I’m an early 2000s child. Born in 2000, I grew up on some of the most iconic movies like The Princess Diaries, Mean Girls and of course, Legally Blonde. These are movies we still watch today. Maybe it’s a sense of nostalgia from our childhood, the way we dress, act, and decorate our rooms; these movies had quite the impact on us given the way they influenced our childhood.
They often promoted a sense of sisterhood and support among women. Filled with strong character arcs, lots of pink, and fabulous fashion, we all have our favourite 2000s movie to re-watch. However, most of these portrayed women in an awful light as being catty and bitter. While Legally Blonde fits this category of movies, what really sets it apart is its powerful feminist message.
What sets Legally Blonde apart?
What makes this film different from most stereotypical early 2000s “chick flicks” is its protagonist, Elle Woods. Needless to say, she was ahead of her time. Her demeanor and style reflect many modern day feminists today. From her confidence and staying true to who she was, to her decked out pink wardrobe. She stood out because she was comfortable with who she was, never once conforming to what society expected of her.
Elle’s strength comes from what many would deem weak. Her radiant kindness, boisterous personality and outspoken character. Don’t even get me started on her fabulous wardrobe. Clad head to toe in various shades of pink, she stood out from her peers at Harvard, whose wardrobes typically comprised plaid, brown, black and grey. This lead most people to never take her seriously. How could someone dressed in bright form-fitting clothing and so naive and oblivious become a lawyer? Let’s not forget this era associated the concept of a strong woman with coldness, calculating, and rejecting anything that was “feminine.”
Setting the blueprint for bimbofication
While we understand that dictating to any woman or femme-presenting person how to live their life is wrong, we still perceive liking stereotypical hyper-feminine traits as weak. Wearing skirts and dresses, liking the color pink, being empathetic, tight clothing. Many feminists are reclaiming these traits as a sign of empowerment. You do not need to act or look a certain way to be a feminist. For so long I felt this way. I rejected what I enjoyed as a child. Dresses, skirts, the color pink, makeup because I was taught looking this way or acting a certain way made me inferior.
No one would take me seriously as a “girly girl.” However, what Legally Blonde shows is you can absolutely defy those odds and not have to change a single thing about yourself. If people decide not to take you seriously because of your hyper-feminine traits, their internalised misogyny is influencing their limited view of you.
The modern-day feminist
How does this play into modern day intersectional feminism? The movie often referred to Elle as a “bimbo”. During that time people used the word to strip women of their agency. Dubbed as beautiful and brainless, these women are typically depicted with large breasts, shapely body, heavy makeup, and bleach blonde hair. However, many young people reclaimed misogynistic stereotype as empowering. It has become an aesthetic, ideology, and way of life. Typically left leaning politically active and outspoken, the bimbo is being reshaped with the times. To be a lot like Elle Woods. While she certainly does not reflect the wide diversity of people who identify as bimbos, himbos, or thembos today she certainly set the precedent in many ways. She was kind and uplifted women. Given the sign of the times, she certainly was a victim to the patriarchy like all of us. However, her overall attitude towards the women and femme-presenting people in her life was to support them and their passions.
Unlike most early 2000s female protagonists, Elle did not embody the catty toxic femininity trait often portrayed in these movies. She loved everyone unless proven otherwise. While the other female characters in the film did not shy away from harmful behaviour towards her, Elle stood strong. Instead of stooping to their level, she simply proved them wrong through hard work and perseverance.
Freedom of choice
By the end of the movie, she had won her first case as a first year law student. The only major character development within the movie was her realizing her full potential. She did not need Warner or any man to become successful or feel complete. We can build our own happiness and life without relying on a man to do it. However, Legally Blonde shows we also don’t have to choose. Elle ends up with a man who supported her from the beginning. It teaches we should never settle for less in career or partners.
To send that message in the early 2000s when internalized misogyny dictated how we presented ourselves to men through appearance and action proves how the movie was ahead of its time. Elle carried herself in a way that made her feel good. When Warner famously said “I need to marry a Jackie, not a Marylin”, Elle constantly shows we are more than just two outdated stereotypes. We are diverse in our actions, interests, and thoughts. She proved our agency lies beyond the male gaze, while simultaneously flipping the male gaze on its face. When her professor came on to her, she ended up taking his place in the lawsuit and winning. The more men underestimated her, the more she proved herself and her worth as a person.
Competition and stereotypes
As I stated internalized misogyny affected everyone in the film. Several times, they pitted women against one another. Vivian and Elle’s relationship is worth nothing here. They were made to compete against each other for Warner. By the end of the movie, Vivian dumped Warner and became best friends with Elle. It taught the lesson that we are not each other’s competition, especially in male dominated fields like law.
Granted this was filmed in the 2000s and the only example of a feminist in the movie was Enid, a queer woman. This stereotype of a feminist wearing beige clothing, typically being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, and critical of hyper-feminine woman like Elle, painted feminists in a bad light.
While both were feminists, Enid saw Elle as uphold the patriarchy given her style and mannerism. When in fact Enid cannot be perceived as a true feminist as she is constantly putting Elle down. However, Elle never rejected her hyper-femininity and also never subjected Enid to queer stereotypes either. It would have been nice to see these two become allies given both subscribed to feminism.
Elle is sending the message that you can be who you are and still get ahead in life. Men and society will continue to underestimate you, but you must never fall into this trap. Be your best self through healthy growth because the moment we begin to listen to cis heterosexual men’s views about us, is the moment we lose our identity.