Jack + Rose (+ huge age gap + no love affair + no boat)

Jack Kelly is a guys’ guy.

Mama Rose is a guys’ girl.

How can a girl be “one of the guys”?




And how could I include such a nasty patriarchal phrase in the first three sentences of my post?!?!?!



But really, Jack (played by Jeremy Jordan in Disney’s 2017 production of Newsies!: The Broadway Musical, directed by Brett Sullivan and Alex Calhoun) and Mama Rose (played by Bette Midler in the 1993 production of Gypsy, directed by Emile Ardolino) have a lot more in common than what meets the eye. Jack is different from the other “newsies,” and Mama Rose is different from the other women- and men. Why? Because they both exude masculinity like their lives depend on it. And not just the boy- being-boys- type of masculinity. But real power, control, leadership, confidence: what it takes to be a man of the men- a true, by-book alpha (*tips hat to society*). They know exactly what they want to accomplish, and they accomplish it by all means necessary- and unnecessary.

This is what I mean:

Girls like him.

And the guys do too- just look at the way they look at him. Jack could be reading a grocery list or giving a social movement speech, and those boys WOULD NOT CARE either way.

Oh, and he man spreads while standing AND sitting.

Here you have it: a dude shrugging at being a dude.

But seriously, Jack is charismatic, independent but loyal, bold, and ready to rally. He’s a leader. He’s got a big heart, but he’s ~ guarded ~ and tough. And it shows in the dance numbers. Notice how Jack isn’t hopping in and flipping around with the other guys? Yeah, that’s for a reason. Instead, he is strong in his step and what they call “stage combat”- not quite dancing or acrobatics- and the effect of the tap shoes (attention-demanding, louder and ‘manlier’ than ballet, etc.) only adds to the emphasis on his confidence in word and act. His steps follow his words which follow his practically inflated chest, emphasizing the importance of his words and giving them a bit of a pump-up background beat with the tap shoes. (I’m sure if you were in the audience, you’d feel the energy of his steps.) Sometimes we see Jack wearing a muscle-exposing tank top with suspenders and dirt smothered all over because guys do physical work, duh, but most times we see him all cleaned up, ready to serve his crew’s union a plate of justice.

We know from his backstory that Jack has had a rough upbringing. He wants to bring a sense of good and accomplishment to his newsboys, so by staying angry, he stays focused. Physically and emotionally, he’s pretty stiff, but if he wants to lead a group of young males into the fight for justice AND be victorious AND be an icon, he needs to. Jack knows he needs to “be a man” to fight for himself and for others. It’s dangerous work, certainly not for the faint-of-heart.

Mama Rose, like Jack, fights for what she wants. The only difference is that her “crew” doesn’t want her to, so she’s more of a self-elected leader than a group-wide-respected one like Jack is. Instead of having her dreams and desires amplified by that of the group, Mama Rose projects hers onto the group (aka her two daughters).

Mama Rose is a woman in charge; she is a not-to-be-messed-with, absolute queen of a character.

She’s wild.

She’s brash.

She’s determined.

She’s unstoppable.

She’s accomplishing and doing.

She is… being masculine.

Being masculine is exactly that- being it, not having it. We talk a lot about how gender is performative, but that’s because it is, or at least the stereotypical characteristics of masculinity are. Do these characteristics “belong” to males? Yes? No? The boys were confident first? I don’t know.   

But regardless, Mama Rose is the perfect example of gender as a performance. Why is she “crazy”? Because she’s relentless, unsilenced, strong, wild-eyed, and ambitious. She’s an absolute hellbender. In a masculine lens, Mama Rose is unwavering, praiseworthy, and hungry to achieve. In a feminine lens, she is desperate, manipulative, threatening, and selfish. Why? Because gender norms. Where a female Rose “forced” Louise into the burlesque number, a male Rose would have “volunteered.”

This is a character that would do anything for her daughters (compared to Jack and his newsies) to have the success she did not. Mama Rose is incredibly desperate to be heard, seen, and appreciated. But she doesn’t get the “thank you for sacrificing everything (including your sanity) for me.” We know how it ends…

In this plot, we see masculinity playing out differently in male and female bodies again: A female wanting appreciation is needy, but a male wanting the same is not respected enough. Jack didn’t need what Mama Rose needed because he had it; he was respected and looked up to and appreciated, but Mama Rose was not. Would she have been if she was more than “being masculine” (like physically a male)? I don’t know. But what I do know is Mama Rose is an atypical woman because of her masculine tendencies and characteristics, and because of her biology, “being masculine” makes her less of a woman. So she’s a successful guy’s girl but appears unsuccessful because she is cRaZy for acting out male characteristics in a female body, and Jack’s a successful guy’s guy who appears successful because he exists in a male body with strong male traits, and this is not the Titanic. Oh, and you can “be masculine” without being a man.

8 thoughts on “Jack + Rose (+ huge age gap + no love affair + no boat)

  1. Wow, this connection is incredible! I didn’t even stop to realize that Mama Rose and Jack share so many qualities, yet their images are completely different to audiences. Jack represents the ultimate man, the greatest form of masculinity. Who doesn’t love a hard-working romantic newsie who cares about his friends? He’s determined, headstrong, and incredibly tough. Well, what does he have that Rose hasn’t got? Rose is the same character but as a different gender. Her thoughts are locked on fame and bringing success to her daughters and she will stop at nothing to succeed. She had a relationship for some time and still led one of her daughters to greatness.

    So why do audiences adore Jack but find an issue with Mama Rose? It could be because she is “too masculine” for a woman. With Jack, it’s completely acceptable. A boy living in the streets who somehow manages to form a union and rally all the newsies? Sure. A mother who wants the best for her children after also being short on money at the start? A woman who pushes a relationship to the side because she has other priorities and she has the power to do so? Not so attractive. The similarities here emphasize the difference in gender stereotypes and what is deemed attractive and acceptable for both. Jack and Mama Rose are essentially the same character at their cores, but their genders prevent both from being seen as one and the same because different genders require different roles.

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  2. Such a strong argument and such good delivery. You invited the reader to understand how Jack and Mama Rose have a lot of similarities, particularly regarding their performances of masculinity. You bring greater depth to the concept of the performance of gender. I loved it.


  3. Your post was so engaging and fun–the use of (plus the right amount of) pictures, the colloquial yet very exact tone and diction, the paragraph breaks…they made time fly while I was reading your writing! The most fascinating part for me has to be when you first pointed out (in the “Why’s she so crazy?” paragraph that Mama Rose is crazy because she’s a female showing “masculine” traits. Even though I watched both musicals with the most analytical-for-class viewpoint ever, I was not able to make that connection or even consider, “if Rose (or Jack) was a man (a woman), how would have their acceptance by the characters around them and also the audience changed?” Your essay truly hit the right point and was inspiring. Thank you for posting it on the class blog!


  4. I really enjoyed reading this essay! Your voice really comes through in your writing and it adds just the right amount of humor. I also wrote my essay on Mama Rose talking about how she is exactly what is expected from a “real man”. Because I hadn’t analyzed Jack, it was interesting to see what you noticed in his character. This writing piece really helped me reflect on how either character would be received differently were Jack a female or Rose a male.

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  5. The “Jack and Rose” connection here is just so clever, I can’t get over it! And just in general, I think you make some very clever distinctions about gender roles here and gender may be performed, whether intentionally or not (the beginning sentence though author-admittedly was patriarchal was SUPER telling and smart, “guy’s girl vs. guy’s guy”. I just thought the connections you made were awesome!

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  6. I love the connections you made here, they’re SO interesting and so accurate. Mama Rose is totally showing off traditionally “masculine” characteristics, and we as the audience judge her harshly for it. Yes, she does take these things to an extreme, but at the root, she’s extremely ambitious and wants what’s best for her family.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love the way you introduced the similarities and differences of Rose and Jack. I never considered Mama Rose’s expression of gender in the way that Jack portrays the typical gender norm of being a man. It’s interesting how you analyzed the effect of gender on the perception of success where success is marked by how well an individual fits into their gender construct as opposed to their expressions or actions of identity.

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  8. This is an incredibly strong essay! I really enjoyed hearing your thoughts. They really stuck with me. The sentences and paragraphs that especially were potent were those where you analyzed Jack’s experience with that of Rose’s and intertwining them, relating them to each other; the sentence that mentioned “BEING masculine not having it” as well as the conclusion paragraph did a really nice job of bringing it all together! And, most importantly, you did an incredible job of implementing your voice without it sounding informal– it really kept me engaged. This was one of the strongest pieces I have read and I will definitely be taking tips from you!

    Liked by 1 person

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