There is a common view that many people have on gender roles and what it means to have a female protagonist in a movie. The character must save the world but not compromise her beliefs or be too manly in her actions in doing so. She must maintain her girly self and show a lot of emotion doing so because that is the idea of how women work in the male dominant society. Shockingly enough that is a pretty long stretch then the lack of feminism in movies meant fifty or sixty years ago. Then it was even worse ideals about women that they were just their for the house work or to be the damsels in distress. Well with the advancements of those ideals in the newer movies come two films that are part of this evolution of the film. Legally Blonde and Zero Dark Thirty both deal with a main female protagonist character in her fight for justice and against the “man” that holds her down and does not believe in her like she deserves to be thought of. Legally Blonde is about a sorority girl named Elle Woods who has those basic stereotypical ideals that a sorority girl is thought to have; she wants a very smart and very rich husband who she would just live happily ever after with. However her idea of life changes as she loses her boyfriend and then attends law school to get him back, but she realizes that law is really her passion and ultimately saves an innocent victim. Zero Dark Thirty is about a female protagonist named Maya who really feels she has one purpose and that is to find and kill Osama bin Laden. She acts in a sort of heartless manner on her pursuit to find him but in the end she succeeds and there is one shot of her just showing a nice smile on the plane knowing that her job was done, and well done at that. Both movies are centered on a strong female character who has a purpose and although those purposes are different they are both defying the ideology of what it means to be a woman in cinema in this day and age, and both movies address this issue as they go along.
Legally Blonde deals with the issues of ideology and what women should and shouldn’t do in a way where the director shows both sides of what the ideal female character should be in that situation to society and what the strong independent feminist character would do. The audience gets to see a stereotypical girl gain values that make her an independent character and not the pretty airhead that society is pushing her to be. In the beginning she has basic wants and needs, she does not feel like she needs to do anything other than just be whom she is and to soon get married. It is the ideal sorority girl mind set, but as the time progress and she gets into law school she realizes that being a pretty girl makes it hard for her to get men, or anyone really, to take her seriously, so she can get he point across. After finding this out she decides to change everything she is to be taken more seriously, but the issue with that is that she loses herself. She cannot find where the depiction of the sorority girl ideals ends and where the real Elle Woods’s values begin, so she has to find them along the way. The way the movie goes about showing her struggles with the ideals of pretty women in this field by demonstrating that one of Elle’s professor does not take her seriously to the point that he makes a move on her and treats her like a sexual object that he only hired to look pretty and maybe get a few sexual favors out of. She is heart broken because all she wants is a chance to be a good lawyer, which is something that she is surprisingly good at. She gets through it and saves the day the day while still remembering her girl ideals and how to stay herself through everything. The end of the movie was actually written in later because the authors originally have her kissing the boy and ending it there, but it seemed they needed more than that. They needed to let the audience know that Elle finished top of her class and that she got everything she wanted and that the boy could wait (Hersey).
Zero Dark Thirty has a different way of getting the feminist ideals across in a different way than the other movie. This movie is less centered on the fact that Maya is a female and centered on the fact that she has a purpose and a strong one at that. She has no other thoughts on her mind then trying to get one man and bring the world to justice. With a director like Kathryn Bigelow, who is defined “first by her gender and second by what she puts on the screen”(Barnes) this movie is sure to have some parts where the gender of the character really stands out in a way where the character is not much different from most other film just the gender has changed. This is where critics start to say that the character is to masculine with her lack of feeling and so on, but just because there are these ideals of women having story moral compass for anything does not change the fact that women are not actually made that way. She has her own ideals of what is right and wrong and they don’t fit into the ideology that women have today. She is fine to participate in the torture methods that the real life government were not pleased we mentioned in the film (Kaminski), but not only did she help with them she was apart of them. The only part of this character that stands out from any other character in this type of film is her gender and what it means to be a woman in this field of work. Women are not take seriously unless they prove their selves worthy which is exactly what she did, which shocks many critics and makes them complain about minor things when the film is just going against a few ideologies.
The two films seem to challenge the ideology, but it seems that Zero Dark Thirty is much better at in than Legally Blonde. Zero Dark Thirty shows a completely different side of feminism than seen in recent years. The character Maya does not have these desires to shop like Elle does and she does not mess around when it comes to work. She feels like she has a purpose and she is going to do what she has to do; she has no need for anything else. While Elle on the other hand keeps the ideal wants of that sorority girl, but has more values to keep her head level. Both women stay who they truly are, but Elle is a dynamic character while Maya is more static in her efforts. Elle brings everything she was to the table and is more of the ideal Hollywood heroin. Maya is stubborn and has a strong head on her shoulders and she does not value the trivial things that Elle does. Their approaches to challenging ideology are different all together, but they both have a strong point to get across that women are just as powerful as men. They are not all about their hair and looking good and focusing material things when it gets down to it both women are insanely passionate for what they do and they do not let anyone forget it for a second. These women defied ideals that would shock those of generations past, but it is just another step towards gender equality.
Both movies are great representations of challenging ideology in modern cinema that is a new way of thinking. Both women are strong, stubborn and ridiculously determined to prove themselves and get their work done. Elle and Maya both work against their limitations they face with their gender and fight to show that they are worth something to the world, a lot more than they are given credit for. Although they are both in fields where they are the minority gender they prove that they are good enough to be up their with the men going through even more struggles than any man in that field would have to. They are both inspirations that will shape new ideals for women to come.
Barnes, Brooks. “An Enigma Poised in the Shadow of a Spotlight.” International Herald Tribune. 02 Jan 2013: 10+. SIRS Renaissance. Web. 15 Dec 2013.
Hersey, Eleanor. “Love and Microphones: Romantic Comedy Heroines As Public Speakers.” Journal of Popular Film & Television (Vol. 34, No. 4). Winter 2007: 149-158. SIRS Renaissance. Web. 15 Dec 2013.
Kaminski, Matthew. “The Art and Politics of ‘Zero Dark Thirty’.” Wall Street Journal. 16 Feb 2013: n.p. SIRS Renaissance. Web. 15 Dec 2013.