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on Legally Blonde

Posted by pocochina on November 29, 2007

So I love Legally Blonde.  I’ve seen it a hundred times, I think they did their research on law school life,* and it passes the Mo Movie Measure, and it’s endearing and funny, just the thing to clear away six weeks of 1L stress.


But SWEET JESUS.  Not all female law students are Elle Fucking Woods, nor do we wish to be measured by her character.  No matter how tempting the parallel for your shocking expose of law school life. It’d be one thing if there was just a cute joke about the fact that the student profiled happened to be blonde, attractive, apparantly hetero, and fun-loving because those are perfectly respectable traits which this particular student happens to share with the title character.  But going on and on and fucking on about what everyone in the law school was WEARING that day!  Making sure not to edit out the “like” filler in the interview!**  Not one, not two, but THREE references to Playboy parties!  (Plus the caption under the picture.  Because you MUST NOT show a picture of an attractive woman without mentioning FUCKING PORN.***)  Even more references to Malibu!  And I’m not criticizing the law student.  It’s perfectly clear that this columnist wanted to make law school look as much like Legally Blonde as possible.  And frankly, I like the character of Elle Woods, and I’m sure that I would genuinely like hanging out with this real, non-fictional woman the article’s profiling, and I bet money she’s intelligent and enthusiastic and industrious.  BUT SHE IS REAL.  SHE IS NOT A FUCKING FICTIONAL CHARACTER.  She does not need to be like the fictional character in order to be validated.

And believe it or not, you can be smart and fun without ever setting foot in the Playboy Mansion, Idiot College Columnist.  Yes.  Female sexuality is complicated, and taboo, and I’m truly gratified that this woman is unapologetic about the way she enjoys being young and happy.  I may not love Heff, but I’m certainly not going to stigmatize someone else who can have fun in that environment.  I don’t find it any sort of morally wrong on the part of the student to discuss it.  I do, however, find it offensive that the article had to prove Just! How! Fun! this woman is, just to show that oh my God, law students are people!  Who leave the library once in a while!  Even the girls!

But since I’m on the subject.

The extent to which the movie has become a cultural touchstone irks me, because it has become another way to make female law students non-threatening.  When my cousin graduated law school, less than a month after I’d accepted the law school of my choice, my mom bought her a card.  The card – and I swear I am not making this up – said something like “You DID it!  Congratulations on your law degree…” on the front, and then you’d open it, and it played that “Perfect Day” song and said “And you have the PERFECT OUTFIT!”  Don’t worry your pretty head, honey, the card said, it’s still a pretty head, nobody thinks any less of your Girly Perfection because you’ve proven your intelligence and work ethic!

And that sure doesn’t help women lawyers.  We’re already expected to spend a lot more on clothes than men, and wear expensive makeup and spend lots of time on our hair to look “professional,” and carry the weight of femininity as a part of the admittedly difficult work of serving the court.  Know why women roll our eyes and say we don’t want to wear panty hose every day?  BECAUSE IT IS UNCOMFORTABLE.  It is annoying.  It is time you don’t have spent on picking the perfect color, choosing the right amout of support, and then spending money to make sure you have a backup pair, too, just in case there’s a run.  Then they shift around, you have to hike them up all the time, they make you spend even longer in the bathroom, they run.  (And I’d imagine they’re pretty awkward to take off in front of someone, too.)  Panty hose are stupid.  The expectation that women will wear them in order to look professional is a Tool of The Patriarchy.  They show off our legs and make our bodies closer to an “acceptable” size and shape, while technically covering us so our Sinful Bare Skin doesn’t distract the poor, weak menz,**** who everyone knows cannot even think in the presence of bare female legs!   Especially Lawyer-Type Men!  And we silly women in the law have to spend lots and lots of time making sure that we are in no way threatening, because that would make us political, illogical, and God forbid, feminist.

Legally Blonde is not just about an attractive woman who almost magically finds herself at HLS.  It is about a person who, having gone her whole life thinking one particular trait is the defining thing about her, finds herself in a situation where that trait is not an asset, but a liability.  it might as well have been about a smart kid who, after a life of loving to read, gets beat up on the playground, because even though there’s nothing wrong with being smart, and it does make your life easier in a lot of ways, other kids don’t necessarily like that kid’s smarts.  That, I believe, is why the movie rang so true with people who were neither particularly femme, nor in any way interested in lawyerdom.  Stereotypes are just blatantly ridiculous, and the most elite, educated people in our society sometimes make them to an extent that is embarassing to watch.  That’s why we all relate to Elle, this woman who has everything, and we love relating to her, because that means maybe we can have it all, too!  It’s a feel-good movie about Overcoming Adversity (TM). So it doesn’t need to be fucking well shoved down our throats at every turn.

And for the record, I happen to love the icky brown color of my hair.

*except, as every 1L on the continent knows, for Gordan v Steele in the First Day of School scene.  There was, in fact, diversity jurisdiction.

**”Like” is, of course, no better or worse than “um,” “or,” “you know” or any other filler, but it’s so conveniently gendered and associated with a particular kind of femininity, so of course we use it as a marker of less privileged speech.

***In case it isn’t totally clear from this post, I have no objection to people who enjoy or participate in porn as such, but the expectation that ALL WOMEN will conform to the standard set forth in mainstream pornography.

****No, I do not believe this, The Patriarchy does.

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