The short answer is No… in my opinion. But let’s delve into the things that this iconic 2000s movie got right and wrong so you can decide for yourself.
Today I re-watched one of my all time favourite films; Legally Blonde (2001). Although, I enjoyed it, I couldn’t help but cringe at some the rather out-dated and offensive scenes.
The premise of the movie, for those who have been living under a rock, is basically about a “bimbo” sorority girl, Elle, who pursues Law at Harvard in an attempt to get back her boyfriend but actually develops into an ambitious, independent woman who crushes everyone’s demeaning expectations. Despite a pretty modern day plot, there are some anti-feminist themes slivering within.
First let’s talk about the stereotypes. You’ve got the portrayal of Harvard Law students being devoid of personality in their fashion and typically, being quite nerdy, unable to ask a girl out. I find this insulting, both on a personal level and on a societal level. On a personal level, I’ve definitely had people assume that because I graduated from Imperial, I must be anti-social and boring – in fact one person even told me they thought that’s what I would be like. On a societal level, there are many highly educated people who ace executive styling. An example of which is Amal Clooney, a human rights lawyer with countless accolades, who has mastered professional fashion in her repertoire of boldly coloured tailoring and totes.
She’s even channelled her inner Elle Woods in a pink tweed blazer and skirt combo, without looking like a plastic doll. Next, you’ve got the gay caricatures. The lesbian from Elle’s class who’s obviously into LGBTQ activism and got a PhD in Women Studies. As she’s a feminist, she must wear glasses, have no make-up and a simple dress sense. And the Latin man who’s flamboyant and knowledgeable in fashion designers and therefore must be gay…did anyone ever think he could be bi-sexual? After that is the women characters. First is the blonde, Barbie-esque, blonde nail technician who has no purpose in life except getting back her dog and getting a new man. Second is the strict, matronly dressed, career-driven law professor who picks on another woman in the class to take down Elle. The juxtaposition of these two females play on hegemonic norms.
Now let’s explore the white-people privilege of the film. Needless to say, the obvious point is that it’s basically an all white cast with zero efforts to include any kind of diversity. Ironically, even the admissions board at Harvard, all white men, accept Elle because they need some diversity. In this case, their diversity criteria is a conventionally attractive white woman who is underqualified. The only judgemental struggle in Elle’s life is being “too blond” and doesn’t even have to think about things like tuition and living allowance (a total of £232K btw). Regardless of her fashion marketing degree, Elle still attended a wealthy, predominately white college which gave her a leg up when applying to law school – in fact maybe she isn’t as much as an outcast in the class of 2004 as she claims to be. At the beginning of the term, Elle casually pops off to the store to grab herself the latest MacBook but only when she decides to actually make an effort and study. Likewise, Elle’s ex boyfriend, another rich white guy, uses his dad’s connections to get him off the waitlist for Harvard.
Another issue with the film is that is emphasises, like Indian aunties, that being single is a crime. At the end, we see that the male lead plans to propose to Elle as if the producers were saying that her accomplishments for graduating Harvard and joining a top law firm still weren’t quite good enough to keep the audience satisfied. Not only this but, when Elle calls her friends from California, the first thing they announce is that one of them is getting married and the second thing they ask is if she “got the rock yet”. Furthermore, the nail technician I mentioned before – Elle even teaches her the “bend and snap” which has a 98 percent rate of getting a man’s attention. Because of course, at the end of the film she got the guy and is shown as being no longer miserable.
An additional point is the use of frowned-upon words like “retard” or “spastic” to describe a stupid moment in the film. Maybe, this was more socially acceptable back in 2001 and even nowadays, I still see these words used in tweets by politicians and celebrities.
The most disloyal actual retard that has ever set foot in the Oval Office is trying to lose AND take the Senate with him. Another Roy Moore fiasco so he can blame someone else for his own mess.Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) May 24, 2020
Quite frankly it’s a slur like any other and is offensive so should be struck from one’s vocabulary.
We all know why Legally Blonde won our hearts but in the interest of having both points of view, I shall discuss them.
Undoubtedly the most relevant theme for our time is that Elle embraces female empowerment by standing up to quid pro quo sexual harassment in the workplace and making a clear point that it is unacceptable. The movie endorsed the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements decades before they were even a thing. Essentially, Elle’s professor suggests that he will help her land a summer associate job if she accepts his sexual propositions. It represents some of the challenges women face in their, especially male-dominated, careers. It shows the tricky position one is put in when power dynamics are in play. It lets others in similar situations know that they are not alone and that they too can overcome this obstacle.
One way in which Elle proves she’s a feminist hero is by never conforming to external opinions. She is a strong woman with strong views – once she sets her mind to something, she will do it. She doesn’t buckle when her parents tell her that law is for “ugly, boring people” so don’t bother. She doesn’t give up when her ex tells her that she isn’t smart enough to get the internship. And she certainly doesn’t let go of her bubbly attitude, weekly blow-outs and pink fits just because everyone at her college is wearing navy or grey. It’s been an inspiration for many women who have started on the path for justice.
The film highlights the fact that having an interest in frivolous things and having a high IQ are not mutually exclusive. Not only does Elle challenge everyone’s perceptions of her but she shows the world that having a strong belief in yourself is the most important thing.
Lastly it shines light on the important premise that women support other women. Elle’s sorority friends all have her back when her boyfriend dumps her and are fully there to support her studying for the LSATs. Elle busts out some legal jargon (even if it was incorrect) to help get her friend’s dog back from her cruel ex. Most notably, Elle’s female professor gives her some words of wisdom to help her get back on her feet after being sexual harassed.
Although the film does need to be taken with a pinch of forgiveness, it still touches on several themes still prevalent today and is regarded as a feminist masterpiece. #Cancelling it would be a shame for future generations.