Sunday, September 28, 2008

Judith Warner Completely Missed the Point

The other day Judith Warner, author of Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, wrote a blog post for the New York Times on feeling surprisingly sympathetic toward Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin entitled "Poor Sarah".

Ms. Warner's discussion is full of the typical elitist snobbery towards Mrs. Palin- at one point the author dismisses the governor as "a moose-killing Alaska frontierswoman with her five kids, five colleges, and pastoral protection from witchcraft" - and reiterates the Democratic party line of attack on her that she's allegedly "out of her league".

Am I a particularly big fan of Gov. Palin? No. Do I have concerns about her relative inexperience? Yes, but I have even bigger concerns about Sen. Obama's lack of experience. I would much rather see a young, relatively inexperienced politician as second in line to be the president than actually being president. The learning curve is much steeper and the stakes are much higher for the actor in the spotlight than for his/her understudy.

But what really caught my eye in Ms. Warner's blog post was her discussion of one of my favorite movies from the past few years, Legally Blonde. The movie is an adaptation of a semi-autobiographical novel written by a woman who was a sorority girl at party school Arizona State before deciding to attend Stanford Law School. Like the heroine of Legally Blonde, Elle Woods, the author felt out-of-place with her designer wardrobe and pink accessories and was subject to snobbery from the other students. She found solace in writing long letters to her friends back home skewering her classmates, which ultimately became the basis for her novel.

In the movie, Elle discovers to the surprise of everyone around her that there's much more to her than just a pretty face. She receives a near-perfect score on the Law School Admissions Test and once she decides to get serious about her law school coursework, she starts acing them. At the end of the movie, she has solved a big murder case through her quick wits and has graduated with honors from Harvard.

I've always felt a kinship with Elle Woods as someone whose abilities often get underestimated simply based on my appearance. If I had a dollar for every time I've heard the back-handed compliment, "Wow, you're a LOT smarter than you look!" I could buy myself a pair of Manolo Blahniks. Like Elle, I've overheard myself being dismissed by one of my female classmates as a "walking Barbie" because I'm cute, blonde, and a bit of a girlie-girl. Yes, I was in a sorority and do like shopping, but that doesn't make me dumb. In this day and age, I resent the implication that women are still supposed to choose between being pretty and being smart.

In Ms. Warner's NYT blog post, she completely misses the whole point of Legally Blonde. She sees Elle as an "imposter", who hides the fact that she's "not the intellectual equal of her peers" behind a mask of self-confidence and "dressing up in a nice suit". Ms. Warner tells her daughter after they watch the movie together that (emphasis in the original):

"You can’t accomplish anything worthwhile in life just by being pretty and cute and clever. You have to do the work."

Which is *EXACTLY* the message Elle learns! She's spent her whole life up until law school merely getting by on her looks and aspiring to be a socialite trophy wife like her mom. She finally gets fed up with being treated as inferior by her snobby classmates and sets out to prove to them that she's just as competant as they are. How does she accomplish this task? BY DOING THE WORK! The whole point of the movie is that Elle *IS* the intellectual equal of her peers in spite of her designer suit and pink scented accessories. How did Ms. Warner manage to miss that?

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