‘Legally Blonde’ is one of the popular teen flicks, and tells the story of Elle Woods’ journey to Harvard and beyond. While many young women appreciate the feminist qualities of the film, does it stand up to scrutiny? When situating the film in a broader feminist context, the film seems to comment on first wave feminism. This hit in the 60s, and focused on women’s role in society, and their political power. For example first wave feminism, focused on what jobs women should be allowed to hold.
The reasons as to why and how Elle gets into Harvard are somewhat dubious. She decides that she want to go to Harvard to follow Warner, her boyfriend who has just dumped her. To look at this simply, which the film does, she goes to Harvard solely for this reason. This is where the films feminism falters slightly. Interestingly, it is Elle’s application video that slightly turns this around, as in any normal situation, her application would have been refused. The film notes that it is the lechery of the application panel that lets her in, as well as Elle’s intellectual capabilities. This particular scene comments on how men are failing women, and how they are underestimating Elle. This is a theme that originates with Warner, and continues throughout the film.
One thing that the film succeeds in is the representation of Elle’s friends. They are nothing but supportive, and although they do not understand why Elle wants to go to Harvard, they still help her with the LSATs and her application. They also turn up at the end of the film to support her in her first case. Elle’s teacher is the same, and although she is somewhat perplexed at Elle’s decision to go to Harvard, she supports her.
When Elle first bumps into Warner, her epic putdown of ‘what like it’s hard?’ Encapsulates the idea that if one puts their mind to it, one can do anything. This is a testament to Elle’s character, and although still at this point, she is at Harvard for Warner, we do see glimpses of her strength and determination.
Warner’s rejection of Elle at Harvard is a significant turning point for the better. It is at this point that Elle does not just stay at Harvard for a boy, but she stays at Harvard for herself. She wants to learn, and believes she is capable. Vivienne’s snappiness and Elle’s shambolic first class also do not stop her, and Elle again exhibits motivation and strength – both of which are positive qualities.
Elle’s kindness is also showcased in her relationship with Paulette. Elle supports Paulette in her divorce, and specifically in her fight to get her dog back. Elle seems to cover all bases, she has brains, empathy and beauty. Elle takes another hit when Callahan acts inappropriately with her, but again, instead of letting a man stand in her way, she trusts in her abilities and convictions, and fights to win her case. But again, this moment shows Elle in a positive light, and shows that it is in fact men who are holding, and have been holding her back. This particular scene does not scream feminism at the audience, but instead screams that Elle has to constantly fight to be taken seriously and survive this male dominated profession. The scene highlights a social problem which is still prevalent today.
Elle also single handedly busts female stereotypes. Elle’s girlishness and entire look cold easily be associated with Regina George. Elle could have been portrayed as shallow and villainous, but she bucks that trend by having heart and depth. She beats down the dumb blonde stereotype, and proves that you do not need to change yourself to be successful.
In the end, Elle wins the case because of all the qualities that Warner left her for. Her Cosmo girl knowledge, the very knowledge that makes her a stereotypical ‘bimbo’ is what saves her. What the film says is that it is ok to be feminine and strong and intelligent, and that more often than not, those who are feminine are not be overlooked. Like Elle should not be overlooked. This again reinforces the idea that girlishness and femininity are not negative traits, in certain situations, they are helpful and even powerful. Elle’s win, and criticism of Chutney’s perm proves that it is ok for Elle to be herself, and although she now loves the law, she did not need it to make her a ‘better’ person who should be taken seriously.
This is what Elle says in her closing speech. She reaffirms that you should always have ‘faith in yourself.’ This is where the film succeeds in its feminist aims, but not by shoving feminism specifically down your throat. Here we have a woman, who was judged by all, assumed to be stupid, standing up and addressing the Harvard class of 2004. How did she succeed? By having faith in her own character, the character that basically got mocked throughout her first few weeks at law school, even though it was this character that actually won her her first case. Elle’s enduring message, really can be applied to man or woman, but it adds extra emotional weight that it comes from a woman, as it is a male dominated world that Elle has continuously been battling throughout the film, something that she did with strength and courage.
Thanks for reading!