‘Legally Blonde’ subverts sexist stereotypes

By Marilyn MacLaren, Staff Writer

“Legally Blonde” (2001) is an American comedy following the story of Elle Woods, played by Reese Witherspoon, as she strikes out on her own to become a lawyer at Harvard Law School. Directed by Robert Luketic, the film stars Luke Wilson as supportive love interest Emmett who serves as a mentor to Elle, as well as Jennifer Coolidge as Paulette, a ditzy nail technician who gives Elle advice in her time of need. 

The cast also includes Holland Taylor as Professor Stromwell who pushes Elle to realize her own strengths as a student and as a woman in a male-dominated field, as well as Jessica Cauffiel and Alana Ubach as Margot and Serena respectively, who accompany Elle as her BFFs in all her endeavors from studying for the LSATs to winning her first case.

The film’s initial premise can potentially be viewed as problematic, as it appears the only reason Elle decides to pursue Harvard is to win back her ex-boyfriend who dumped her at the beginning of the film. 

Her primary interest in attending Harvard stems from proving she is in the same caliber of serious, career-oriented individuals rather than the cheerful yet gullible persona she has portrayed thus far. Law school in the beginning is seen more as a means to an end to show her ex what he is missing rather than to better herself or continue her education. 

Although Elle receives some support from her sorority sisters, the majority of people in her life similarly believe she is not capable of making it into Harvard, much less surviving the rigorous coursework and responsibilities of being a law student. 

Yet, once it is apparent that her ex-boyfriend Warren, played by Matthew Davis, will never take Elle seriously or recognize her true potential, she defies the odds and continues to pursue law for her own benefit, excelling in ways others never expected.

In this aspect, this is when the film really starts to shine as Elle proves she is not only capable of being an accomplished lawyer without changing who she is to reach her goals, never compromising her identity to fit into the new Harvard crowd and applying her knowledge and skills that others mocked and ridiculed her for. 

Elle maintains her “girly” personality in both obvious and subtle ways, showing how these traits never held her back in or out of the classroom and instead benefited her success. 

The climactic courtroom scene near the film’s end where Elle is questioning the daughter of the murder victim Chutney, played by Linda Cardellini, showcases her extensive knowledge of hair care that others may deem useless and fitting of the shallow dumb blonde stereotype they assume Elle to be. 

However, these facts that at first seemed irrelevant gave Elle the advantage of revealing the truth behind the murder and winning the case.

The way that Witherspoon portrays Elle appears as a paradox to the dumb blonde stereotype, as her personality and interests reflect the core of this type of character; excessive femininity, overly friendly, naïve and overflowing with optimism. 

Although these could be seen as flaws and reinforce the stereotype, Elle proves to be kind, thoughtful, and determined to achieve her goals, despite the obstacles that others present because they assumed this stereotype of her. These qualities of her character are what make Elle so entertaining, as she brings a fun frilly balance to what is expected of her at law school and makes it her own.

 

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