What more could Elle Woods want? Life has been nothing but easy for her, challenges are foreign to the young spunky blonde. The missing key to her perfect life is boyfriend Warner Huntington III, he just won’t propose. Woods lack of substance when it comes to her personality is the reason for this. In hopes of changing her mind she finds herself enrolled in one of the top ranked law schools, Harvard University. The experience helps her to defy the stereotype of a sorority-sister valley girl while staying true to herself although, does the film really capture the right message?
Director Robert Luketic builds off of the early 2000s stereotype of the “dumb blonde” as it fails to enhance reality to its fullest. It acts as a mask to underlying issues like gender inequality, sexual harassment and even abusive relationships. As main character Elle Woods defys the most typical form of this stereotype she doesn’t completely break through it. As much as her intelligence is presented it is also undermined just as often. For example, she won one of her court case by having intense knowledge of last year’s shoe trends, along with being an expert in post-perm hair care. Yes, she won the case but not in the traditional way which doesn’t really grasp the full effect.
Starting as early as the opening scenes gender rolls are put to use as seen in most current American films as we see arbitrary body shots of Woods. These shots also include stereotypical feminine actions such as brushing her hair, shaving her already perfect legs, engaging in Cosmopolitan, applying makeup, and (most alarming) getting catcalled by a bunch of men in a car, and smiling in their direction. What does this teach the younger generation? Elles intelligence is addressed throughout the film but that’s the only thing that separates her from the stereotype which is problematic. Not only this but unrealistic expectations makes this never ending cycle really hard to break since Woods social and economic status also played a major role in what she had to overcome.
Breaking down the comedy aspect of why women have become targets of such classification can be tied to various reasons. One perception is that humor is a tool used to facilitate work by lightening the mood, making difficult problems seem less extreme while also encouraging positive attitudes and healthy interactions. A second perception is that humor is disruptive — a distraction from the seriousness of work while demonstrating less commitment to work. Jokes including those about dumb blondes project the greater anxiety of men afraid of a threat to their social position. These fears are nothing new as losing masculine power could be traced all along the history of gender relations and numerous prejudices. Stereotypes of women include not only lower levels of achievement, but also the expectation of increased family responsibilities. Because it is so difficult to dedicate time to both work and family responsibilities, this has led to the perception that women are less dedicated to work causing society to view them in a humorous way.
In conclusion as much as we want to believe Woods represents that step in the right direction for image of women it really just masks it, like the rest of the world. Although its a step in the right direction there is still more that can be done to ensure and protect women so they are no longer the laughing stock of society.
4 thoughts on “The Mask That We Call Comedy.”
The gender politics of these films are really complicated, and you do a great job of articulating those complexities — and showing how Comedy can get in the way, as well as enhance, a satirical message.
Comedy can really be a mask because I have never looked at Legally Blonde so closely. The courtroom scene is so iconic but you are right, she couldn’t escape the stereotype. The stereotype was a love-hate relationship thought the movie because it still seemed to benefit Elle in some way. It was what made her unique in the setting.
Another thing that is so disappointing about this is that comedies that try to get it right, and portray women in a less degrading and stereotypical fashion, are usually met with more backlash and men calling it not funny. I saw this with the Ghost Buster and Ocean movies that had an all women’s cast and it seemed unfair that they were both met with such hate. It seemed like the hate was because they starred woman for a change.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hi Taylr! This post was so clear and well written!
I have loved “Legally Blonde” ever since I can remember! I have seen the movie a million times and even saw the play! Nevertheless, your point is spot on. I can recall watching it as a kid and being jealous of all of the things Elle had. I even remember wanting to be like her. Looking back, I can see how the humor and satire being the plot was misunderstood in the eyes of many young girls like me and painted the wrong message. Instead of inspiring young women and girls to work hard to achieve what you set your mind to, it taught us to do things to impress men and that being extra “feminine” was more attractive to men. The people young girls grow up to be and the way society views them has a lot to do with the way they are portrayed on social media, in music, and especially in TV shows and movies. Young girls should be taught to embody bravery, kindness, and compassion, not knowledge of shoes, makeup, and their ability to attract men.
LikeLiked by 1 person