Jamison Guice, Campus Carrier features editor
Who is the more badass female lead: Ellen Ripley from “Alien” or Elle Woods from “Legally Blonde”? This is not a trick question.
Ripley slays invasive alien parasites and goes on to tell the tale of an intergalactic species that invades human bodies. As the sole survivor of her space crew, her role as the heroine succeeds 1970s cinematic history. This version of the final girl humanizes, rather than sexualizes, the female lead as she saves herself and her cat.
Woods’ trials and tribulations take shape in the form of unrequited love, a vengeful girlfriend and an inappropriate professor. Just like Ripley, she overcomes and tells the tale of her journey through fire and brimstone (slight exaggeration). Her story is much more realistic and relatable in comparison to an intergalactic species hellbent on destroying humanity.
So, what makes Ripley a more visionary character that an audience still clings to 50 years after her film’s debuts? Is it because she ripped alien guts out and didn’t minor in the history of polka dots? Is it because the “Alien” franchise is still marketed towards a male audience rather than female?
The final girl trope is typically found in suspense movies. The trope is often a tool of misogyny because it forces the audience to see female character s through the male gaze. Common qualifications of a final girl is survival (i.e. last one standing), virginal, helpless and, most imp o r tan t ly, they are the ones who share what they know.
While both women loosely fit the aforementioned guidelines, both movies ensure that the leads battle outside sources, receive needed help and that the characters ultimately succeed. But, in the end, Woods’ personality fits the persona of a final girl even if “Legally Blonde” is the wrong movie genre.
Woods is most likely overlooked as a badass female lead because 2000s-era “chick-flicks” are notorious for internalized misogyny and taking advantage of the male gaze, hence the nickname. Just like the trope she embodies, her role is meant to submit to the gender patriarchy rather than overcome it. For example, Woods submits a Harvard admittance video which only features her in a sparkly bikini.
Woods’ unapologetic sexuality is what makes her role unforgettable, and it is what also sets her apart from other final girls. Even though she submits the video in a bikini, the audience often forgets her other qualifications; she is a sorority sister at the fictional California University Los Angeles and she has a 4.0 G.P.A. More importantly, she achieved a 179 LSAT score which is one point shy of a perfect score.
Even though Woods did not save the galaxy, it is still important to recognize her narrative because “Legally Blonde” shows that a final girl does not have to be virginal or asexual. Instead, she can rock a Supreme Court case while wearing last season’s Prada shoes.
Not only does the movie take advantage of the final girl trope, but it also subverts it since Woods gains power by refusing to join the system. Rather than sleep with her professor to earn a spot on the court case, she would rather earn it with hard work. Now, her character is fighting harder than ever against the male powers aiming to objectify her.
Neither Ripley nor Woods is a better female lead because they both represent different things to the audience. As rare as it is for blockbuster movies to cast hard-hitting female leads, it is even rarer for movies to cast a fabulous female lead that is the epitome of femininity. What is important is moving on from ingrained misogynist views that tell us feminine characters are less badass than others simply because they wear pink.