We’re going to ignore the fact that I’ve been MIA for around seven months and move right along to the main topic of this post: geeky musical analysis and personal reflection. It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, but sometimes you just get a little burst of motivation, you know?
Legally Blonde: The Musical. What a classic. You may have seen the romance/comedy movie starring Reese Witherspoon, but if I’m being honest nothing can really compare to the fluffy, energetic musical. It features such masterpieces as Omigod You Guys, Chip On My Shoulder, and Take It Like A Man, which is the potentially the best makeover song I’ve ever heard.
Before I over-sell this musical and set your expectations way too high, let me give a bit of background.
I first discovered this musical a few years ago. Full credit goes to my sister, Amy, who knows pretty much everything there is to know about Broadway and is responsible for most of my theatrical obsessions. She gave me one of her headphones on a road trip and I was hooked.
Lots has happened since then, and I kind of forgot about the musicals I had been listening to in favour of other random songs and podcasts. But recently I was going through some Broadway playlists and I rediscovered this work of art. In order to retain some of my dignity, I will not be disclosing how many times exactly I’ve listened all the way through the production, but it is a big number which will continue to grow. I’ve got most of it memorized and I still can’t stop. But really, where else am I supposed to put my excess angry feminist energy?
Now, where might one be able to listen to such a wonderful musical? Here are some links to the full playlists on Spotify and Youtube. I’m sure If you look hard enough you can find an illegal bootleg on the internet somewhere, but you’ll have to seek that out yourself.
If you don’t know the plot, I’d recommend reading a summary before listening. It will make more sense as a story that way, although it’s worth a listen just for the amazing vocals and dance-y music.
Speaking of summaries, let me write an overly detailed one for you here. Spoilers ahead. Also, slight content warning for sexual harassment/assault. I’m not going into detail, and the musical doesn’t go into detail, but if that’s a trigger for you please take care.
An Outline of Legally Blonde: The Musical
This story is about Elle Woods, a rich, pretty sorority girl from Malibu. She is what you would consider a stereotypical ‘ditzy blonde girl’, who cares a lot about her (very feminine) appearance. Her character development throughout the story is amazing, and is one of my favourite parts of the musical. Character arcs are super fun to witness, and interestingly enough Elle’s growth helped me to realize that I can do some growing as well in my femininity, and my perception of myself and women in general.
Anyway, Elle is super excited because she’s absolutely sure that her boyfriend, Warner Huntingdon III, is going to propose to her. In her perception he’s been sending out signals and this is the day he’s going to do it. All the sorority girls are very excited as well, helping her pick out the perfect outfit and sending her off to her date with Warner, where things don’t exactly go as planned.
It turns out Warner wants to break up with her. He has dreams of going to Harvard law school and becoming a senator by the time he’s thirty, and fluffy pink Elle doesn’t really fit into that vision, at least in his eyes. She’s not nearly “serious” enough for him. Elle is devastated, and spends the next week crying and eating ice cream. Fair enough, honestly.
But while reading a magazine in a state of deep despair, Elle realizes how she can get Warner back: she needs to become a “serious” and “lawyerly” kind of girl! She gets to work on an application to Harvard law school, where she plans to surprise Warner, win back his affections with her superior intelligence, and then get married. It takes up her whole spring, trying to score 174 on her LSATs and creating an attention catching essay. But she keeps going because, quote, “I’m doing this for love, and love will see me through!”
Elle is admitted to Harvard, where she at first struggles in her courses. She also learns that Warner has a new girlfriend, Vivian. Luckily, she starts to make some friends: there’s Paulette, a nail-painter-person (not sure what that job is actually called) at a salon, and an older student called Emmett helps her to manage her time and study. Eventually, she starts to excel at school and gains confidence in herself. She is chosen for an internship program with one of her professors, alongside Warner and a few other students, and starts to realize that she is more than just Warner’s (ex)girlfriend. She’s her own intelligent, capable person.
During the internship, the professor, Callahan, dismisses Elle’s ideas while they are working on defending a woman called Brooke Windham, accused of killing her husband. It turns out that Elle and Brooke have a lot in common, and Elle manages to get an alibi out of her, but promises never to tell anyone what it was. This does nothing to help her relationship with Professer Callahan. During this time however, she spends lots of time with Emmett and they become very close.
One night, Callahan corners her and tries to kiss her. It turns out that the only reason he chose her for the internship was because he thought she was hot, not that she had any value as a lawyer. Elle is crushed, and starts packing up to go home to Malibu, feeling like there’s no place for her in the male-dominated, ‘serious’ world of law. Emmett tries to get her to stay, telling her he loves her, but her confidence is gone and she starts making her way back home.
However, Vivian, Warner’s girlfriend, stops her. She tells Elle that she used to look down on her, but now Vivian knows how smart and strong Elle is as a lawyer and just as a person in general. She encourages Elle to get back in the game, and to “show them who’s Legally Blonde”. Elle gets hired independently by Brooke, and wins the case.
So, there you go. That was unnecessarily long-winded, but now you know the basic outline of the production, excluding random side-plots and other details. Now we can get to the part where I rant about sexism and stupid double standards.
Internalized misogyny is something I’ve struggled with for a very long time. It appears everywhere in the world: in media, in the system, and in the conversations I have with others. I’ve been doing my best to be more self-aware and to recognize when my viewpoints and opinions are being affected by it, but sometimes it’s so ingrained in my way of being that I think I’m being progressive when actually I’m not. This factored into my perception of this musical for a long time, and I only recently had a few revelations about my worldview.
Just to preface this, I’m going to be talking a fair amount about sexism, and men and women as a binary. Transphobia is a whole separate issue, and sexism within the trans community also exists, but I’m not going to address that in this post. I recognize that gender isn’t at all binary; other identities exist outside of male and female, but sexism is seen as a very binary issue and in order to keep things simple and clear I will be using the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’.
Alright, time for me to turn on angry feminist mode. Let’s get into it.
Sexuality and Body Image
There’s this one scene in the movie that always made me uncomfortable. It’s called the ‘Bend and Snap’ scene, and it is basically all the salon girls telling Paulette about how she can use her body and be confident in her sexy-ness to attract the attention of (straight) men. She starts out not very sure of herself, but ends up getting into it. My opinion of this scene has changed drastically in the past few months.
I used to think that this scene/song was degrading to women, reducing them to objects of desire or saying that their value is in how they look. Now I am of the opinion that it’s not about that at all. It’s about being confident in your body, and feeling good about how you look. Women being sexual are often seen as a bad thing, and they are slut-shamed and told that in order to be loved they have to cover up their bodies, existing only to please one male partner. Women and girls are shamed for things like like ‘body count’ or what they wear, while it’s seen as admirable for men to sleep with lots of different people. This double standard really irritates me, but I only recently realized how deeply ingrained it is in my own head.
Gotta love when your entire worldview gets flipped around by a 3 minute song. I have been doing a lot of stewing recently, if you can’t tell.
Femininity and Being “Not Like The Other Girls”
Another thing I’d like to cover is the “I’m not like the other girls” ideology. It’s basically a way to put down other women to try to convince the patriarchy that you are somehow better or more respectable. I used to do this all the time, and I am quite ashamed of it, but like many other things I’m realizing that these ideas are part of the deep-seated misogyny in our society and have nothing to do with me.
Often ‘not like the other girls’ ideologies are very critical of traditionally feminine interests and clothing. Girls who are “different and quirky” don’t wear dresses, like video games instead of makeup, aren’t interested in dating, etc. In reality, there’s no such thing as “other girls”, because girls, like all humans, are individuals with individual interests and styles and personalities.
In the world there’s often a perception that masculinity=success, and so women are put down for dressing/presently in a feminine way. In Legally Blonde, Elle is dismissed by pretty much everyone as not very smart, her only asset being that she’s pretty. Warner breaks up with her specifically because she dresses more feminine, wearing pink sparkly dresses all the time; dressing feminine makes him perceive her as less ‘serious’ and intelligent. One of the things I love so much about the production is that throughout the entire show, Elle’s personality, style, and interests stay the same. The only thing that changes is her self-confidence and perception of her own capabilities. She can be feminine and successful, because those things can co-exist, because in reality they have nothing to do with each other.
I still have lots of self-reflection and research to do to fully get rid of my internalized misogyny, and I’m not entirely sure if that’s even possible. But I’m putting in the work to become more accepting and supportive of women, and in my own identity. I’m kind of proud of how far I’ve come. It’s cool to look back and see how my views have changed, and the difference it’s made in my life.
The main things I’d like you to take away from this blog post:
- There’s no one way to be a woman. Every combination of presentation, personality and interests is awesome, and it’s what makes you an interesting and individual person.
- Women expressing their sexuality and confidence in their bodies should be celebrated, not shamed. It isn’t wrong to feel sexy.
- Putting down other girls isn’t going to make you any happier or more interesting, and only fuels the idea that women are catty and malicious. Screw the patriarchy and support each other.
- Listen to Legally Blonde! And if you enjoy that, Mean Girls has been made into a musical as well, and it has a lot of great stuff about supporting other girls.
I hope you enjoyed this post. I certainly had a good time writing it, and getting all fired up about feminism. I know one tiny blog post won’t make a difference, but I still hope that you can come away from this with either a new perspective or at least a good feeling knowing that a random person on the internet also listens to dumb musicals.
I hope you have a lovely day! Stay safe, take care,