Disclaimer: This blog post is no reflection on my all-time favourite film Legally Blonde, simply the Broadway production, for ideas regarding the film and feminism, please Google: Dumb Blonde Ambition.
Legally Blonde – the worldwide feminist phenomenon in the film industry tells the story of a rich ‘blonde’ girl named Elle Woods, who gets into Harvard Law to try and take back the love of her life, and then becomes a highly successful lawyer to spite him. Whilst the story in itself is embraced by many as one of the most successful pieces of feminist film of all time (but that may just be my bias talking), the Broadway musical seems to take a slightly different slant on the matter. When I listen to the Broadway cast album, what I expect to be my favourite feminist clapbacks put to music is actually a far more intricate web of women supporting the people they like – not exactly women supporting women.
My first port of call in my (incredibly brief) study of Legally Blonde’s feminism is the iconic “Bend and Snap”, because what’s better than women teaching their peers to embrace their body? Probably not women teaching their peers that the best way to get the guy you like is to thrust various parts of your body in their face. Whilst it makes for a fun and at times funky dance sequence, the message here is that you should always start by enticing men with your body, and in my views at least this doesn’t fit with the feminist ideals of seeing women as people not simply objects for lust. How can I back these claims up, that this “Bend and Snap” has a much more sexual feel than the original film version? Simply look at the beginning lyrics: ‘Look at my ass, my thighs/ I’m catnip to the guys’…. Just saying…
Next stop? Let’s visit another song: “Take It Like a Man”. Feminism by definition is about equality, for both men and women, which is why I touch on this song in my exploration of this musical’s take on feminism. I mean, talk about toxic masculinity, right? Encouraging a guy to change the way he dresses (from comfy jumpers to manfume etc.) simply to please a girl and ‘become what you’re supposed to be’. By suggesting that changing himself is the only way to become manly, or even that he won’t be fulfilled until he changes enough to impress a girl, the musical kicks the idea of feminism right out of the window in this song. What seems at first like Elle trying to help out her friend (and soon to be crush – aww) actually becomes a deeper exploration into how easy it is to fill our lives with toxic masculinity – and that’s not very feminist of us now, is it?
My final argument for the prosecution is (thank goodness?) a lot shorter, but guys come on this is the most convincing… Can we talk about how these girls talk about each other? Let’s play a drinking game: Take a shot every-time they call someone ‘whore’, ‘skank’ or ‘slut’. That’ll make for one exciting viewing! It’s a bit like Mean Girls in some ways, just without the redemption at the end where Tina Fey tells them all to stop calling each other ‘sluts’ and it simply puts more emphasis on the plot point of trying to take back your man, rather than solidarity amongst women after being dumped for being blonde and later sexually assaulted. If we’re supporting women and owning our identities, then we should not be calling a girl “whore” simply because she’s seen as competition. With this point, I’m referring directly to the song “Positive”, where one of the Greek Chorus suggests ‘as you pull her hair and call her whore’ and what does Elle do? Simply brush off the comment, and as a feminist that is really not the right way to deal with that (at least in my eyes, I have to add). If a musical is really so feminist and supportive why do we have scenes upon scenes where girls call each other derogative names because of who they’re dating? I’m sure Reese Witherspoon wouldn’t stand for this.
In the position of the defence, the only argument I can come up with for this musical is the underlying plot itself. Girls helping girls, girls supporting girls.
1. Sorority members tutor and support Elle through her L-Sat
2. Elle helping Paulette regain confidence after her breakup
3. Elle helping Paulette get her new boyfriend 😉
4. The Greek chorus helping Elle through every single time Warner upset her
5. Elle not giving up on Brooke Windham when everyone else did
6. Elle and Vivian being badass lawyers who don’t need know Warner
And the list goes on. But those are my highlights, of girls helping each other. But a plot doesn’t make a musical, it’s how they fill in those gaps with conversations, songs and dance. Whilst the plot, sticking to the film, has all the makings of a feminist masterpiece, I would say that the musical is not feminist. Feminism doesn’t mean calling girls whore, or supporting toxic masculinity, or only using your body to attract guys, but feminism isn’t made up of moments of female solidarity either, it’s a lifestyle.
Please don’t sue me Reese Witherspoon I love you.