By Elise Darby
In Legally Blonde: The Musical – The Search for Elle Woods, Elle Woods is perceived by many as a typical blonde sorority girl. However, she remains driven and proves everyone wrong; she accomplishes what they would have deemed impossible for her. As a Harvard graduate at the top of her class, she becomes an independent and fearless woman; she no longer seeks self-worth in men after coming to the realization that she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to on her own.
Elle Woods dreams of marrying Warner Huntington III… the “campus catch.” Her love for the man becomes part of her identity—she can’t live without him. Her sorority sisters encourage this relationship in the song “Omigod You Guys,” telling Elle they are a “perfect match” and that her “future’s taking off” only once he proposes to her. In turn, Elle believes that her future revolves around the proposal; without Warner, she doesn’t have a plan. In society, it is common for the woman to seek their identity in a man. Additionally, it is stereotypical for women to care more about fashion, love, and the materialistic goods rather than making a future for themselves. As the song continues, the sorority sisters tell Elle that her and Warner make the perfect couple because they “both have such great taste in clothes.” In addition to their materialistic comment, the girls seem more excited about the “four carats” and “princess cut” of the “huge engagement ring” than the actual validity of the relationship. Continuing, the sorority sisters excitingly sing that “now that a man chose [Elle], [her] life begins today.” They also told her to “make him a happy home” and “strive not to look [her] age” or else he will not be as interested. Women face a certain stereotype that they need to keep the house well kept, be eager to please the husband, and be beautiful in order to have a successful marriage and happy husband. Additionally, her friends are telling her that her life only begins after a man proposes, implying that until there is a ring on her finger, the rest of her life is a waste. A man should not, and does not, define a woman’s life. Similarly, a man should not get to choose his wife, they must mutually want to be together.
At dinner with Warner, Elle is expecting a proposal. Things take a complete turn, however. To begin, Warner tells Elle that all men dream of finding a girl who looks like Elle. Did you notice how he complimented her physical traits rather than what is on the inside? He tells Elle that he needs to date someone serious. In the song “Serious,” he defines this by telling her he needs someone who is “less of a Marilyn and more of a Jackie” and somebody “classy and not too tacky.” Warner is basically claiming she is not sophisticated or smart enough for him, she is only good for her looks. She is not a serious girlfriend that he, a Harvard student, should pursue, rather she is seen as another dumb blonde. Warner, like many egotistical men in our society, talks down to Elle and makes her feel inferior. Elle concludes that in order to win Warner’s love, she must become the type of girl Warner is looking for. She makes a plan to change her whole life… a plan that many women feel pressured to make in order to please a man. In the song “What You Want,” she explains that she is going to go to Harvard to show Warner that she not only has the looks, but the brains too. She will “impress him with [her] high IQ.” Elle, like other women, is living her life for a man, not for herself. She is eager to please Warner. The gender roles and societal stereotype that have been formed within society is evident: a woman should live to make their man happy.
Elle attends Harvard for a “love [she] has to win.” While she can live “without sun or valet,” she can’t live without Warner. Her existence and identity are centered in him. Everyone doubts Elle, but she works hard and is accepted into Harvard. As she enters the university in her bright
, pink outfit, she informs Warner that she is a student now, as well. Warner is in disbelief and did not think it was possible for his airhead, sorority-obsessed ex-girlfriend to get into such an academic institution. Elle simply acts like it was easy to be accepted.
Mr. Callahan, an intense Harvard professor, instructs her first class. He announces that he hires four interns each year from the class to work at his law firm, and each student will leave with a guaranteed career. Elle was told she had guts by the intimidating professor and was kicked out of class on the first day for not doing the reading. At this point, Elle is far from earning the internship, but she does not let that bring her down.
After class, Warner introduces his new girlfriend from Harvard to Elle. Immediately, Elle searches for new ways to be the girl Warner desires. In the real world, although it is saddening, it is not uncommon for women to search for ways to make a man fall in love with them, seeking love and validation rather than self-acceptance. In Elle’s circumstance, she decides she should go brunette to please Warner. Afterall, if she is a brunette, she won’t be labeled as “dumb blonde.” She tells the hairstylist, Paulette, that she must make her a brunette because “that is what Warner wants.” Not only did Elle change her lifestyle and living situation for a man, but now she wants to change her appearance, too. Luckily, Paulette convinces Elle to stay blonde.
Vivian, Warner’s girlfriend, invites Elle Woods to a party, but out of spite, she tells her it is a costume party. Elle shows up in a pink, revealing bunny costume, while everyone else is dresses nicely and modestly. After seeing Elle, Warner admits that sometimes he misses the old days. As always, Warner belittles Elle, and reminds her that she has no chance of getting the internship with Callahan. Due to Warner’s criticism, Elle wishes she “were dead” because “instead of a wedding in love,” she is a “total laughing stock” and someone people can “just mock.” Elle wants to succeed for Warner, not for herself. Her existence and happiness, at this point, is based on Warner. In general, women let how men perceive them affect them in great ways and will change themselves to win over a man.
Emmett, a law student that wants to see Elle succeed, tells Elle that she needs a “chip on [her] shoulder” to make it through school. Emmett puts Elle on the right track: he helps her study and convinces her to take advantage of the education in front of her. Rather than focusing on looks and beauty, he wants her to start working on her brain. Instead of going home for the holidays, Elle stays and studies with Emmett; he is pushing her and encouraging her to learn. Elle Woods is going to show everyone what she is made of and prove everyone wrong. In the song “Chip On My Shoulder,” Emmett points out that each time Warner is present, her “IQ goes down to 40, maybe less.” Warner is the obstacle standing in between Elle and her success. This realization sparks a fire within Elle, she now has a chip on her shoulder and “instead of doodling hearts” she is ready to show Warner everything she is made of. She is going to put success and education first and prove everyone wrong. In fact, in the next class, she wins a case against Warner. Her intelligence is now shining through. She is slowly becoming less of the stereotypical “dumb blonde sorority girl,” and becoming more of a Jackie. After class Callahan even asks for her resume for his internship.
The day Warner proposes to Vivian in the classroom, Callahan simultaneously posts his lists of interns. At first, Elle was saddened, but then she notices her name on the list. In the song “So Much Better,” Elle’s worth is evident. Immediately, the proposal is not as important; Elle is finding that she is an independent woman. This internship is the validation and security she needs to recognize her worth. She tells Warner that she got the internship, and he can’t even believe it. Elle, who is booming with self-confidence, sings to Warner that making the list “beats the first time that [they] kissed.” She is able to see her self-improvement and points out that Waner’s “judgement was poor” when he thought she was dumb. Elle finally knows her value; she is no longer dependent on a man. Instead, she is an intelligent young woman, who is making a name for herself and moving onto bigger and better things in life.
As the musical progresses, Emmett and Elle become closer. She buys him clothes and tells him it is a “payment in kind” because he always “saw beyond all the blonde to [her] mind.” Unlike Warner, Emmett never saw Elle as a dumb blonde; he saw her potential.
When Paulette becomes interested in the UPS guy, Elle and her sorority sisters teach her how to do the “bend and snap.” This oversexualizing dance suggests that women must display their bodies in order to get attention from men. In fact, the song “Bend and Snap” starts with the line “look at my ass, look at my thighs.” The song suggests that attention from a man must be gained through their bodies. A sorority sister insists that “the more you jump and scream, the sexier you seem” in the eyes of men. In society today, the gender roles between men and women are similar: women are often seen as objects. Men often lust after women’s bodies, and in turn, many girls feel pressured to use their sexuality to attract men.
Returning to work, however, Elle is part of the legal team for a murder. Elle makes an amazing case, which leads to the winning of the round. Callahan applauds Elle for trusting her gut and announces that she has shown more “legal smarts” than most of his staff members. He tells her she is not only a good lawyer, but a “great one.” Warner, on the other hand, was told to “be useful” by getting a cup of coffee for Callahan. The underdog is taking over. Elle is doing better than the man that thought he was too good for her. The roles have been reversed.
After everyone is gone, Callahan forces a kiss on Elle, and she slaps him in return. Since she did not allow it, she is fired from the internship. In the song “Legally Blonde,” Elle is ready to call it quits. She is ready to go “back to what [she] was before” and just be “legally blonde.” She feels defeated and hopeless. Saying bye to Paulette, she tells her that she is only seen as “one big blonde joke.” With some words of encouragement, Elle changes back into her glamourous pink attire and is ready to fight. She is going back to the trial and not giving up. This time, however, she is going back in her own style. The phrase “legally blonde” is turned into a positive thing. Elle, being the powerful woman she is, wins the murder case for her client.
After the impressive trial, Warner—the man who once broke her heart—proposes to her. While this is everything that she wanted years ago, she has grown. She declines his proposal; she has been able to see how much she can accomplish without him. In the end, Elle came so far: she is the Valedictorian at Harvard and proves so many people wrong. Warner on the other hand decides to quit practicing law and models. Elle, who was told she was not serious enough, now has the big career. In her final speech, Elle thanks those who doubted her, because it taught her how to prevail. Then, Elle proposes to Emmett, which once again switches up the gender roles. In the end, Elle took matters into her own hands. Although proposals are usually done by the man, Elle is a strong woman and does not need to live by societies norms.
Everyone doubted Elle Woods. At times, even Elle Woods doubted Elle Woods. After some self-reflection, however, she discovers her value. She lives life for herself now—never a man. Her perseverance and strength empower women and provides a beacon of encouragement for all those who are consistently told they can’t.