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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Monday, September 25, 2023

The not so feminist "Legally Blonde"


In celebration of “Legally Blonde’s” 20th anniversary, Netflix announced it would be adding the hit romantic comedy to its catalogue starting April 1. So, naturally, as the beginning of April rolled around the corner, my roommates and I excitedly flocked to our couch for a viewing party of the film that made pink everyone’s favorite color. Ready to dive head first into cinematic nostalgia, I prepared to marvel at the humor and glamor that is Elle Woods. Yet, as I continued to watch, my splendor was interrupted by the subtle cringe bubbling inside of me. The once championed “girl-power” icon suddenly became a manifestation of the flaws of modern feminism. 

Now, I know it seems fruitless to scrutinize a classic that is beloved for its lighthearted plot and seemingly empowering message. It’s true that “Legally Blonde” does an excellent job of displaying the multi-dimensionality of women. Elle Woods raises her middle finger to the patriarchy, doing so with perfectly polished fingernails and a diamond ring. Effectively, her womanhood is what allows her to break the stereotypes she’s confined by. It’s these stereotypes, however, that hold the problem. 

Inherently, “Legally Blonde” is a white feminist film. It traces the story of an already privileged white woman who is simplified and misunderstood because she embodies the beauty standard. And yes, bimbofication is a genuine struggle feminists are actively combating. However, there is nothing intersectional about this story. Feminism can only achieve women’s liberation when it employs an analytic framework that examines the crossroads of all social identities; gender, race, sexuality, etc. When “feminist” mediums fail to address these intersections, they reduce feminist issues to the single story of the white woman, neglecting the more dangerous (and, sometimes, lethal) stereotypes applied to marginalized peoples.

I by no means am suggesting to “cancel” “Legally Blonde” because, frankly, it’s just not that deep. It should be viewed and enjoyed as the cherished romantic comedy that it is. 

I do encourage readers of the Daily Cardinal, however, to approach and consume popular culture with an eye of criticism, always. Life imitates art, and when we are able to locate an artwork’s shortcomings we become more equipped to recognize them in the real world. For me, Elle Woods and her fabulous journey through Harvard revealed that there is more (and more urgent) work to be done in feminism than merely showing that beauty and brains are not mutually exclusive.

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