatre scholarship. This punishment of distinctly female ambition is alarming.

Sure, Sharpay isn’t perfect. She is, however, victim to sexist tropes that ultimately fail her in a franchise hailed for its criticism of gender roles.

It’s time we embrace Sharpay and all things pink.