thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Like Legally Blonde

In gender, girl culture on June 28, 2011 at 8:52 am

Sarah Todd

The other night I was searching for some background television and ended up settling on that old chestnut Legally Blonde. Legally Blonde is one of those movies I’ve kind of absorbed into my system naturally, the way the Swamp Thing absorbs flood waters and human memories. Nonetheless, I’d never developed much affection for it; actually enjoying the movie seemed like too much of a cliche.

But this time around, the Legally Blonde bend and snap scene really got to me. And here’s why: I started thinking about how rare it is to see a big group of women genuinely having fun together in the movies. Films tend to represent female friendship–and women in groups–as fundamentally competitive and/or stupid. Either women are stabbing each other in the back as they jockey for men or jobs or queen bee titles, or else they’re having vapid conversations about bubbles.

But in the bend and snap scene, the women in the salon are being so goofy together, improvising their own flourishes to the routine, and Reese Witherspoon’s character Elle is being so supportive and encouraging and sweetly peppy. There’s no back-stabbing in sight. And while the idea of bending-and-snapping itself could be characterized as somewhat vapid, the whole point of Legally Blonde is that just because people are interested in flirting or shoes or celebrity gossip doesn’t mean they’re not smart.

Some people look down their noses at movies like Legally Blonde–and the interests of  people like Elle–because they think they’re just about dumb girly stuff. But the truth is that our culture positions girly stuff as dumb. In reality, liking the color pink doesn’t make you an airhead, owning a chihuahua doesn’t make you high-maintenance, and belonging to a sorority doesn’t make you mean. Conversely, being interested in subjects like federal interest rates and medieval poetry doesn’t make you a superior human.

People can be airheaded or high-maintenance or mean whether they’re men or women, dressed in powersuits or skinny jeans or nerd glasses or prom dresses. What’s more, Legally Blonde dares to suggest that there may even be value in possessing a knowledge of perming techniques and fashion designers. Like Elle, you might spot a lie or catch a contradiction. You might crack a case wide open.

It’s fine to like Legally Blonde, just like it’s fine to like Pretty Little Liars and 90210. It’s equally fine to prefer Downtown Abbey or The Hangover or The Daily Show or Die Hard or some combination of the above-whatever floats our particular boats. The important thing is recognizing that what we like doesn’t have a one-to-one correspondence with who we are.  For showing that, Legally Blonde deserves some snaps.

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  1. a. i love legally blonde too and totally feel empowered when watching it.

    b. have you heard of the bechdel test? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dykes_to_Watch_Out_For#Bechdel_test
    legally blonde totally passes.

  2. cotes! so happy a) to hear from you as always and b) that you brought up the bechdel test — i just learned about it this past year and it’s such a great measuring stick. and you’re right, legally blonde gets an a+ in this category. i particularly like that rather than villainize the selma blair character, the movie has her and reese witherspoon end up being bffs. way to undermine the girl-on-girl rivalry trope, lb!

  3. I love this post.

  4. great post, sarah!

  5. […] you baked yourself. Wearing a circle skirt does not prevent a woman from occupying Wall Street. Elle Woods can go to Harvard Law, kick some serious ass, and maintain an impeccable […]

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