Artwork by Chloe Leeson
Elle Woods: Delta Nu President, Harvard Law School student, and the living embodiment of pink power. Armed with a fashion marketing degree, a 4.0 GPA, a 179 on the LSAT (one point below the highest possible score) and a list of extracurriculars as long as her hair, she is accepted into Harvard’s prestigious Law School. Albeit, it was for the sake of winning back her un-loyal and arrogant boyfriend, Warner, but it’s an astounding accomplishment. The reason that it’s so amazing isn’t because she isn’t intelligent, it’s because the MalibuBarbieblonde stereotype is working against her. At the beginning of Legally Blonde, a shop assistant mistakes Elle for someone who can be easily fooled, calling her a “dumb blonde” and trying to sell her a last season sale item for full price. But Elle outsmarts her and proves that first impressions aren’t always correct, an occurrence which happens many times in her life.
When she arrives at Harvard wearing her signature colour, she refuses to conform to the typical attitudes, personalities, and fashion choices of those around her. People assume that Elle is shallow and unintelligent, all because of her wardrobe and her love of hair and makeup. It’s a prejudice that many women are burdened with, because you can’t possibly care about the way you look and be a strong woman at the same time. The reason why Elle is such an inspiring character is that firstly, she doesn’t let assumptions like this bother her. When people are shouting “this ain’t LA” at her and laughing at the valid points she makes in lectures, the only thing she does is take it in her stride. Even when Warner directly tells her “you’re not smart enough, sweetie” it only encourages her to work harder. Secondly, she doesn’t let them change her. It would be easy to prove people wrong by becoming exactly like them, but it’s more of a challenge to remain true to who you are and not be weighed down by people’s low expectations. Elle chooses the latter, because as she says herself, she’s not afraid of a challenge. The rude, pretentious people she comes across only fuel her, as she delves into her law textbooks to prove everybody wrong.
What does get Elle down, however, is Warner’s new fiancé Vivian. She mocks her in class and openly shoves her relationship with Elle’s ex in her face. She also seems intent on publicly humiliating her, as tricks Elle into attending a regular college party wearing a Playboy Bunny costume. But like everything else, she quickly shakes it off and doesn’t immediately leave. She’s confident in her body and in herself, and she isn’t easily embarrassed. Nonetheless, Vivian frustrates Elle, and it’s mainly because of Warner. A feud between women over a guy is an overused trope in cinema, but instead of pursuing it for comedic effect, Legally Blonde deconstructs the idea as the two girls start to bond (mainly over how much of a loser Warner is). Although, this bonding session experiences some turbulence midway when Vivian walks in on what she thinks is an intimate moment between Elle and her professor, Callahan. But what she actually witnessed was a sleazy professor feeling up his student and using the disturbing line, “I’m a man who knows what he wants.” Well Elle also knows what she wants, and it isn’t him. And it also isn’t an implication that she only got an internship to work on a murder case because Callahan fancies her. The experience is enough to make her feel weak, vulnerable, and contemplate returning home to LA, which is a reaction that many women would have or have had, during their lifetime. After some clarity, Vivian realises her mistake. Her mistake was assuming that Elle was the guilty one, a form of internalised sexism that anyone is capable of. But she sees the error of her ways, and this might just be my imagination running away with me here permanently teams up with Elle to combat sexism in the law industry. (It could happen!)
Meanwhile, as Elle prepares her exit, she is given one last dose of courage by her other, less creepy professor, who tells her “If you’re going to let one stupid prick ruin your life… you’re not the girl I thought you were.” With that, Elle continues her internship, and she’s back with a bang. The suspected murderer who hired Callahan, Brooke, fires him and instead hires Elle. It’s a risky move considering Elle’s lack of experience, but it’s one born out of trust and friendship. Because that’s the other thing about Elle, she’s an amazing friend. She also kicks ass, as proven when she single-handedly proves her client’s innocence and discovers the real culprit of the crime with her intuition and fashion knowledge. And she does it in ALL PINK. With Emmett, her friend and future fiancé, as her attorney, the case is closed in approximately two minutes. Oh, and about Emmett, you’re probably thinking a love interest? Why didn’t you say so earlier? Well it’s because the relationship between Elle and Emmett is a secondary one at most. Legally Blonde doesn’t concentrate on a will they/won’t they storyline, it focuses on its female protagonist, making it one of a few genuinely female-driven comedies.
However, the fact that Elle and Emmett’s relationship is a secondary plot doesn’t discredit it. Aside from the fact that Luke Wilson is a total dreamboat, Emmett always supports her, but never tries to steal her shadow or boil her down to just one label. In Legally Blonde 2, Emmett tells Elle that when he first saw her, his thoughts were “that woman can make a difference.” And that’s exactly what she does.
By the end of Legally Blonde, Elle has not only graduated from Harvard Law School with high honors, she’s the class-elected speaker for the Class of 2004’s graduation ceremony. She has been offered a place at a Boston law firm; she is in the middle of a happy relationship; she has made a best friend out of her former enemy. And most importantly, she has altered people’s initial perceptions of her and encouraged others to do the same. At the beginning of Elle’s story, Warner dumped her for not being a serious, intelligent enough suitor. But when he finally realises that she’s actually much more than that, she leaves him in the dirt, because in her own words, “If I’m going to be a partner in a law firm by the time I’m 30, I need a boyfriend who’s not such a complete bonehead.” She knows she deserves more respect than that, and she gradually learns to demand it from those around her.
Elle Woods certainly has power, but she mainly uses it to empower others, telling her graduating class to always have faith in themselves. At the end of her speech, Elle challenges a famous Aristotle quote ‘the law is reason free from passion’ by arguing that she has “come to find that passion is a key ingredient to the study and practice of law and of life.” Elle never tries to hide her passions for justice, for people, for pink. And it is what allows her to soar. If you ever feel underestimated, just remember to do what Elle Woods would do: Be yourself and show people how valuable you can be. What, like it’s hard?
Georgia Berry is an English 16 year old living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She loves literature, art, and film – especially Safety Not Guaranteed and Kill Your Darlings. She also spends her time listening to movie soundtracks and trying to dressing like Carey Mulligan in An Education. You can find her on tumblr asparisianvision, or on twitter as @georgiaberry_
Categories: She's All That