I’ve known that I’d like to become a lawyer someday for what seems like forever. Whenever I’m asked where my love for the law is rooted, my mind usually goes to one of three places or all three at the same time depending on the conversation I’m having. In response I tell people:
- My love for law is rooted in my identities as a Palestinian, Muslim, Arab woman, and the marginalizations that each of those identities encounters in white societies. Having been at the forefront of witnessing and experiencing what it meant to carry these identities instilled in me a desire to commit to social justice and reform and to be a part of making the change my communities want to see on a legal level.
- My love for law is rooted in my hatred of STEM. Ever since I was young, I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor or nurse or engineer despite the way my siblings were drawn to these fields. Furthermore, this became abundantly clear when it was my English, civics, economics and social science classes that kept me engaged all throughout my pre-university schooling, and the dread I felt for my natural science classes became a norm.
- And sometimes, only sometimes, I’ll tell people that I sealed the deal on law after watching “Legally Blonde.”
At 13 years old, I fell victim to the chokehold “Legally Blonde” seemed to have on its viewers after watching the movie for the very first time. Little did I know, that would be the first of countless “Legally Blonde” binge nights or that the movie would seemingly have much more of an impact on me than I would’ve expected. I finished the movie starry-eyed, completely in awe of Elle Woods’s confidence, feistiness and overall aura. The glitz and glam and hot pink pantsuits in combination with the “big-time” Harvard law degree seemed like everything I wanted my future to encapsulate.
However, being closer to a professional degree now than I was in middle school, I have started to increasingly pick out the faults that the movie demonstrates. What became increasingly clear is that the entirety of the movie revolves around traditional notions of femininity. When we think of Elle Woods, we think of an ultra-feminine figure, almost as “girly” as one can get. Throughout the movie, it seems like the idea that is constantly reiterated is that to be accepted in predominantly male fields is to be ultra-feminine. From her over-the-top extravagant daily outfits to her weekly manicure appointments and even her pink, scented résumé, her entire being screams femininity. In reality, there is a certain level of femininity that is expected of women in professional spaces — whether that is the clothes they wear, the way they do their hair or the other ways they present themselves. Elle Woods carves a path for herself in the predominantly male field of law, but the fact that she is so extremely feminine seems to be used as a tool to accomplish this. Arguably the most iconic scene in the movie is when Elle busts the suspect on trial for having murdered her own father. Elle makes this breakthrough in the case because the suspect claimed that she had gotten a perm and then went home to shower, and returned to find her father shot. Elle, being extremely sound in all things beauty-related, quickly pointed out that the suspect was lying because the number-one rule after getting a perm is to avoid wetting the hair. It’s made clear that Elle only knew this information and was able to make this breakthrough because she’s so “girly.” I can’t help but wonder if the same experience that Elle Woods had would be the same experience a woman of color would have, as they are often not regarded with the same lens of fragility, femininity and innocence as white women. The answer is most probably no.
Furthermore, the movie does not comment on the privilege that someone in the same position as Elle Woods has. The reality is that for someone to be able to simply decide that they’d like to attend law school and end up at one of the top law schools within a matter of weeks means that they must have access to an immense amount of resources. To put it simply, Elle Woods is a white woman with an incredible amount of capital, capital that most women of color don’t have access to. In reality, the graduate school application process, as well as standardized tests like the LSAT, are racially and culturally biased. For over five decades, white LSAT takers have scored significantly higher than minority test-takers. An array of factors like prior educational disparities, socioeconomic status, family structure and status, stereotyping threats and accessibility all play a role in why this score gap is so prevalent. Though law schools acknowledge this disparity against minority students, most have done little to nothing to accommodate for the way in which minority students are put at a disadvantage when it comes to applying to law school. As a wealthy white woman, Elle Woods did not have to worry about such things before making the decision that she’d like to pursue law.
I know what you are probably thinking: If there’s so much wrong with the movie, then why do you love it so much? I think that one of the most admirable things about Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde” is her confidence, and the way in which she unapologetically represents her identity. If I had one major takeaway from the movie it’s that. Elle Woods’s identity as a feminine woman causes her to stand out in the field of law, and in similar, but also vastly different way, my identities as a Palestinian and Muslim woman stand out in the field of law where such identities are vastly underrepresented. The way in which Elle Woods walks into a space with no doubt in her mind about whether or not she’s qualified because she is a woman is the same skill I’d like to master in regards to my other identities. She takes it upon herself to defy societal expectations of what it means to be a “dumb blonde” and exceeds all the unfair expectations put forth by others. Is my experience, and the experience of other women of color in any professional field, going to be worlds different from Elle Woods’s experience as a white woman? Most definitely. However, I think we all find common ground in wanting to pave our own paths when most odds are built against us. And it is this “What, like it’s hard?” mentality that I hope to embody within my law career and beyond. Yes, it is hard, but should the standards put forth by a white, patriarchal society stop me from wanting to achieve my dreams? Absolutely not.
So with this all being said, I’d like to conclude with a quote. In the wise words of Miss Elle Woods, “You must have faith in people. And, most importantly, you must have faith in yourself.”
MiC Columnist Reem Hassan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.