‘Legally Blonde’ is a Lesson to Young Girls on the Intersection of Femininity and Power

In a world that tells little girls that the colour they like will define them for the rest of their lives, 'Legally Blonde' is a lesson in empowerment and owning your choices.

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“When used appropriately, it has an 83 percent rate of return on a dinner invitation. It’s called the bend and snap.” – Elle Woods 

In a move that lasted no more than a few seconds, fashionista turned lawyer Elle Woods made women all over the world realise that there isn’t only one way in which women need to position themselves for romantic gestures. Amidst all the comedy and sisterhood of the moment, she also manages to teach Paulette an important lesson – that she can take charge. She also teaches her that taking charge isn’t always done the same way. 

movies have the power to inspire generations and shape mindsets. But sometimes, in the quest for mindless entertainment, we seem to lose out on the impact movies can have. Amidst the slew of mindless films churned out one after the other, there often comes that rare but insightful gem that leaves you thinking for years to come. These particular films are so important because their message is representative of the world we live in. In representing that world, it represents all parts of it – without making anyone feel lesser than, without pigeonholing them for something they cannot control, and without making excuses. Sometimes the movies that portray representation the best are the ones that do it most effortlessly. The ones that allow unique identities and personas to simply BE without questioning their existence or making them prove their worth. 

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Legally Blonde, and Reese Witherspoon’s stellar portrayal of Elle Woods lie at the heart of that category of timeless films. Elle was nothing like what I imagined female activists to be. In fact, despite how much I enjoyed watching the movie, I found the character harder to relate to when I was younger because all I could see was the pink, girly fashionista that I had never been and never would be. That’s what most people’s first impression of Elle is  – including the Harvard admissions team that later reveals that her physical appearance was a major reason for her admission. 

But now I see it differently. Despite Warner’s skepticism and the disdain of the admissions officers, Elle has a near-perfect LSAT score. And it’s something she manages while maintaining a healthy social life and being a full-time student. She is a young woman who is completely unashamed of who she is – and if we’re being honest, why should she be? Is it really that difficult for society to accept women who choose to represent their identities the way they want to? 

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Elle’s character manages to shatter the stereotypes of how a woman should present almost without even realising it. She is a stark example of how femininity and empowerment go hand in hand. Women shouldn’t have to shed parts of their identity that they treasure just to be taken seriously at all times. 

In most depictions of mainstream media, the kind of woman Elle personifies is shown as one of two types of characters. The overtly feminine, social butterfly persona is either limited to the ‘dumb blonde’ or the ‘mean girl’. The opposite applies to female characters that are meant to be empowered. They are often dulled down physically or shown as not caring for their physical appearance. imitating how you have to look to be taken seriously is the very opposite of what many feminist movements try to champion for – the freedom of choice and the right to exist without question or scrutiny. 

Throughout the movie, Elle stays as loveable as ever but still manages to experience some significant growth as well. Even though she starts off at Harvard to impress Warner, it’s not long before it becomes clear that she’s here to stay. From fashion student to a lawyer (and a very unique one at that), Elle Woods teaches young girls all over the world that no one else gets to decide your path. You can find that all on your own. 

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It’s not just Elle that stands out in the movie. Vivian also embodies a really interesting character, one that I think is particularly important in the conversations around cancel culture, that often seeks to villainise people for their mistakes rather than allowing them to make amends.  Vivian starts off hating Elle. If we look closely, is mainly because the two of them are vying for the same guy. It’s an interesting ode to how media narratives can pit women against each other simply because of a man or often for no reason at all, and in allowing Vivian to grow, is a reminder of what can happen when we don’t indulge in cancel culture. In an arc justified for Vivian’s strong independent character, she ends her time at Harvard single. Relationships in general become more and more sidelined as the movie progresses because it focuses more on the characters than the men they should be with. 

Even in her big win at the end, Elle is using obviously unconventional knowledge to lead her client to victory.  Elle’s resilience is astounding. She not only fights her way to the front but manages to win her case despite all the odds stacked against her. Far from the superficial party girl everyone expects her to be, Elle displays intuition and strength that is quite unexpected. 

Elle’s struggle isn’t just against the overtly creepy men on the admissions team. It’s also against the man she loves with all her heart. Warner is shown as a young educated man – accomplished, good-looking, and apparently an overall catch. But he is proof that having knowledge or even a degree doesn’t always been you’re truly educated. In fact, it is his misogyny that perhaps stands out the most. He has ideas about certain types of girls and seems to embody a man who believes certain girls are only meant for ‘fun’ because they’re not good enough to be taken seriously. A major part of Elle’s journey is shedding that last layer of insecurity that forced her to find validation in Warner. 

Elle Woods is the woman every girl needs to see; in a world that tells little girls that the colour they like will define them for the rest of their lives, she is a lesson in empowerment and owning your choices. 

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Anmol Irfan

Anmol is a Muslim Pakistani feminist and journalist who aims to explore issues around intersectionality, gender and minority cultures in her work. When she isn’t writing she’s usually eating and wishing to travel the world—pre-pandemic, of course.

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