Originally published June 16, 2013, so there are now some serious contenders for the top feminist film spot.
Apparently, one of my friends attended some “gifted” students camp in middle school where he took an entire course on “Legally Blonde.” The course ultimately concluded that this film was bad for women and a sad portrayal of feminism.
Let me tell you something. Those “gifted” kids and their teachers don’t know anything about feminism. He only just told me about this class recently when I was gushing about what a radically refreshing feminist viewpoint I see in that same film that’s “bad for women.”
Elle Woods. Ah. Just hearing her name in my head brings a smile to my face and a surge of woman-power to my uterus AND brain. She is a complete BAMF who becomes even BAMF-ier as the movie goes on. Let me explain all of this as simply as I can.
She starts out as a complete BAMF? You’re questioning me already, I know. But bear with me. Elle has been raised in a completely vapid lifestyle (She’s clearly smarter than her parents.), but has thrived in the ways she knows how: She’s president of her sorority, believes she is going to be a powerful politician’s wife, and she’s undeniably hot. No, she’s not a baby feminist who sheared off her hair and started attending rallies and protests for women’s reproductive rights, but she’s certainly not without ambition or potential for success. She’s kind of like Cher from “Clueless,” but so much better.
And obviously we all groan when she follows her boyfriend to Harvard just to win him back, but let’s not pretend that this makes her anti-feminist. This makes her a human being with legitimate feelings. I don’t think anyone freaked out about Felicity following Ben to New York way back when, but that was probably ok because she did actually chop off all of her hair.
Does she even have difficulty getting in? Ehhhh “What, like it’s hard?” Granted, her application video was somewhat exploitative of her hotness, but seriously it was hilarious. More important, she did work her ass off and got a great LSAT score. Not so vapid, after all? Also, it’s a movie, so plot development.
Has anyone heard a better response to a catcall than, “I object!”? Of course not. Because Elle Woods is a feminist genius.
Her feminist BAMF-ness really ramps up when she is finally at Harvard, under the harsh judgmental glares of those dour brunette people. Like, ew. These are all actually terrible people, including that straw feminist who proposes an “ovester” yet fails to recognize her duty as a feminist to accept other women’s points of view.
Immediately upon meeting Elle, they write her off because she 1) wears pink 2) has blonde, well-kept hair 3) is interested in fashion. I don’t really see any other reasons they would hate her so quickly. Last time I checked my official feminism guidebook (We all get one, don’t you know?), wearing pink, grooming oneself, having blonde hair, and liking fashion are all acceptable activities for feminists, women, men, and everyone else. I do all those things and most everyone I meet thinks I’m a terrifying feminist, so I think I’m doing a good job.
But honestly, I’m glad Elle didn’t befriend those jerks because Paulette is so much better. She’s fun. She gives great manicures. She’s an awesome listener, and she never judges Elle for any reason at all.
Note on “The Bend and Snap:” This is not anti-feminist. This is a freewheeling good time and I wish I was invited. This is basically as anti-feminist as an aerobics class, which I always thought as pretty neutral on the feminism scale. Yeah yeah, the move is designed to catch a man’s attention, but who says knowing how to grab a man’s attention can’t be feminist? Could it actually be — empowering? To be the pursuer and not the pursued? Again, snaps for Elle, BAMF feminist.
And then guess what. Elle is really smart. Like that time she was smart on the LSAT. Because she’s smart. She realizes she doesn’t need the approval of those brunette sourpusses or even Warner, her smarmy ex, because she is an ambitious woman who knows she can accomplish a great deal. She excels in class and is assigned to Brooke Windam’s case, during which Elle is probably the only truly attentive and useful “lawyer.” She won’t breach her moral code to reveal the alibi, but she still manages to push through and win the case, even after her lecherous professor feels her up and she momentarily and rightfully threatens to quit.
Here’s the point my friend said they discussed in his class: Elle wins the case only with her “vapid, feminine” knowledge, which means she “isn’t a real lawyer.” WOAH. HOLD ON. Elle manages to crack the case open because she realizes the pool boy is gay after he insults her shoes and because she knows, from experience, that the daughter on the stand couldn’t have possibly been in the shower because she had gotten a perm that day. I suppose this is the “vapid, feminine” knowledge, which I can only assume is “vapid” because it is “feminine.”
This makes her an inadequate lawyer? Her great attention to detail and application of her own knowledge to the case make her an inadequate lawyer? Maybe she’s also inadequate because she could get her period in the middle of a cross and suddenly start screaming like a banshee? That all sounds reasonable, right?
Duh, no. Elle is a fantastic lawyer. She remained engaged throughout the entire trial and every moment leading up to it. She withstood a horrible sexual advance from a horrible man, but didn’t let it slow her down. She used her “vapid, feminine” knowledge to figure out what no one else could because sometimes “masculine” knowledge just doesn’t cut it. Oh, and remember that time she reclaimed Paulette’s dog from her abusive ex-husband? Terrible. Terrible lawyer and feminist, obviously.
What makes it even better is how minuscule the romance is in this movie. It’s only after the movie plot is over basically that there is any real mention of Elle getting together with Emmett, and that’s quite all right. She’s a bit too busy being kickass to sit around dreaming about boys.
What I really want to emphasize here is that shocking “vapid, feminine” argument, and how detrimental it is to women and feminism. Real women and real feminists aren’t straw feminists. We aren’t stock characters who wear cargo pants and don’t wash our hair. Maybe some of us are, but that’s just who we are individually. Some of us are feminine and maybe we like to discuss things others (men) may think are vapid (read: fashion). We don’t care. We do what we want, patriarchs!
But being feminine and not fitting some stereotypical model (most likely instigated by men who wanted to categorize and section us off) of feminism doesn’t mean a woman can’t be a feminist. In fact, excluding feminine women, or any type of woman from the supposedly accepting feminist community is antithetical to the entire concept. Just as all people are different races, religions, orientations, genders, so do people have different interests, forms of self-expression, and personalities. I hope that feminists beyond that “gifted” middle school class realize this and don’t start generalizing about feminism. It’ll only hurt us if we don’t accept all strong, valuable, and diverse women into our ideology and cause. We need that “feminine” knowledge because, after all, it’s knowledge. What’s vapid about that?