Legally Blonde: The “Girlboss” and Unapologetic Femininity
By Hayvyn Smith
“Girlboss”. You might have heard this word used next to “gatekeep” and “gaslight” ironically. Usually used to poke fun, the term “girlboss” has in recent years gained a very negative connotation.
In 2023, the word has been overused and misconstrued after its popularization.
Alex Abad-Santos, a senior correspondent of societal obsessions at Vox says, “The girl-boss is one of the cruelest tricks capitalism ever perpetrated. Born in the mid-2010s, she was simultaneously a power fantasy and a utopian promise” Vox Article When a girlboss wins, we are all supposed to win too.
Even on Urban Dictionary, the most popular version of the word “girlboss” is the verb labeling them “a feminist idol or inspiration for profit even despite their numerous flaws.”
Although this term hasn’t really been viewed un-ironically, I view it this way. “The girl-boss label allowed women to assert power or lean in without threatening or alienating people around them. Calling oneself a “girl” could be seen as a compromise, but it was also a way to maneuver around traditional beliefs and systems that had historically diminished women’s voices” . We strive to reach a point of equality especially within the workplace.
This term could have had so much more meaning then to represent the toxic femininity that we see now. A good example of the term in a good light would be from the main character, “Elle Woods, in the 2001 film “Legally Blonde”. Based off a book under the same name by Amanda Brown, the character Elle Woods embodies the author’s own experiences from being a woman and experiences she had attending law school at Stanford.
In the movie, Elle Woods is a woman who aspires to be in a position of authority, pursing a law career that often undervalues and underestimates a woman’s efforts at one of the most prestigious schools, Harvard University.
On the first watch many will only see a woman being sold short over and over again because of her appearance. Elle loves pink, majors in fashion, puts effort into her appearance, has a tiny dog, is sorority president, and is very set on marrying her frat boyfriend one day. She’s the embodiment of a girly girl. She’s ultra feminine, and ultra femininity is something that is mocked, vilified, and undermined. Being ultra femininity in our culture is something that gets you misjudged, even by other women.
Even within the movie, another woman tries to sell her an old designer dress marked up at full price but that plan backfires, and Elle turns out to be more knowledgeable than what meet’s the eye, and in this case her wits on fashion stumps the worker trying to portray her as another “dumb blonde with daddy’s plastic”.
She’s actually smart, and in fact when applying to law school, sacred a 179/180 on her LSAT. Her character brought change to the dumb blonde / dumb girl troupe popularized by Hollywood with many actresses such as Marilyn Monroe. She’s not just proving to be capable. She possesses kindness, intelligence, and has a love for everything girly that made to be mutually exclusive by societal archetypes.
Many women everyday try to conform to what society wants them to but what really stood out to me about Elle was that even when she had a moment of wanting to conform for people to take her more seriously, it didn’t work. The movie showed us that she was given a label regardless. She wasn’t separated from her femininity at the end of the day, and quickly reverted back to her bright pink self.
This experience is very common in the actual workforce and many women have spoken out especially in law on how hard it is to fit the ideal image of a women in their position. Too manly, too feminine, too long of a skirt, too short of heels.
Lara Bazelon, current Law Professor at The University of San Francisco School of Law, was featured in an article by The Atlantic titled, “ What It Takes To Be A Trial Lawyer If You’re Not A Man”, where she goes in to depth on her own experiences in regard to this dress code dilemma. She says, “Women’s clothing choices, by contrast, were the subject of intense scrutiny from judges, clerks, marshals, jurors, other lawyers, witnesses, and clients. I had to be attractive, but not in a provocative way”, and in another instance was ridiculed over taking her jacket off in the courtroom due to the temperature. Atlantic Article
She went on to say, “At one trial, I took off my suit jacket at the counsel table as I reviewed my notes before the jury was seated. It was a sweltering day in Los Angeles, and the air-conditioning had yet to kick in. The judge, an older man with a mane of white hair, jabbed a finger in my direction and bellowed, “Are you stripping in my courtroom, Ms. Bazelon?” Heads swiveled, and I looked down at my sleeveless blouse, turning scarlet”.
Male colleagues around her in a way taught her how not just to act but, also how to dress. It went too far to where a female supervisor even offered to pay for her to get a makeover. So many women are forced to conform. Similarly, Elle tries to conform to her colleagues too. The one thing about conformity though, is that you still cannot please everyone. There is always going to be another label.
You can’t be too pretty, too smart, too confident, because it is threatening. Many can say that’s just the way the world works but, “Social-science research has demonstrated that when female attorneys show emotions like indignation, impatience, or anger, jurors may see them as shrill, irrational, and unpleasant. The same emotions, when expressed by men, are interpreted as appropriate to the circumstances of a case. So when I entered the courtroom, I took on the persona of a woman who dressed, spoke, and behaved in a traditionally feminine and unthreatening manner” . Women have some many attribute to the world yet, are shut down by social construct. What traditional society wants for them. They don’t want you to dare to be a little different, nor play to your strengths, and will always hinder that so you think what you like can’t really be useful.
Elle may have an unconventional path to law school and have knowledge in things most lawyer’s don’t such as fashion but one of the reasons she is such an inspiration to many is that she shows how having knowledge in anything can have a value. Her having knowledge of what was supposed to hold her back, is what gives her the edge in the classroom and the case in the movie.
This concept is very relatable to most girls even of different backgrounds. She moved distinctly and didn’t want to give up who she was, and this made you wanna root for her success even more. As cheesy as it is, she showed girls that regardless if what people think of you, you can make anything happen when you put in the work.
Elle shows to many what it should have been to be a girl boss, and was supposed to help woman reclaim what it meant to be a woman and reclaim their relationship with femininity outside and inside the workplace because unlike the world wants you to think. The infamous Elle Woods Actress, Reese Witherspoon went on to share “You hold more cards than you think you do”. So my advice to you? Keep Girl bossing !