Elle Woods has provided me with a guide to surviving law school and never-ending inspiration for costume-parties. But upon my latest viewing of Legally Blonde I realised Elle and Co. were teaching me another equally valuable lesson: How to fight in the battle to be taken seriously. Eventually our beloved characters get the credit they deserve and eliminate toxic relationships from their lives. But it is only their choice to combat adversity and their empowering friendships that help them achieve this result.
Elle attends Harvard Law with the intention of showing her ex, Warner, that she can be the serious, senator’s wife he desires. Even though Elle kicks ass on her law entrance exam, her sights are firmly set on rekindling love, not academic excellence. During a conversation with Warner, Elle mentions her hope of getting an internship the following year. Warner scoffs in disbelief. Elle is startled that he doubts her and challenges him, “Didn’t we both get into the same law school? Take the same LSATS?” As Warner stutters, “That’s just not you!” Elle makes the choice not to stand there and listen. She marches herself into a powerful montage sequence, documenting her determination to show Warner, and everyone, how valuable she truly is.
I fist pump as Elle buys a laptop, reads textbooks on the treadmill and gives impressive answers in class. She stands up to Warner, never once being anything but her own champion. Elle refused to be told her value and never doubts she can be an amazing law student. I appreciate Elle’s fierce self-confidence, but I especially appreciate her fierce determination.
Later on, however, Elle descends into crippling self-doubt when she discovers Professor Callahan gave her an internship due to his interest in pursuing a relationship with her. Elle resigns herself to the belief that no one will see her as anything but a blonde with a set of big boobs. This shows how the realisation that one person does not perceive you as good enough, can result in the adoption of their perception of you as your own.
Luckily, one of Elle’s professors saves the day when she imparts these immortal words: “If you are going to let some prick ruin your life, then you are not the girl I thought you were.” These words reflect that these awful experiences should not happen, but unfortunately they do. However, with the right support, it is possible to eliminate the power these events have over our lives. After this experience, Elle assessed her situation. She realised she should not need to manipulate herself to fit inside a box to be taken seriously. She knows her value and that is enough. So when Elle enters court in her fabulous pink ensemble, with Bruiser in tow, the audience knows Elle has found a way to be a serious law student, while wearing sparkles and having a bubbly attitude.
Elle shows us there is no harm in having unshakable self-confidence and working hard to fulfill your potential. You never know what the result could be. Possibilities include and are not limited to: internships, court victory, graduating the top of your class and getting a job at a prestigious law firm.
Elle inspires Paulette to finally stand up for herself and boosts her self-confidence. Who can forget one of the biggest moves in cinematic history: the bend-and snap? But the most powerful event in this friendship is when Elle encourages Paulette to get her dog back from her ex-boyfriend. At first things don’t go well, as Paulette’s ex goes to town demeaning and intimidating her. This is when Elle steps up to plate. She pretends to be Paulette’s lawyer and blinds him with legal jargon, momentarily leaving Paulette’s ex speechless, setting the stage for Paulette to confidently ask for what she wants.
While the end result of this scene is humorous, the beginning is hard to watch. Paulette was obviously in a relationship where she wasn’t valued. It is clear she had grown accustomed to being treated with a lack of respect, and cannot remember how to fight for herself. But Elle’s actions trigger a different response from Paulette. She remembers her value and demands to be taken seriously. We need to remember to practice the art of knowing when to lend a hand to help a friend’s voice be heard.
When Vivienne works as an intern for Professor Callahan she finds herself not being taken as seriously as the other students. While she is clearly just as bright, she is the one called upon to fetch Callahan’s coffee or plum sauce. She reluctantly obeys each time; what else can she do? But since the running of errands is not shared, Vivienne’s constant coffee runs impact her professional development.
There is no true resolution to Vivienne’s predicament in the movie. The audience sees her learn to laugh at the situation, but there is no happy ending. Maybe that is reflective of reality. Sometimes we find ourselves at the mercy of an authority figure that has yet to realise the value of our contributions. So the battle to be taken seriously may sometimes be a losing fight.
Legally Blonde is ultimately a chick flick, albeit a very empowering one, so it all ends happily, by nature of its genre. But the exploration of the “perceived” value of women stood out to me. These women remind us that while it is unfair to have to fight to be taken seriously, it is still a battle worth fighting. But at the end of the day, it is our own self-confidence and supportive friendships that will give us victory.