When I first saw Legally Blonde, back in 2005, it instantly became my favorite movie. Elle Woods was bubbly, sweet, intelligent, caring, hard-working, determined, passionate, and I adored her. While recently re-watching the film, I recognized a lot of feminist aspects within the storyline and character development. Honestly, I’m surprised that the film hasn’t gotten more recognition for being the uniquely feminist film that it is. So, here are my top 6 reasons that Legally Blonde rocks as a feminist film (Warning: spoilers!):
1. Elle Woods gets into (and graduates from) Harvard Law School
After deciding she wants to attend Harvard Law, Elle studies extremely hard and gets several points above the minimum LSAT score for acceptance to Harvard. While at Harvard, she works diligently to pass her classes and get an extremely prestigious internship. She excels in a field that is dominated by men. She’s an intelligent and hard-working woman, which is part of what makes her a great female character.
2. Elle Woods survives a bad breakup, and moves on
How often do we see a female character in an off-again on-again relationship? How often do we see one passionate kiss in the rain negate all the of guy’s previous obnoxious behaviors and comments because He Really Did Love Her All Along and They Really Are Meant To Be Together?
And then how often do we see a woman go through all her emotions of missing him and then realize what a jerk he actually was and how much better off she is without him? Not often, especially if she’s the dumpee. And when she does move on, it’s almost always directly into the arms of another man. But Elle is better than that. She absolutely goes through a long grieving process post-breakup, and what inspires her to attend Harvard is actually the thought of winning back her now ex, but soon she realizes that he’ll never appreciate her. No matter how amazing she is, he’ll never see it. And then she decides to kick ass at Harvard, for no one else but herself.
3. Elle Woods struggles. A lot. And then she kicks ass again.
Throughout her journey at Harvard, Elle gets judged, underestimated, and ridiculed. She leaves one of her classes close to tears on the first day. But she goes back to it, works hard, and excels. During the internship, her supervisor hits on her, which causes her to question why he gave her the internship in the first place. Each of these experiences cause her to doubt herself and her abilities, just as they would affect us if we experienced them. She’s not an eternally stoic fighter made of steel and kevlar. She’s a human being with insecurities and fears like everyone else. And we see her experience all these emotions, and then decide to go back and continue working hard. Like many women in male-dominated fields, Elle experiences a lot of sexism. Other characters view her as stupid, vain, gullible, bitchy, and/or just someone to sleep with. They assume she got the internship because of her looks instead of her grades. Although these judgements affect her, she doesn’t let them stop her.
4. Elle Woods becomes close friends with a woman she had previously hated
Elle’s original plan at Harvard was to win her ex back. So when she discovers that over the summer he had gotten engaged to Vivian Kensington (played by Selma Blair), Elle instantly sees Vivian as a nemesis. However, after a period of animosity, Elle and Vivian eventually start chatting openly to each other about the sexism they experience during the internship. Soon, they become close friends. This is a great dynamic that’s rarely incorporated into movies or TV shows. The female antagonist tends to stay the female antagonist until she’s defeated by the protagonist’s superior intelligence. They rarely join forces and support each other. This development also shows Elle’s character as fallible. Although she’s the protagonist, she’s capable of unfairly judging others too. We get to see her mature, outgrowing those judgements and forming new friendships.
5. Without getting caught in a love triangle, Elle Woods finds love again
Elle does end up with Emmett Richmond, a TA from one of her classes, but it’s not a really big part of the plot. The movie, as is Elle’s college life, is all about Harvard and winning the case in the internship. Her romantic relationship develops naturally and without drama, as she and Emmett gradually get to know each other.
6. Elle Woods completely defies the “boring bitchy barbie” stereotype
Unfortunately we still live in a culture that defines women based on their appearance. In popular media, women who are well put together and attractive are also bitchy and selfish. Women who are optimistic and bubbly are also stupid and clueless. Women who enjoy shopping and manicures are also vapid and boring. Women who look forward to marriage have no other goals in life.
But in Legally Blonde, Elle Woods defies all these stereotypes. She’s kind and compassionate, and she rarely criticizes anyone. She’s actually incredibly supportive of every other woman she meets, regardless of their social status, age, and appearance. She helps her manicurist get her precious dog back from her ex, she fiercely defends an innocent woman charged with murder, and she supports Vivian in dealing with an incredibly sexist supervisor. As for being “stupid”, Elle graduates summa cum laude from Harvard. And while her new boyfriend will soon become her husband, she’s also looking forward to “being a partner at a law firm by the time [she's] 30.” Elle Woods is a multidimensional character with many interests. Her enjoyment of colorful stylish clothes and pampering activities do not detract from her personality or humanity. Her girlishness does not detract from her intelligence. Just like women in real life, her unique qualities compliment each other and become her strengths.