Elle Woods should be your Ultimate Female Boss - and here's why.
I love Legally Blonde, its one of my favourite films of all time. So I was very happy to hear there is reportedly a 3rd movie in the works...YAYYYY! I can’t wait to see Elle and Emmet heading up their own law firm, taking over the world, one pink scented subpoena at a time. I am aware that Elle Woods is an entirely fictional character and that this is not a true story, however, as ditzy and vacuous as it may look on the surface, Legally Blonde holds a very strong message about feminism.
Originally a novel written by Amanda Brown, and based on her experiences at Stanford Law School, the basic premise of the film starts in a way that could raise the hackles of even the most un-feminist of feminists; A sorority girl, (Elle Woods) gets dumped by her boyfriend because he is off to Harvard Law School and he needs to be with someone 'who is a better fit for his career' (he actually says this - I know - total douche). Anyway Elle is too ‘blonde’ and and he needs someone more tweed and twinset. In an attempt to get him back, she goes on a mission to get into Harvard Law School herself - a move she believes will prove she is 'good enough' for him. (oh man, I know there a 504389343 things wrong with this - but bear with me here.) She invariably succeeds, much to his astonishment - and that of absolutely everyone else. (Do you see where I’m going here...yes? good. Keep Reading. You're going to enjoy it.) Along the way, thankfully, she gets over the douchebag, finds a whole new life as a Lawyer and ends up finishing top in her class. She does all this whilst remaining un-apologetically pink, positive and well-heeled, causing her to encounter an absolute ocean load of sexism along the way.
Elle Woods is absolutely a Hollywood exaggeration, but there is a piece of her in all of us. What the film really represents is how much we, as women, whether it’s in how we dress, speak or present ourselves, risk having our competency mis-judged should we choose to show excessive displays of ‘typical’ femininity. By being softly spoken, sweet, overly positive, sensual or even displaying emotion, women often risk being judged as ‘weak’ or ‘ineffective’ - and not only by men, by other women and sometimes we even make this judgement towards ourselves. The power of the film lies in how expertly Amanda Brown demonstrates this Internalised Misogny through the obstacles faced by her main protagonist. So if you haven’t heard the term before, I’ll break it down; ‘Internalisation’ is the subconscious integration of a judgment or opinion made of us by someone else into our own self belief system. Often this can shape our beliefs about our capabilities, mould it expectations of ourselves, and if negative, can adversely affect or limit the choices we make in our lives. In legally blonde, Elle Woods is a sorority girl – and sorority girls don’t go to Harvard Law. This in itself, is the (questionably incorrect) internalised belief – which is why she doesn’t even consider it until there is alternate reason to go there (chasing her ex-boyfriend). ‘Misogyny’ is the part that says she can’t do it because she is a woman who likes a lot of pink. It’s the belief that being female, and anything related to that, makes you less – in any sense of the word. So if you add the two together - 'internalised misogyny' can be found in any environment where women automatically find themselves playing down, hiding or oppressing elements of their femininity in order to succeed, survive or thrive.
The other day I had to decide between a pair of black stilettos and a pair of bright pink ones for a job interview – I immediately went for the black ones, why? Because I thought if I chose the pink, I wouldn’t be taken as seriously. Then I had a word with myself, remembering my shoe colour has absolutely no bearing on my ability to do the job, and switched right back to the pink ones. They’re gorgeous and comfortable - and we all know that is such a rare find. Right there, in that moment, when I chose the black over the pink, that was an everyday demonstration of internalised misogyny towards myself. In choosing the black shoes, I was colluding with this belief that less female = more competence. How many times have we done this? I’ll wear the grey and put my hair up so they respect me more. I'll keep it baggy so you can't see my figure. In other words; if I play down the girlishness, I can go further and they'll respect me more.
I have come up against this a lot in my life, which is why Legally Blonde is very close to my heart. ‘You’re a girly girl Soph, you can’t do that..’ has definitely been a message I’ve received more than a few times. As a waitress, a holiday rep, a hotel receptionist and many times in medical school, I’ve experienced internalized misogyny first hand - and not just from men. I have had female job interviewers say; ‘So when you were in medical school did that mean you were going to be a nurse?’ Excuse me? Would they have said that to man with the same C.V.? Probably not. In Italy, I had colleagues surprised I was up for a tough climb - and lets not even start on working in the ski industry; ‘But like, girls only do seasons to get guys and sleep around right? And you’re really hot so I bet you’ve had loads of action..!.’ Whoa. OK, yes someone did actually said this to me and it was a conversation that happened a few times whilst I was repping. It looked like a compliment - but it really wasn't. Of course, I’m a holiday rep - which automatically means I came here to have sex with lots of men. I mean I definitely didn’t come here for the skiing, or the beautiful mountains, or to just meet new people and have an active lifestyle - nope, it was obviously for all the sex. He was 21 and drunk, so we’ll forgive him, but the judgement I saw placed on female holiday reps was very very real. (I know this doesn’t apply to all of you and I’m all for sexual liberation and doing who you want when you want - go you), but if you've read any of my previous posts on sex, you'll know I sometimes think women don't actually want to – but do anyway because on some subconscious level, they think it’s what’s expected of them. That acting like a man may want is better than acting like yourself.
Legally Blonde is brilliant because its a film where the lead character completely rejects Internalised misogyny – on an almost comedic scale. She is the complete embodiment of the girly girl stereotype – and then some, completely challenging the belief that in order to get on in the workplace, you have to act like a man. Elles’ ability to remain firmly herself, despite the cruel judgements shown towards her, is something we should all aspire to. Over the course of the film, her unwavering display of authenticity completely challenges the belief systems of her fellow characters. Living in fear of career ridicule, the other women in the film are repeatedly horrified by her openness, vulnerability - and fluffy pink pens. However, when you dig a little deeper, they too share a love of a good lipstick and actually really appreciate the kindness and optimism she has been showing - not to mention how well she can connect with her client. But even though Elle is kind, funny, considerate to her colleagues and brilliant at her job, she’s ultimately fighting an ingrained belief that Harvard law is a mans’ world and you have to act like one to survive it. So she doesn’t fit in, and without any real awareness of it, the rejection of her only demonstrates how much male dominance still prevails in the female psyche.
I’m always dubious to call myself a feminist as I’ve often felt it can be mis-associated with aggression, hating on men and not wearing a bra. I quite like bras and men – and I wouldn’t class myself as a particularly aggressive person (unless im overly tired or I've caught you in bed with another woman), but I fully support anything that promotes the value of women and modern day feminism (a la legally blonde) is doing just this. I started writing about Elle to tell you how great she was, and that you really shouldn't judged a book by its cover. This still stands, but a whole lot of internalized misogyny in her fellow female characters is what really stood out. From the ridicule that Elle encounters, Legally Blonde is actually a film about women hating on women - and not even recognising why they're really doing it let alone that it has anything to do with internalised beliefs from men. As she progresses through Harvard, Elles scores earn her respect from her male peers, something which is in line with the natural progression of doing well in your job. Yet she still struggles to win over her female colleagues. To me, that is how Internalized Misogyny does the most damage; by enabling women to think it's Ok to exclude, disrespect or make a mockery of the 'girly girl' - or any other type of woman for that matter. It enforces unnecessary female competition creates an unhealthy divide that really doesn’t need to exist.
I’m still learning about it, but I like to think I’m the branch of feminism working to expose the immense value of some ‘typically female’ traits that are often dismissed as ‘soft’ or ‘ineffective’. Sensetivity ,empathy, kindness, compassion - and great shoes. It really has very little to do with actual men or bras. These qualities do far more work behind the scenes of our lives than we realise (yes even the shoes!). They are the pillars that hold relationships together, enable us to navigate through tough times (you stand much taller in good shoes), and provide a support system to keep us motivated. They often remain overlooked in favour of traits such as ambition, drive, efficiency and ruthlessness - but to me, recognition of their place and importance in the workplace is what makes a real female boss. Throughout Legally Blonde, Elle Woods embodies all of these things and her unapologetic sense of self only reflects a strength of character every woman should aspire to possess - Elle Woods you are my hero - and the ultimate female boss.
(p.s. to give you an update - I got the job because it appears a woman in pink shoes can also give a really good interview - who'd have thought it?)