“Omigod You Guys!” Anti-Feminist Sentiments in the Musical Adaptation of Legally Blonde

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“Omigod You Guys!” Anti-Feminist Sentiments in the Musical Adaptation of Legally Blonde
Vlahos, Zoe L.
Place of Publication:
[Gainesville, Fla.]
University of Florida
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Subjects / Keywords:
Attorneys ( jstor )
Femininity ( jstor )
Feminism ( jstor )
Film music ( jstor )
Internships ( jstor )
Law students ( jstor )
Movies ( jstor )
Music education ( jstor )
Musical theater ( jstor )
Patriarchies ( jstor )
Undergraduate Honors Thesis, Theatre


This research project explores the anti-feminist leanings of the 2007musical adaptation of the 2001 feminist film of Legally Blonde, by comparing and contrasting similar elements present in the film and the play. The purpose of the research project is to identify how the musical fosters anti-feminist sentiments by rejecting the second- and third waves of feminism prominent within the original film in four critical aspects. The musicalcombines the archetypal second-wave feminist character of Stromwell with the patriarch alallegory of Callahan; the musical jeopardizes and denies the autonomy of Elle Woods as afeminist character by granting the character of Emmett control ofElle's agency in regards to her education; the musical shifts Callahan's failed seduction ofElle into enacted sexual assault, which punishes Elle for defending herself and not complying with the patriarchy; and the musical replaces Stromwell with the misogynistic and anti-feminist character of Vivian during EIle's scene of redemption and intended feminist uplift. By undertaking this feminist analysis of the texts, the project reveals how the musical adaptation cancels out the feminist progress made in the film, which suggests a backlash against feminism, and proves the fight against patriarchal oppression must continue. ( en )

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Feminist Sentiments in the Musical Adaptation of Legally Blonde Zoe Vlahos Honors Thesis The University of Florida April 1 9 th 2016 Advisors: Tim Altmeyer and Dr. Charlie Mitchell


Vlahos 1 The film Legally Blonde follows a former UCLA sorority girl, Elle Woods, as she uproots her life in sunny California in her efforts to win back her former boyfriend, Warner Huntington III. Elle travels across the country to attend the Ivy League school, Harvard Law, in order to prove to Warner she is serious in her ambitions to succeed and that being a blonde does not hinder those efforts less important, as she discovers her own self worth as a driven lawyer and an independent and intelligent woman. Elle disproves sexist stereotypes during her journey to success as she embraces her blondeness and femininity in the courtroom and in life. St rong female characters exist as critical elements of the fi that represents third wave feminist ideals, ends up balanced by her female law professor, Stromwell, the character that represents second wave ideals. Feminist schola rs Suzanne Ferris and Mallory Young establish the standard s of second and third wave feminism in their book Chick Flicks : the second wave emphasizes the importance of equality, collective choice, and a third wave emp hasizes 3, 4). In this regard, the film allows for the co existence of both waves wave feminists to their younger cou nterparts (Dole 71). Considering how the film premiered in 2001 as part of the early to an interesting comparison arose with the musical existence of the s econd and third waves, Legally Blonde: The Musical put forth an inherently negative view of feminism as a whole. The delegation of autonomy and power (originally found in the female characters in the film) to the male or male influenced characters in the musical adaptation fosters anti feminist


Vlahos 2 sentiments on a critical level by eliminating a crucial feminist voice from the story entirely; by sensationalizing events in which Elle must submit to patriarchal control; and finally by empowerment. On e of the ways the musical erases the feminist message of the film is by replacing Stromwell with Callahan, the representation of the patriarchy within the film and the musical. The film version of Legally Blonde first introduces Elle to Professor Stromwell day of classes as a student of Harvard Law. The portrayal of Stromwell paints her as a strict and intimidating figure at Harvard ch room for interpretation but very little for self Legally Blonde ). comment hints at her second wave mentality, as many women during second wave feminism sought to prove themselves capable in the presence of the male oriented patriarch her second wave upbringing, as she sports a pale green cardigan and skirt, with neatly groo med, resistance within the fight against the patriarchy (Ferris and Young 3). speak e ideal female student.


Vlahos 3 she dons a similar, darker green jacket traditional ideals of femininity, as she spo rts a shimmering blue skirt and heels, with her long, as established by Ferris and Young, third wave ideology (4). Elle thinks her believes it panders to the male gaze of the patriarchy (Ferris and Young 5). Stromwell thus targets Elle, with her pink, fluffy tipped pen and heart shaped notebook, in order to emphasize a point: Stromwell desires for her students to succeed, but only when they aware to her desire to succeed in law school. However, Stromwell judges Elle prematurely; she asks for rn only when she is ( Legally Blonde ). Elle finds frustration in her treatment by Stromwell, as Stromwell judges her by her femininity. As Ferris and Young note in Chick Flicks second wave mentality thus clouds her judgment in regards to Elle, who then pr oves Stromwell wrong when she begins to better her performance and efforts in the classroom.


Vlahos 4 of femininity. Elle dons an entirely pink ensemble a pink newsboy cap, jacket, jeans, and a in all capital letters. She does not immediately get out her pink, fluffy tipped pen and heart shaped notebook, but she flaunts her body at Warner, her ex e characte rization exemplifies the lack of drive and preparation that Stromwell believes her film entrance of Callahan does Elle settle down to focus on the class. When Call ahan enters the classroom, he radiates negativity, in comparison to will be instead of bolstering the spirits of the new law students, he verbally threatens them, which reflects the male dominance valued by the patriarchy ( Legally Blonde The Musical ). As the scene goes on, Callahan alludes to the inherent negativity and corruption surrounding lawyers and the education the second wave mentality surrounding the importance of thinking before speaking, Callahan takes a rather aggressive an d masculine stance as he imparts the knowledge of shrewd law, vulnerable and weak people traits stereotypically associated with women and femininity ( Legally Bl onde The Musical ). Callahan wants his law students to value taking advantage of the vulnerable and the weak in order to reap success, which the patriarchy routinely does in order to enact power over individuals that do not embody its masculine ideals (Ka plan 126, 127) treatment towards her fellow classmates. He seeks to embarrass and insult the students symbolic


Vlahos 5 onistic role as part of the masculine dominated patriarchy. Like Stromwell, Callahan eventually makes his way to Elle to question her, but their exchange ends up starkly different in the musical. When Elle reveals to Callahan that she did not prepare her r expresses the courage to speak her mind, a trait typically associated with men; however, Callahan tak due to her lack of preparation for the lecture ( Legally Blonde The Musical ). Instead of asking Elle to leave the class until she adequately prepares herself for an educa tion at Harvard, Callahan insists that Elle needs to withdraw from the university outright. Callahan incites fear in Elle as he ejects her from his lecture, in a symbolic gesture of the patriarchy enacting its control and power over women to prevent their While he still exhibits a domineering manner, Callahan appears as a far kinder figure in his first scene of the film versi on of Legally Blonde He does not purposely try to intimidate Elle into leaving his class. Instead, Callahan questions if Elle would rather take on a case where the malum in se malum prohibitum Legally Blonde ). Elle then decl malum in se is Legally Blonde as she exhibits the masculine trait of aggression. Elle does not we ar anything overtly feminine; she wears a demure blue turtleneck, which contrasts with the brightly pink and feminine outfit during her first scene with Callahan in the musical adaptation. While Elle does prove that power


Vlahos 6 and femininity are not mutually ex clusive, her outfit paired with the masculine trait of aggression suggests a temporary rejection of femininity in the eye of the patriarchy (Kaplan 127). well meaning second wave feminist ends up replaced by the character of the corrupt and domineering patriarchal allegory. The melding of the two characters suggests the patriarchy overpowers the ideals of feminism, rendering any possibility of feminist oriented positivi ty and success moot. By combining these two characters, Elle not only lacks the presence of a strong and educated second wave feminist role model in her life, but she also faces rampant discrimination by the allegorical patriarchal figure that actively hin ders her growth as a budding lawyer and a feminist. The combining of the two characters becomes the first of many occasions in the musical adaptation in which the patriarchy oppresses Elle to prevent her from success. driven and successful Harvard Law student provides one of the most striking changes from the film to the musical; while the film grants Elle the her to a passiv Elle into taking her education at Harvard seriously. Both the film and the musical prelude the ca lled costume party, in which Elle faces embarrassment and punishment from her peers for dressing up as a Playboy Bunny. In the film, Elle seeks out Warner, her former boyfriend, at the party, and expresses her mock shock at the prospect of having to do all of her existing law work in conjunction with sign of her supposed lack of intelligence and seriousness. He tells the scantily clad Elle that she Legally Blonde ). However,


Vlahos 7 is ludicrous, as she emphasizes how they took the same LSATs the test on which Elle needed to score 174 to receive admittance to Harvard Law and earned 179 and now attend the same Ivy League law school ( Legally Blonde lue her own success over impressing the unimportant male figures in her life ( Legally Blonde ). She leaves the party a stronger woman, bent on bettering her education for herself and only herself. mation into a studious and occurs in the first scene of the montage, when bookstore, while still wearing the Playboy Bunny costume. Emmett enters behind Elle and observes the situation, before clearing his throat. Elle believes that Emmett wants to judge her like the rest of her pee Legally Blonde ). Emmett distinctly first distinct effort to change her work ethic ( Legally Blonde world the rejects her initial motivation of attending Harvard Law impressing Warner to win his love again and chooses to restructure her lifestyle in order to better her own education and success. The montage continues with Elle focusing on studying on her own and making an effort to succeed, which rewards Elle with the approval of Stromwell, Callahan, and her fellow peers who belittled her for her femininity j ust months prior to her shift in drive


Vlahos 8 individual choice, a prominent feature of third wave feminism (Ferris and Young 4). Elle makes th e choice herself to change her life in a positive manner, and in turn, she secures her own autonomy as a powerful individual. The musical takes a far more punishing turn for Elle during the costume party. While Elle believes that she has serious aspiration s in regards to her educational performance at Harvard, Legally Blonde The Musical ). In the film, Elle only misses one class before she wises up, but in the musical, ment suggests that Elle continues to not take her education seriously, reinforcing internship. A shocking difference occurs in the musical, however, when Vivian, not Warner, ( Legally Blonde The Musical ). Vivian reinforces her internalized misogyny to eferring to Elle as an unmotivated Legally Blonde The Musical ). Elle leaves the costume party, but instead of seeing with the new awareness of her statu s as an unmotivated social pariah. She even considers suicide Legally Blonde The Musical ). after the d isastrous party. Instead of taking cues from his film counterpart to value silence, Legally Blonde The Musical ). During the scene, Em mett force Elle to make a change in her life for the better ( Legally Blonde The Musical ). Upon


Vlahos 9 entrance to her dorm room, Emmett realizes Elle does not study when he finds out that she has no idea where her law books are in her room : when Elle finally finds them, they are still in the shrink wrap from the bookstore is attending Harvard Law ( Legally Blonde The Musical ). He focusing on getting back Warner ( Legally Blonde The Musical ). The musical has Emmett conclude that El le will not better herself on her own, so she requires his help. Emmett thus works with Elle for months on end, from the end of October to the r for people to consider her a viable Harvard Law student; although she shows moments of cognizance, such as demonstrating malum in se malum prohibitum on the whole, Elle still exhibits her lack of motivation through her co ntinued obsession over impressing Warner, despite his engagement to Vivian ( Legally Blonde The Musical ). In the musical adaptation, Elle barely makes any progress until December, when Emmett points out an interesting dynamic with the appearance of Warner searches for Vivian before their flight home for the holidays. As Emmett notes, every time Elle sees or interacts with Warner, she focuses on impressing her former boyfriend, and any progress she previously made towards bettering herself as a successful law student disappears or, as ( Legally Blonde The Musical From this scene on in the musical, Elle takes on a motivated and driven persona similar to the one her film counterpart embodies. She manages to


Vlahos 10 embarrasses Warner in front of the class, and secures one of the four coveted internship positions In the discovery of her autonomy as a strong and independent individual, and renders her de pendent on Emmett, a male agent of the patriarchy. from Callahan as an intern and potential future colleague. However, Elle soon finds out that ived notions still factor into his treatment of her. While Callahan attempts to seduce Elle i n both the film and the musical, the musical punishes Elle to a greater degree for not complying with the patriarchy, as it o borderline sexual assault and then subjects her to abuse for defending herself with the threat of expulsion from Harvard Law. before she leaves for the night. Elle intuition as a lawyer, by possibly offering her a position over the summer, Elle realizes his flattery does not hold credence. Callahan tries to physically seduce Elle by putting his hand on her thigh, but Elle rejects his advances, and she temporarily quits the internship. Elle might exhibit the savviness of a lawyer, but she does not compromise her ideals in order to obtain what she wants. The musical adaptation begins the scene in a different manner, portraying the legal team interns; the introduction of alcoho l exists as a dubious step in muddying the intentions of


Vlahos 11 between for Elle and Callahan, Callahan addresses Elle directly once the rest of the slightly inebriated legal team leaves for the night. The scene occurs similarly to the film by showing Callahan flattering Elle, but a distinct difference occurs. Callahan exerts his control over Elle, both as her boss as well as the head professor at Harvard Law, by sexually assaulting her with a rough kiss. H e places his hands on her throat and forces himself on her, all while Vivian and Warner observe from outside. Elle realizes, in that moment, that the only reason she secured the internship for herself is due to Callahan harboring sexual attraction towards her. However, when Elle defends herself from the assault by slapping Callahan, Callahan fires her from the internship, with the implication that Elle faces expulsion from Harvard Law. In the musical, Elle exists as a passive object of the male gaze, especi ally with the voyeuristic implications of Vivian and Warner observing the interaction between Elle and erotic object for the characters within the scene of the musical conveniently turns away before the slap occurs. Both Vivian and Warner enter the office while Elle recovers fro m the assault, and Warner uses the opportunity to subject Elle to further abuse, gaze in history ( Legally Blonde The Musical ). The musical emphasizes what Car ol Dole calls to abuse as


Vlahos 12 an object of the male gaze (67). The patriarchy seeks to exercise control over Elle for embracing sively feminine image can evoke lingering loses everything in the moment of her assault her (male granted) autonomy, the respect from her fellow interns that took Elle months to gain, and her well earned education and future career as a Harvard educated lawyer all because she did not bend to the will of the patriarchy. and the mu sical in regards to its feminist point of the view. In the film, Elle might choose to quit, but Stromwell (as the head professor of Harvard Law) provides Elle with a strong female presence, and reminds Elle in the beauty salon before she plans on leaving, stupid prick [ruin] her life, [Elle is] not the girl [she] thought [she] was Legally Blonde ). Elle receives the necessary support from a fellow feminist, which allows her to face the adversity from the patriarchy. The musical, ins tead, replaces the second wave feminist support with an increased level of adversity from Callahan, due to his enhanced power as her sole professor. He abuses his power in order to punish Elle to a greater degree with the implications of expulsion, all bec ause she did not accept his lecherous advances in order to succeed in the business of law. vastly differs between the film and the musical, due to In the musical, Elle returns to the beauty salon one last time to say goodbye to Paulette, her hair stylist and best friend, as she believes her assault by Callahan ( Legally Blonde The Musical ). Vivian overhears Elle and tells her she sees more than just a patriarchy ( Legally Blonde The Musical ).


Vlahos 13 portray the ill treatment of women by women ( Legally Blonde The Mu sical )? Elle does not feminist pep talk as she looks on incredulously while Vivian tries to inspire Elle. Why does Vivian even bother uplifting Elle when she blatantly reveals how she Law ( Legally Blonde The Musical )? Furthermore, Vivian lacks the credible, inspirational power of Stromwell, who has a position of power in the hierarchy of Harvard Law. While Elle does ultimately return to Harvard Law in order to finish what she started the manner in which it transpires in the musical renders the intended feminist uplift of it moot. Only six years separate the film version of Legally Blonde and its music al counterpart. Feminism is still in its third wave even today which raises the que stion: w hy reject the core ideals of feminism within a feminist movie, when adapting the source material into a musical? Does the rejection imply deep rooted issues in the American musical theatre industry? The industry routinely struggles with issues of r epresentation and diversity, especially when exist (Jackson). The general consensus on re presentation within musical theatre concerns itself with white, cisgender, and heterosexual males (Ostapiw). While certain musicals venture past this paradigm of representation, it ends up fostering harmful stereotypes due to the established norm s of writi ng and casting (McClouskey). Marginalized groups thus face discrimination under the guise of representation, which adds to the deep rooted issues still prominent in the industry to this day. No matter the reasoning, though, t he shift in ideolog ies from the film to the musical suggests a


Vlahos 14 backl ash against third wave feminism and feminism on the whole. This shift proves that the fight against patriarchal oppression must continue in our lives and in our stories.


Vlahos 15 Works Cited Legally Blonde third Click Flicks. Contemporary Women at the Movies Ed. Suzanne Ferris and Mallory Young. NY: Routledge, 2008. 58 78. Print. Click Flicks. Contemporary Women at the Movies Ed. Suzanne Ferris and Mallory Young. NY: Routledge, 2008. 1 25. Print. HowlRound HowlRound, 30 Sept. 2015. Web. 13 Apr. 2016. Hypatia 9.2 (1994): 123 133. Web. 13 Apr. 2016. Legally Blonde Dir. Robert Luketic. Metro Goldwyn Mayer, 2001. Netflix Web. 18 Mar. 2016. Legally Blonde The Musical YouTube YouTube, 15 Nov. 2011. Web. 18 Mar. 2016. New Musical Theatre New Mus ical Theatre, 20 Feb. 2014. Web. 13 Apr. 2016. Film Theory and Criticism Ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. NY: Oxford University Press, 2004. 837 848. New Musical Theatre New Musical Theatre, 26 June 2015. Web. 13 Apr. 2016.


Vlahos 16 Legally Blonde Interscope Geffin, 2001. MP3.