Legally Blonde: Portrayal of Feminism and Women in Media

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We define mass media as the means of communication to reach the mass of the people (Merriam-Webster 1923). Communication is around people every day through newspapers, film, music, social media, the radio, billboards, and/or television. Mass media allows the communication of ideas, opinions, and stereotypes to spread rapidly through large amounts of people. The surplus of technology advancements resulted in mass media heavily influencing society (Neale 2014). It is important to understand how mass media influences the way people think because of how dangerous it is for common misconceptions to exist. A prominent aspect of public misconceptions is the portrayal of women in mass media. Women are more often than not depicted incorrectly in mass media forums (Patel 1995).

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A common representation of women in different media outlets such as film and advertisements show the idea that women are only concerned about physical appearance beyond anything else. This prevalent idea among media is not only inaccurate, but the idea also affects the way women are perceived daily (Patel 1995). In the film The Devil Wears Prada starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway, the protagonist works for a highly praised fashion editor who judges her employees based on the way they look. To appease her boss, the protagonist changes her fashion style to conform to a look that the community accepts. The Devil Wears Prada film embodies the idea that women can only be successful if they look a way that is socially acceptable. The people who watch this film see a young woman change her appearance and behavior because of people treating her like she will only succeed if she changes. Messages like these exist in abundance across all cultures and are harmful to society’s functionality (Patel 1995).

When women are represented with inaccuracies in media, there is added reinforcements of stereotypes about women. In the Legally Blonde movie franchise, the protagonist, depicted by Reese Witherspoon, enrolls in law school after her boyfriend terminates their relationship and dates someone else, with the reasoning being that to him, she was not smart. Witherspoons’ character retaliates by vowing to “earn him back” with a law degree. The message from the films is that a woman’s value lies in personal satisfaction from men. As shown in the documentary Miss Representation, young women feel immense pressure and scrutiny in their communities because of how little women’s successes are broadcasted and celebrated (Miss Representation 2011). When the victories of women are displayed as the result of seeking gratification from men, it sends a message that women use their want for fulfillment from men as a drive to succeed, rather than for their own satisfaction. As a result, the triumphs of women do not get encouraged, and are grossly undermined (Miss Representation 2011).

Media portrayal of women usually comes in forms of hypersexualization and exploitation. An example of exploitation of women in media is the use of image manipulation in magazines and advertisements (Suggett 2019). Production companies take women, who already fit the standard beauty, and use their media to further exaggerate their physical features. The continuous amount of photoshop and image alteration creates unrealistic standards of how women should look, thus teaching viewers an impossible caliber of the physical appearance of women (Davtyan-Gevorgyan 2016). Additionally, over the years, the amount of skin shown by women in magazines, like Seventeen, have tripled (De Melker 2013). More skin exposed represents what people value in women, and instead of highlighting other women virtues, it glorifies the physical appearances of women.

All in all, mass media is a powerful tool of communication that if not used carefully, it can create catastrophic effects of stereotypes and falsehoods. To recognize this persistent problem is the first step towards a change in content the media communicates to the public, and   

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