When I was in fifth grade I spent weeks planning to dress as Elle Woods for Halloween. This may have been before or after I insisted that the back of my softball jersey read “Woods, Elle.” I was infatuated with her. My 10-year-old self related to her passion for fashion and bubbly personality on an intimate level.
Every time I re-watch the stellar 2001 classic Legally Blonde, not only do I find myself understanding more of the jokes, I understand just how much Elle and I are alike.
See, when I saw this movie as a peanut, even as a teenager, I saw Elle as a joke. While I related to her general personality type and love of all things pink and sparkly, I never really found myself in an environment that challenged me anywhere near the degree that Law School, let alone Harvard would. I had never lacked the fundamental respect of my peers so blatantly. People knew I was silly, loud, and wild even. But I’m pretty sure they respected me. Little did I know, this would change rapidly and in the safe space I created for myself.
Until recently, I had never entered an environment that was so demanding of my mental strength, intelligence and passion in my life as Harvard was for Elle. Even pursuing my Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing wasn’t very taxing, you know with writing Case Studies on Mountain Dew and all. It certainly wasn’t the most intellectual challenge I’d ever faced.
This past year I have become increasingly interested in social issues, specifically gender issues as they relate to culture in places like the United States. When I first set out to create Obvi, I had a lot of friends who were excited to participate. As it became more involved than just my own personal journey, I realized just how much there was to learn. In building a new community with my staff, I found myself occupying this feminist space. I loved [and still love] it. There is SO much to learn, so much to teach, so much to talk about. I find myself in this space and feel more excited and eager than ever to expand my understanding on these issues.
My favorite color is glitter. I say “like” a lot when I talk. My hands are particularly mobile when I talk. I smile. I smile a LOT. I rock a high-side-pony and will never apologize for it. I love pop music and think Dawson’s Creek is a gift to the planet.
The punchline? I am intelligent. I am. I am a smart person and when I don’t know something I ask for information and answers. My taste in clothes, music, movies, fillers etc. don’t reflect otherwise. To be smart, you don’t have to be brooding. To be smart, you don’t have to be angry or mean or condescending. To be smart, you just have to be smart.
The way I choose to express myself, be it physically or verbally, is my choice. I like feeling happy and I like projecting that happiness. I’m a firm believer in “you gotta fake it till you make it.”
On more than one occasion since starting Obvi, I have felt patronized by peers who suggest that I don’t have the slightest clue what I’m talking about. Each time it feels like someone is saying, “Oh, you’re outfit is cute, and you’re really sweet for trying. But you clearly don’t know anything and should really just stop.” I’m no dummy; I know that these sentiments are pointed at me for a reason. I’m an easy target, and they don’t think I’m serious enough about what we’re doing here to stand up for myself.
Some days, it’s like I put on my metallic, emerald green skirt-suit and walked into my own version of Harvard Law: a cavalry of zealous feminists who (despite, more often than not, inhabiting the same plane of understanding as I do) feel an urgent need to critique the way myself and others are learning and expressing their understanding of feminism rather than mind their own beeswax and make their own efforts to create change. While sometimes it comes with “good intentions,” I have met and encountered quite a few Vivian Kensington’s along the way. But you know what? Like Elle, I do the work. I read the books and read the essays online. I talk to my peers in an effort to expand my understanding of what is happening in the world around me to groups that do and do not include me. I have a BFF who I might as well consider my personal Professor Stromwell, because based on the behavior of everyone else, she wouldn’t have that faith in me, but she knows. I’m on my way and so is she. I am learning.
There’s never going to be a day when anybody just knows everything about feminism and the struggles that women face in all different situations in all different parts of the world. Really, there’s never going to be a day when anybody knows everything about anything. This is a pursuit that I understand, that we understand, is ongoing. It is frustrating to feel so patronized by those who don’t seem to recognize this.
Learning more about feminism, especially as it relates to groups of which I am not a part can be challenging. There is no perfect way to do this. What I have learned, is that if I open myself up to as much information as I can absorb at a time and go where it takes me, I’m doing my part to work towards the goal of the greater movement. When Elle knew Vivian and her peers were not respecting her, she stood up for herself. When she felt violated and patronized by Professor Callahan, she quit her case to maintain her dignity. She always fought for herself and what she knew was right, and not only did she gain the respect of many, she made friends!
At the end of the day, it was Elle’s experiences that made her the hero. It was her knowledge of beauty products and sorority activities that won her case. I don’t need to change any part of myself to prove my intelligence and worth. I don’t have to, and I won’t. My background and experiences as a woman and my passion for learning and helping other women will help me contribute to this movement. My smile, my love for pop-culture and sparkles, will just be the cherries on top.