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Breaking Stereotypes: “What, Like it’s Hard?”

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Dalhousie chapter.

Everybody knows and loves Elle Woods, Reese Witherspoon’s iconic character who made her first appearance in the 2001 film Legally Blonde. 

If you google this movie, you’ll see that it has been classified as a romantic comedy. In an effort to win back the love of her ex-boyfriend, the stereotypical sorority girl Elle Woods tackles the LSAT, Law School Admissions, and of course, Harvard Law. Since her original goal was a romantic pursuit, the movie does tick off a few boxes in the rom-com genre. 

The inspiration that so many derived from Legally Blonde has nothing to do with true love or winning a man’s heart. It has everything to do with the importance of discovering your self-worth, staying true to yourself, and realizing what you are capable of. 

All it takes is one look around a pre-law classroom to spot a “What, like it’s hard?” laptop sticker, or one Pinterest search for anything related to law to come across a variety of Elle Woods collages and quotes. 

In an Instagram post celebrating the film’s 20th anniversary, Reese Witherspoon herself stated that playing Elle Woods was “the role of a lifetime”. Hundreds of women swarmed the comments section to share their success stories and aspirations, all thanks to Elle Woods for inspiring them to pursue a career in law. 

The sad truth is that Elle’s relatability doesn’t stem from her 179 LSAT score with minimal studying, wearing perfect outfits to class, or the overall ease in her journey to law school. For the most part, none of these things come close to explaining what aspect of Elle Woods has inspired so many. Instead, it’s the fact that although many steps have been taken in the right direction, women in real life, much like Elle, are still consistently underestimated in the professional world. Women often feel they must work twice as hard as their male counterparts to simply be taken seriously, let alone be successful. In the movie, we see Elle being reduced to nothing more than her appearance and bubbly personality by her ex-boyfriend, peers and even her own father. People laughed at the idea that she could attend or succeed at Harvard Law, often without knowing anything about her. This is what hits close to home. 

In Elle’s case, there were two easy options: give up on law school completely, or stick with it, but tone down her femininity to fit in. What has inspired so many women is the fact that she opted for neither choice. While many “strong female characters” are perceived as strong due to their masculine traits, or their outright rejection of traditional feminine qualities – Elle is the opposite. She is smart, confident, assertive, and strong, and she does it all while rocking hot pink outfits and bleach blonde hair. Elle showed girls that they don’t have to abandon their feminine traits, or any other key aspect of their personality in order to be successful. But at the same time, we still witness her blast through the very real barriers and struggles that many women can relate to.

Throughout the movie, Elle remained completely sure of herself and her goals. As we watch Elle tackle her legal education while facing harsh criticism from her classmates, she never once changed her appearance or positive attitude. Even though minimizing her true personality would have made things easier for her, she decided to be her authentic self. This teaches us a valuable lesson: that you don’t need to choose between being pretty, fashionable, bubbly, or any other stereotypically “girly” trait, and being smart. Although in Elle’s case, the primary focus was on her looks, the real world takeaway is that you don’t need to change who you are. Legally Blonde helped shift the narrative that female lawyers (or any other female professional for that matter) should dim their femininity to be successful in our male dominated world. 

Although not a perfect representation of the legal profession or the law school experience, Legally Blonde sends a powerful message about breaking stereotypes in the professional world. There have been positive changes with gender stereotypes in the legal profession since the movie’s debut over twenty years ago. It could be argued that Elle Woods might even deserve some of the credit for influencing these changes. It’s easy for women to doubt themselves in a profession that has been culturally dominated by men for centuries. 

What we can learn from Legally Blonde is that the solution is not to submit to these systems, but to stay true to yourself even when it breaks the norm. As the professional world has begun to strive towards diversity, equity and inclusion, bringing in a different perspective and being authentic has become increasingly valuable. Legally Blonde showed young girls and women alike that anything is possible with hard work and standing up for yourself and your beliefs. As Elle Woods once said in her 2004 Harvard Law Valedictorian speech, “most importantly, you must always have faith in yourself.”

My name is Reagan Lindsay-Kereluik and I am currently in Halifax, studying at Dalhousie University in their undergraduate Legal Studies program (LJSO). I am pursuing a double minor in Economics and Management, as well as four business-focused certificates. As an advocate for women in sports and a hopeful future lawyer, I am incredibly passionate about the cross-over between the legal field and the sports industry. I enjoy writing about all things sports, law, and feminism.