Legally Blonde was a classic hit when it first came out in 2001. Twenty one years later, the movie is still a favourite for many, probably because of Elle Woods, a true feminist icon.
Feminism has garned a bad name in most contexts. But despite what everyone wants you to believe, feminism isn’t just about wearing short clothes or walking out late at night. It also does not mean that every feminist woman hates all men, spits at marriage as an institution, and works to prove herself.
Feminism is about choice — where every woman has the right to choose whether she wants to be a boss babe or wants to have a ‘traditional’ life.
And Elle Woods is the hero we look up to as a guarantee that you don’t need to give up on your feminine traits and dreams to be seen as smart in your career journey.
For those of you who’ve never watched Legally Blonde or haven’t since it came out (why not?), here’s a quick rundown. The movie follows Elle Woods, the quintessential girly-girl — all things pink and glitter with an infectious can-do spirit for just about anything. She dreams of marrying her boyfriend Warner, but is dumped because she doesn’t seem smart enough. She gets into Harvard to win him back, but discovers her knack for law. She realises that she has so much to offer, and proves herself as she solves murder cases and tears down stereotypes about women.
At first glance, Elle Woods doesn’t really fit into the label of Hollywood’s strong female character. Dressed in pink from head to toe, pursuing Harvard only to get back with her ex — nothing about this description screams ‘feminist’. How, then, did Elle become an inspiration to young girls and grown women? Here are 6 lessons on feminism that Elle Woods taught us:
Your femininity do not make you less of a leader
We’re taught to believe that strength and intelligence are masculine, and yet Elle proves this false consistently. We believe that being feminine at work invites people to take advantage of us. Yet, Elle is a smart, confident, strong character not in spite of her feminine characteristics, but because of them. She instantly turned around the negatively portrayed and overused stereotype of the ‘dumb blonde’.
Elle feels most confident in women’s spaces – the sorority house and the nail salon – where collaboration and compassion are key. She makes her mark even at Harvard simply by way of her perseverance. If there’s any lesson you can learn from this, it’s that being compassionate at work only makes you a better leader.
‘Soft’ fields are just as deserving of recognition at work
It’s easy to discredit Elle Woods and Legally Blonde. She gets into Harvard because of her video resume, and her fashion merchandising major is ridiculed because it isn’t a ‘hard’ subject.
We consider subjects like literature, gender studies, design, hospitality, nursing, and many others as slightly inferior to streams like business, physics, or engineering. That they’re subjects women choose because they’re not smart enough.
So what if she had a pink resume? She also had a 4.0 GPA, scored 179 on her LSATs, was involved in extracurricular activities, and was even the president of her sorority. Her fashion degree isn’t another ‘useless’ thing she’s pursued, but one that was just as important as any other major and came in handy in her life.
Being feminine isn’t a bad thing
Legally Blonde was the first of its kind, where the movie did not belittle its feminine characters. In a shopping scene, where the saleswoman prepares to ask Elle for a higher price, she proves to be knowledgeable and smart. Even as she handles her murder cases, her fashion degree and general knowledge of all things beauty comes into use. Sure, her stereotyping all gay men to know designer shoes may be problematic, but her knowledge on perms — seemingly irrelevant — helps prove her client Brooke innocent.
Elle Woods convinces us that knowing these ‘girly’ things are just as important as knowing how to use Excel. For example, you never know when your accounting skills — all from your grocery shopping endeavours — will come in handy.
- Inventing Anna review: On being taken seriously in a room full of men
- Tired of trying to ‘have it all’? Here are 9 things to do instead
- The politics of fashion: Reclaiming my femininity through my clothing choices
- From cubicles to boardrooms: Why we need more women in leadership roles
Who says you need to choose?
We always present women with choices — career or family, traditional or modern, masculine or feminine. But we forget that we have a third option — both.
Legally Blonde presents an ideal world where women don’t have to choose. You can be a sorority sister who gets into Harvard to get your ex back, but also pursue a law degree and find new love.
Elle creates her own success instead of seeking validation from others. She learns to recognise her self-worth and love herself, where she does not need a man to be happy. She encourages us to pursue both our professional and personal goals, without having to prioritise one over the other.
Know your worth and never settle for less
Elle Woods doesn’t choose between career and love, nor does she settle for a guy who doesn’t appreciate her. Warner may be the reason why Elle worked to get into Harvard and secure her internship, but towards the end, she understands her self-worth and her place. She notices how one of her professors expects female students to fetch food for them (perhaps a preparation to be an office mom?), realises that it is sexist, and stands her ground.
Elle inspires us to strive towards what we want. That promotion you’ve been eyeing? Want to speak up against that sexist coworker? Thinking of asking for a raise?
Whatever it may be, know that you’re worth it, and go for it despite what anyone may tell you.
You don’t need to change yourself to become successful
Picture a powerful woman. Movies and pop culture persuade us to imagine a bossy, heartless woman who doesn’t back down. Elle Woods is nothing like that. She is kind, doesn’t bring herself down to the level of those who criticise her, and eventually forgives them for labelling her.
Throughout her Harvard days, she dials down her wardrobe colours and dons reading glasses because she realises she won’t be taken seriously otherwise. But when it comes to Brooke Windham, she goes back to her pinks and relies on her ‘feminine’ knowledge to win the case. Despite what your friends tell you, your seemingly unimportant knowledge has a place in the workplace.
Don’t let anyone convince you that you need to dress or behave differently to be accepted in the workplace.
Legally Blonde and Elle Woods are far from perfect. But the movie is a classic because it gives its characters the space to grow, be it Elle or Vivian. Elle believes in herself and in others, fights for it, and doesn’t back down from sexual harassment.
And most importantly, she proves that you don’t need to stop being feminine to be seen as strong or powerful.
You’re invited! Join the Kool Kanya women-only career Community where you can network, ask questions, share your opinions, collaborate on projects, and discover new opportunities. Join now.