Legally Blonde: And Cultural Narratives Surrounding Femininity

If you are a girl, I’m sure you have at one point come across the dichotomy between “smart” girls who stay at home and read as opposed to “stupid” girls (thanks Pink) who love fashion, shopping, partying and generally traits associated with femininity. Hell, even if you aren’t a girl I’m sure you’ve come across this. Apparently you can’t be both and being one will make you more or less intelligent than the other.

Enter Elle Woods. No one takes her seriously because she’s a girly girl but she goes on to become a Harvard educated lawyer and proves everyone wrong. Some have taken this to mean that she worked hard to improve herself which is not a bad message in itself.

However, relatively early in the movie, Elle reveals to her sorority sisters that she scored 179 (out of 180) for her LSAT (law school admission test). If you want to compare fictional characters, Sam Winchester of Supernatural scored 174. The nerdy guy who loves to read books did not do as well as the perky blonde who planned on moving from her sorority house into her husband’s house straight out of college. Again, there was no evidence to suggest that Elle was unintelligent, merely a stereotype of feminine women that was brought without much substance backing it up.

Because of her knowledge of hair perms, Elle was able to deduct that a witness testimony was false and that the witness was infact the murderer. People will try to belittle her victory by claiming that it was a fluke, that if the witness hadn’t made the mistake of lying about getting a perm, Elle would never have won the case. They ignore how she earned her place in Harvard Law School, graduated with high honours, is the class elected speaker at the ceremony, and has been invited into one of Boston’s best law firms.

If another lawyer had taken the case, one who did not have Elle’s extensive knowledge of hair care, they would not have been able to point out the hole in their story. The point is that Elle’s knowledge in feminine things is not to be overlooked as silly and useless.

Source: (x)

Let me tell you something about fashion – be it design or merchandising – that is some in depth, difficult knowledge to learn. Yet pursuing it is still seen as shallow. Let’s be real here. Fashion is considered to be one of the few industries dominated by women (even though that’s not actually true) and people have some weird attitudes to things related to traditional femininity. I mean, how can anyone take her seriously when she is wearing a pink suit to court?

Pink is just a colour. It used to be a “boys” colour and blue used to be a “girls” colour.

Apparently an article in the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department in June 1918 said:

The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.

You’ll find this quoted everywhere but isn’t it great I can’t find the original source? Good thing this isn’t academic writing. How about this one?

When colors were first introduced to the nursery in the early part of the 20th century, pink was considered the more masculine hue, a pastel version of red. Blue, with its intimations of the Virgin Mary, constancy and faithfulness, was thought to be dainty. Why or when that switched is not clear, but as late as the 1930s a significant percentage of adults in one national survey held to that split.

Source: (x)

There are many theories surrounding why this changed. Personally? I go with the theory that cites this shift due to pink triangles being used to identify homosexuals in Nazi prison camps – therefore leading it to become a “womans” colour. Because you know, gay men = femininity = women. *eye roll*

HOW DID I GET SO OFF-TOPIC? THIS JUST GOT REAL SERIOUS REAL FAST.

Look, there are some serious sexist (and homophobic) reasons why the colour pink and fashion and all things feminine is associated with women. There are some serious problems with “weaponized femininity”. There are also some problems with Legally Blonde as a movie. And, you know, the concept of “intelligence” being classified as “book smart”.

But ultimately it is about a woman who refuses to compromise her gender expression (ie. being feminine) for anybody, drops a guy for not respecting her and ends up making friends with the not-so-feminine woman she is supposed to hate for “stealing” her boyfriend. Because hating other girls for how they express their femininity (or lack thereof) is so tired and cliche.

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