Break on Through
In the 2001 film Legally Blonde many gender stereotypes that have evolved from American popular culture during the last century are portrayed. From the over the top embracement of the girly-girl culture and the expectations of women in America in the 21st century to the time tested typecasting of the males role, this movie covers all the bases. Women and men in America have always had to live up to society’s notions of what they should and should not act like. Mainstream media, authority figures and parents help establish these values in America’s children. From an early age society tells girls and boys what toys are acceptable for them to play with and what roles they will grow up to embrace. Girls are handed Barbie dolls and princess clothing, and are raised to believe that they need to be beautiful stay at home wives taking care of the family unit. Boys on the other hand are taught not to show emotion, to be aggressive and become the bread winners for the household. Some of these gender stereotypes have been handed down from generation to generation while others are being reinforced in the cartoons, television shows and advertisements of the era.
In Legally Blonde women are shown as submissive and of lower intelligence than the male counterparts. The main character, Elle Woods, is the quintessential girly-girl. She is the president of her sorority, loves fashion, embraces the pink culture and believes that her life’s meaning is to be the popular boy’s wife. The role that Elle Woods is portraying is not new to American film. There have been countless examples preceding it in film and print. As Peggy Orenstein points out in her book Cinderella Ate my Daughter, children are being taught from a very young age what is being expected from them in regards to their gender. There are many examples in animated movies that reinforce the gender stereotypes that America has come to expect from women. In these movies the female lead character is always being saved by the male character. Whether it is the princess being saved by the prince riding in on horseback or the fact that every main female character has pristine appearance, women are being shown how to look and act. As Orenstein states, women learn from these films that their “ goals are to be saved by a prince, get married and be taken care of for the rest of their lives. Their value derives largely from their appearance” (Orenstein, page 23). Elle Woods is another example of society telling women that they need to be socially successful and beautiful in order to achieve the ideal standard of marrying a successful man that will take care of them.
The female gender roles that are portrayed in Legally Blonde can be seen clearly in advertisements in the 1950s. During the post war era women were gaining more social freedoms and at the same time being stereotyped into even more restrictive roles. Advertisers of this era started to realize that the American woman had more and more authority in the family. Everything from maps to clothing were being advertised at woman and giving them the impression that they had the authority to make decisions. Susan Sessions Rugh states in her book Are We There Yet, “decisions were generally made by both husband and wife, with women making the decision more often at the lower end of the economic scale, and men more often for those with the higher incomes” (Rugh, page 24). The advertisements reinforced the role that the men were the breadwinners and women were meant to look good. All of the advertisements of the era showed women as a pristine feminine example and made their point using language that was meant for the female. Often the advertisements used analogies to cooking, raising the children and house work to help the woman feel empowered to make a financial decision. As with Elle Woods, women of the post war era believed that they...