Sorority Sister, Harvard Graduate and Feminism’s Forgotten Icon

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I think it’s fair to say that pretty much anyone is aware that women are getting a shit deal in Hollywood right now. I’m not going to lecture you on the issue of female representation because I’m assuming it’s like, if you’re reading this it’s not a bombshell for you and also because it will make me angry just thinking about it. But, what I am going to rant about is an outstanding example of feminist filmmaking from the early 2000’s that, in contrast with the shit we’re forced to sit through today, deserves serious snaps for being so far ahead of its time – I’m talking about Legally Blonde.

No, I’m deadly serious here. All I do is read furious Guardian articles about the lack of female roles that allow us to be strong and vulnerable and ambitious and complex and all the time I’m thinking, where were you people when Elle was acing fucking Harvard!? Seriously, the film you’re crying out for already exists and has done for 15 years! Maybe you threw your copy away along with your training bras and Barbie dolls, or maybe, like me, you still watch it every time you get dumped or have a particularly harsh hangover to get through, but either way it’s high time we remind everyone how a real female led film is done. I mean, when Elle was getting law degrees and manicures I was an impressionable ten year old with knotty brown hair and scruffy trainers, watching the DVD on repeat and dreaming of pink sequin bikinis and bouncy blonde curls. But now I’m a cynical 25 year old who doesn’t get blow-drys or shop at Fred Segal and I still can’t think of a better role model than one as strong, as determined and as unapologetically female than Elle Woods. And I still want the bikini.

So your boyfriend probably thinks Legally Blonde is a pointless film about dumb blondes and Chihuahuas – pink and girly and totally unrealistic, right? But really it’s the story of a young girl who gets her heart broken, pushes herself to get into law school, achieves more than anyone believes she can, builds strong and supportive female friendships wherever she goes and comes out on top without ever being bitter or bitchy or becoming ‘one of the boys’. In fact, she has no cliché ‘masculine’ characteristics at all and that is so, so important. There’s no aggression or arrogance or other bullshit ‘strong’ traits to this girl, she’s just intelligent, driven, and confident and she’s still allowed to like reading Cosmopolitan and wearing Prada pumps. What she taught my ten year old self was the kind of life lessons everyone hopes their daughter learns: to not be afraid to be yourself, to aspire to be generous and not judgmental, to work hard and to follow your dreams, no matter how many people doubt you. I know it sounds soppy, and it is, but it’s also really important when girls now are growing up surrounded by shit like the how-to-be-mistreated-by-your-boyfriend manual that is Twilight (I mean, honestly, if I’d had to spend years throwing myself off cliffs to get Edward Cullen’s attention I’d have cheated on him with that director too.)

But I’m not just talking about the heart warming fluffy stuff this film fills me with, I’m talking about cold, hard facts. What other female led films have you watched recently where the lead’s boyfriends are the subplots, where the friendships she has are complicated and surprising, where her differences with other women are celebrated, not mocked? Because I can’t think of one. I’m talking about a film where a girl gets dumped for another girl and they end up both ditching the loser and becoming best friends! A film where a major character is middle aged with a ‘fat-ass’ and that’s just who she is, no snide digs about her stretch marks or scenes of her stuffing lettuce down her throat and crying. A film where girls who get into law school and girls who give lap dances to pass their college classes support and believe in each other without question. This stuff is ground breaking, except it broke the ground and everyone said how great that was, and then quietly went back to making films about cars and token sexy girls and men with such deep voices I can only assume they are compensating for something vastly lacking in the ability to go anywhere deep, if you know what I mean… How fucking depressing.

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And I know things are getting better (Lena Dunham! Mindy Kaling! Rey from Star Wars!) but can we just take a minute to marvel at how fucking great this film was? Okay, Legally Blonde isn’t perfect, there’s some serious room for improvement on its inclusion of people of colour, and it was way too one dimensional in its representation of homosexuality (don’t get me started on the sequel and the whole dogs in chaps thing), but it’s a lot fucking better than some of the shit my local Odeon has been overcharging people to watch for the last ten years. I mean, let’s talk about some of the recent female roles we’re supposed to be thankful for, shall we? Like The Heat, a blockbuster comedy with two women in the starring roles – sounds great, right? Oh no, they just spend the whole film beating people up for little to no apparent reason and swearing in replacement of any actual humorous dialogue. Sandra, I’m willing to let you off on this one because of your excellent work for the FBI at the Miss America Pageant that time, but why Melissa McCarthy insists on taking roles that perpetuate the idea that her only source of comedy is repeatedly saying ‘fuck’ and making comments about men that, if the tables were turned, would see her labeled a sex pest, is beyond me. Oh, and Bridesmaids? There goes Melissa again, doing her whole creepy/inappropriate thing, plus a whole load of other women who spend the entire film competing against each other and tearing each other down. And yes, we do act like that in real life sometimes, but maybe if we had a few more supportive sorority sisters on our screens and a few less bitchy, bitter bridesmaids, we’d stop thinking it’s so big and clever to pick apart our friends just to make ourselves feel better about our own back fat or whatever. I’m not saying Hollywood is the be all and end all, you just have to read a book or turn on the news to see brave, independent, incredible women, but let’s not pretend we aren’t swamped with Hollywood’s girls on a daily basis either. And let’s definitely not pretend that they don’t have a serious impact on how we see ourselves and everyone around us, so isn’t it about time they give us a few more women who are worthy of our time?

I mean really, I’m not asking Hollywood to stop making films about men in vests driving cars or killing bears or getting stuck on alien planets, I’m just asking them to chuck in a few more flicks about fucking cool girls without insisting they be re-hashed versions of Lara Croft or whatever. And seriously, Universal, if you’re reading this, I have some great ideas for Legally Blonde 3 – I’m thinking White House but, curveball! Elle is campaign manager for America’s first black, female president – call me and we’ll talk.

So that’s it, my desperate plea for more interesting, complicated female leads with a knowledge of habeas corpus and perm maintenance (or not, I don’t care, just don’t let them be another fucking damsel in distress). And maybe you think I’m stupid and have awful taste in movies, (yes, I watch this repeatedly and no, I haven’t seen Interstellar yet, so sue me), but you’ve got to admit my points are valid. If a fifteen year old chick flick does a better job at portraying vivid female characters than the box office in 2016, then what the fuck does that say about us now?

Oh, and that scene where she totally owns the mean sales assistant with her insane knowledge of low-viscosity rayon? I mean, that’s got nothing to do with feminism but if it isn’t the greatest fist-pump moment in cinematic history then I don’t know what is.

Words by Elizabeth Moffatt.

Illustrations by Alexandra Russo.

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