The Finite Feminism Of 'Legally Blonde'

by Mary Grace Garis

Back before my brown roots started growing in, Legally Blonde existed as a guide on how to slay at life. What can I say: seeing fellow blonde Elle take over Harvard Law School left a mark on 10-year-old Mary Grace, and, while I went the journalism route, I’d still love to follow in her stilettos. See, all these years later Elle Woods is an unlikely feminist heroine that teaches us to make allies and rally.

Of course, it’s worth pointing out that Legally Blonde isn’t a perfect feminist manifesto. If you want to get into it, Elle is drenched in all sorts of pink privilege: she’s white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied, and straight out of Bel-Air. But part of the beauty of Elle Woods (beyond the, you know, literal beauty of Elle Woods) is that she routinely uses her position power to help people, and tries her best not to look down on those different than her. She’s all about bringing justice into the world while being true to herself, and that makes her both an exceptional lawyer and human being.

So 15 years later, let’s take a look at all the ways Legally Blonde is a piece of feminist gold.

1. When Elle Receives A Card Signed By All Of Delta Nu

I've lived with two exceptional blonde sisters of Delta Phi Epsilon and Phi Mu (respectively) and, while I love them to death, I have to say that sorority life is, uh, not for me. I'm a little too anti-conformity and Prince-Of-Darkness for that kind of environment. Nobody can deny, though, that there is sisterhood with a capital S all over Elle's "Good Luck!" card.

2. The Way Elle Gracefully Shuts Down The Woman Who Tries To Scam Her

This is one of those early signs that Elle is an exceptional woman who shouldn't be underestimated. It's clear that Elle knows the ins-and-outs of style and beauty — she's earned that 4.0 in Fashion Merchandising — and she routinely uses that knowledge to her advantage.

3. The Way The Delta Nu Sisters Are Lined Up Like Birds In An Alfred Hitchcock Film Out Of Solidarity With Their Leader

It's very sweet, if not a little creepy.

They really want the best of their friend.

4. Elle's Insistence On Walking Home And Retaining Her Dignity

She eventually caves for the sake of her shoes, but I applaud her for storming off the way she did.

5. Elle's Confidence When She Insists, "I Don't Need Back-Ups. I'm Going To Harvard."

At this point in the game, you could argue it's her romantic delusions fueling her to accomplish this. However, snaps are warranted for Elle's determination. If you approach life with this kind of "I will" mentality, there's no telling what you can accomplish.

6. How Elle Goes Above And Beyond When It Comes To Her Harvard Application

She hired a Coppola to direct her video, for God's sake. Seriously, though, even though it's hilarious to watch Elle vouch for her qualifications in a sequined string bikini, she puts together a hell of an argument.

7. The Way She Also Puts In All The Hard Work Required To Get In At Harvard

Elle studies like crazy to get a 179 on her LSATs, giving up all the little joys of Greek Life during her senior year. And, just so you know how great that score is, the highest score you can get is 180.

8. The Celebration That Follows When Elle Gets Her LSATs Back

Again, it needs to be pointed out that Elle is surrounded by a group of hugely supportive woman who have her back whether she's getting engaged or furthering her education (even if... her intentions are still to get ultimately engaged).

9. The Introduction Of Professor Stromwell

In order for certain other plot points of the movie to work, Professor Stromwell has to debut on the scene as a bit of a hard ass, kicking Elle out of her class and giving that flaxen-haired princess her first real taste of Harvard standards. We're inclined to side with our protagonist, but point blank: she didn't do the reading, and she's in the wrong here. Stromwell's punishment is a pretty big statement on fairness, and it's just one small thing that eventually pushes Elle to be more serious.

10. The Way Paulette Goes Into Crisis Mode When Elle Shows Up At Her Salon, Sobbing

Having been in a similarly wounded state before, there is nothing more comforting than a lady who will allow you to vent when you're a mascara-stained mess.

11. This Relatively Fair Assessment Of Vivian

"She could use some mascara and some serious highlights, but she's not completely unfortunate looking." Bless.

12. The Way Elle Makes An Effort Towards Inclusivity

After being rebuffed by Warner's study group (even after bringing muffins!), Enid makes fun of her Valley Girl ways. "If you had come to a rush party, I would have at least been nice to you," Elle says, taking the high road. Enid, latching onto sorority sister stereotypes counters with, "Is that before you voted against me and then called me a d*ke behind my back?" Elle doesn't use that word, Enid; you need to stop making unkind assumptions.

13. When Elle Shows Up At The Party Dressed As Gloria Steinem

OK, this one may not be entirely canon to the film, but, in the musica,l Elle is actually dressed up as Steinem undercover as a Playboy Bunny, researching for the manifesto "I Was A Playboy Bunny." Maybe that nod isn't exactly what's happening here, but please note that Steinem inspired Reese Witherspoon to do Legally Blonde . I think we can co-opt this moment as a nod to that, if nothing else.

14. The Moment When Elle Argues She's Just As Smart As Warner Is

"Wait, am I on glue or did we not get into the same law school? ...We took the same LSATs, and we're taking the same classes..." This isn't about how living next to Aaron Spelling makes her better than some satellite Vanderbilt anymore; this is about equality.

15. How Elle's Realization That She'll "Never Be Good Enough" For Warner Pushes Her To Excel In Her Studies

At this point in the game, she's merely trying to stay afloat to get him to want her back. Now, there's a subtle shift in her motivations: she wants to slay at this whole Law School thing out of spite.

And there is zero hesitation about it.

16. The Way Elle Fights To "Have It All," So To Speak

She's fitting in cardio while studying and hitting the books while she's getting her hair done. Elle is going to be the best version of herself, mind, body, and soul.

17. The Way Elle Inspires Paulette To Take Control Of Her Life... And Custody Of Her Dog

She even helps by throwing around some mutilated legal jargon. Theirs is a beautiful friendship.

18. The Debate Over The Theoretical Latimer Case

I would need a bit more context on the details of this not-real case, but the general gist is this: Mr. Latimer is a habitual sperm donor who is harassing the parents of one of his biological children for visitation rights. Warner argues that Latimer is totally justified in asking to see this child, because, without him, the child wouldn't exist. And Elle argues that that doesn't really make him a parent:

"Unless the defendant attempted to contact every single one-night stand to determine if a child resulted in those unions he has no parental claim over this child whatsoever. Why now? Why this sperm?"

Excellent point overall, but I really find this discussion intriguing. If you peel off a layer or two, there's low-key commentary about male entitlement in there.

19. This Little Christmas Scene

I just think it's very sweet how Elle fosters a really strong ties with Paulette over the course of this film. She eventually wins over everyone, but it's their bond that stands out.

20. When Elle Basically Says That Her Own Personal Achievements Are More Satisfying Than Warner's Sexual Prowess

"Remember when we spent those four amazing hours in the hot tub after winter formal? This is so much better than that!" Dead.

21. This Tense But Notable Exchange Between Elle And Vivian

Elle compliments her outfit, Vivian gives a polite "Thank you." They're definitely not BFF status yet, but, from here on out, Vivian starts thawing in the light of Elle's goodness.

22. When Elle Teaches An Entire Salon The Bend And Snap

She gives a lot of positive reinforcement and gets that whole place pumping. Her leadership skills are unparalleled.

23. When Elle Delivers A Gift Basket To Brooke

Again, the sisterhood is undeniably strong between Delta Nus.

24. Elle's Refusal To Give Up Brooke's Alibi

Without question, one of Elle's most remarkable traits is her loyalty: it doesn't falter for a second. So when she says she'll keep Brooke's secret safe, that promise is ironclad. Who wouldn't want a confidante like that?

25. Furthermore, She Doesn't Kowtow To The Team (Of Men) Who Egg Her to Give Up The Alibi

"Who cares about Brooke? Think about yourself." You know what? Warner's words serve as such an important moral contrast here. Elle knows you don't throw people you care about under the bus to further your own career; that's not being a good feminist, but it's also not being a good friend or a good person. Warner clearly doesn't understand this, and that's why this douchelord doesn't get a job by the end of the film.

26. When Elle Points Out Double Standards

"So? Now you discriminate against brunettes?" "Why not? I'm discriminated against as a blonde." Elle may call out Mrs. Wyndham Vandermark on the "icky brown color of her hair," but this doesn't seem like something she feels in her heart, so we'll give it a pass.

27. When Vivian Points Out Callahan's Sexism

That feel when you're an accomplished Harvard law student who's stuck getting coffee for your male colleagues.

28. And The Entire Heart-To-Heart Between Vivian And Elle

Once Vivian commends Elle for keeping Brooke's alibi under lockdown, the two can finally find common ground and turn their animosity into a friendship. Sisterhood, guys.

29. The Way Elle Maintains Her Integrity By Shooing Off Callahan's Advances

He's a powerful man and can definitely leverage her career, but Elle wants to accomplish things on her own terms. Also: ew.

30. When Emmett Encouraging Elle To Stay

Just going to go over this briefly: Emmet works as a perfect foil to Warner. He sees great potential in her from the get-go and is nothing but supportive. It would've been fine by me if the story nixed the secondary subtle romance line and Elle found strength on herself, but, if there has to be one, I'm glad it's with him.

31. When Elle Finally Gets Genuine Personal Validation From Studying Law

"I just felt, like, for the first time... that somebody expected me to do something more with my life than become a Victoria's Secret model." My heart breaks from her, because it feels like she's about to give up on this journey, one that had her fighting for love, fighting for respect, and, finally, fighting because it made her happy.

32. And Then When This BAMF Gives Her Words Of Encouragement

"If you're going to let one stupid prick ruin your life you're not the girl I thought you were." BRB, sobbing.

33. When Elle Shows Up In Court In Her Signature Shade

This is such a powerful move: it shows that she can be a series lawyer without abandoning her brand, finding a happy medium between her old and new life.

34. And When Her Friends Show Up In Court

It's played for laughs, but, once again, Margot and Serena's appearances are testament to the bonds of sisterhood... and how Elle's lovability gives her plenty of allies.

35. When Elle Wins Her Case By Utilizing Her Strengths And Showing That She Has A Place In This Profession


36. When She Tells Off Warner, Choosing Her Career Instead Of His Sorry Ass

"If I'm gonna be a partner at a law firm by the time I'm 30, I need a boyfriend who's not such a complete bonehead."

37. And Finally, This Entire Speech

On our very first day at Harvard a very wise professor quoted Aristotle. "The law is reason free from passion." Well, no offense to Aristotle but in my three years at Harvard. I have come to find that passion is a key ingredient to the study and practice of law and of life. It is with passion, courage of conviction that we take our next steps into the world remembering that first impressions are not always correct you must always have faith in people and most importantly, you must always have faith in yourself.

This is a perfect send off for the character, because it outlines how much she's grown. Elle is a success because she's learned to keep her mind open while following her gut. She's formed healthy relationships with women, with people who encourage her dreams. But, most importantly, she did it with her own stylistic flair and refusal to give up. It is for those reasons that Elle Woods is a shining, blonde beacon of inspiration to all young women.

Cue Hoku's "Perfect Day."

Images: MGM (40)