The film Legally Blonde is a classic chick-flick and admittedly one of my favourite “girly” movies. After watching it multiple times over the years, watching it through a feminist lens gave me some new insight into elements I overlooked previously. My original thoughts of this film were that it was an empowering story of a woman going after what she wants, and in the process she discovers more about herself and what she truly desires from life. While I still have this original opinion of the movie, there were multiple underlying patriarchal themes and events throughout the movie.
In the beginning of the film, the main character Elle (played by Reese Witherspoon) is devastated when her long-term boyfriend breaks up with her in order to attend Harvard Law School and find a “serious” girlfriend. What starts out as a quest to win her boyfriend over (by getting into Harvard Law herself) turns into a journey of self-discovery, perseverance, and staying true to yourself.
Elle is accepted in Harvard Law on her own merits, through studying hard and driving passionately after what she wants. In the beginning of the movie, what she wants is the man of her dreams – the man that she cannot have unless she starts getting serious. Her whole life revolves around this man at this point in the movie, and she is willing to do whatever it takes to remain in his life. While her achievement of getting into law school seem empowering to women, we must take it with a grain of salt. The only reason she wanted to attend law school was for a man; Elle did not pursue it to further her education, to gain a career she was passionate about, nor any reason that did not involve a man’s approval.
Throughout the film there are scenes that use a female’s sexuality to gain a man’s attention or get something that they desire, and examples of how a woman is objectified in everyday situations. These instances portray females as sexual objects and defines their worth to how they look, which I believe is a building theme in the film Legally Blonde. Although the beginning portrays the main character as a boy-crazy “girly-girl”, I believe through the film she begins to realize that she can make a difference and does not need a man to make her valuable. She is helped in this respect by one of her female law professors, who reminds her that she is much more than her blonde hair and femininity.
Another theme I notice in this film is the idea of sisterhood and women being for each other – instead of against each other like a great number of other films. There is some initial conflict between the protagonist (Elle) and her female rival for the man she’s trying to win back, but they resolve their differences and come together. Although there is this initial conflict, I respect Elle in the way she is towards other women. She never disrespects another woman by saying something hurtful, whether it be to her face or behind her back. She tries to make friends with everyone she meets and does not to underhanded things to other women simply for the purpose of gaining a man’s attention.
Being a movie of female empowerment I believe that, despite some minor objectification of women, Legally Blonde is uplifting and inspirational to girls (of all hair colour) everywhere. It demonstrates the power that females hold if they are willing to yield it, and to not let a man push her around simply because of is XY chromosomes. It is ultimately about a strong woman who thrives in a field dominated by men, and overcomes many prejudices that are based solely on the way she looks.