Legally Blonde: Communication in Film

In order to understand Legally Blonde through the Muted Group Theory, it is important to first acknowledge what the Muted Group Theory says. It starts with the assumption that language creates power. When a more powerful group has control over the language in a society, other groups have to alter their communication in order to be understood by the dominant group. It says that because our language was created by men, there aren’t words for women to use to describe their thoughts and ideas.

This theory is often viewed in terms of men being the dominant group, and women being the “muted group.” This means that unless women adopt the words and language of the men in their society, their thoughts and ideas will be ignored. There are several examples of how this works in Legally Blonde.


Legally_blonde

Before Elle goes to law school, she seems to be the stereotypical sorority girl. However, once she gets to law school, it is clear that she will not be taken seriously unless she adapts the way that she communicates. There is another character, Vivian, who is a much more serious counterpart to Elle. Vivian displays more masculine qualities, resulting in the people at Harvard taking her seriously. Elle has to change herself in order to fit in with, and be taken seriously by, her peers.


Another example of how this can help us understand the movie is in the scene where Elle’s internship advisor, Callahan, make sexual advances on her. After telling her that he was impressed by her performance in the courtroom, he encourages her to pursue her dreams. However, it is clear that he is only interested in her, not because of her intelligence, but because she looks good. Muted Group Theory helps us understand this encounter by demonstrating that in a male-dominated profession, even intelligent, thoughtful women are ignored and silenced. The men assert their power and this leaves women as a muted group.

-Morgan McCleaf

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24 thoughts on “Legally Blonde: Communication in Film

  1. As a Com Major I am starting to see everyday things in much different ways, and this is just one example and it is so interesting!!
    I wonder if all muted groups can overcome their hardships with as much grace as Elle Woods did. Wouldn’t that be nice!

  2. I think the Muted Group Theory is a really interesting theory. I see it in a lot of moments I experienced when I got in a new environment, sometimes you have to act differently before people take you seriously.
    An example of women being the ‘muted group’ is when a woman is talking to a man and he is not looking her in her eyes but a bit lower down, it shows he is not taking her seriously, perhaps he feels better and dominant than her.
    I don’t know if I am sure but I think the theory also means with changing your communication, for example, the way you dress yourself and not only the actual language you use.
    Also when I think of other movies, it happens very often that a character has to change his/hers communication style to fit into a new environment. This can be another culture, village, school etc.

  3. I think another great example of how Elle changes the way she talks in order to fit in is in the scene of her acceptance video. She uses law jargon during her video and ‘everyday life’ to try to prove to admissions that she is serious about law school.

  4. Morgan,

    With knowing nothing about the “muted group theory” you really gave a great example to where I could connect and understand. Legally blonde has a strong message and this theory really signifies it.

  5. I have watched this movie in the past. Language can be both a tool of communication and a barrier. I believe this forms different variations of a language and maybe even slang or vernacular. However, Muted Group Theory is suggesting that women are muted because they speak differently than men. I see the truth in this, but I would like to see more of these scenarios more professional setting to analyze further injustices.

  6. I agree that Elle was discriminated against because of her gender while she was at Harvard Law. How exactly do you see the Muted Group Theory working? I understand that Elle had to change her appearance in order to be taken seriously, but how did she change her speech? Was she challenged to use speech that men had created or was it simply that she needed to adjust to lawyer speak?

  7. Morgan,

    How very true! What a sad world this is to know that things like this really do exist in our society. When I first started reading your post, I had never heard of Muted Group Theory before, but you gave great examples and explained it in a very clear manner. I have seen the movie Legally Blonde many times and you are exactly right…that’s pretty much what the entire movie is about. Your great examples and clear explanation has made me look at a movie that I’ve seen so many times, in a completely different light!

    Great job!

    Tayler Robinson, IMC 1 Class

  8. I absolutely love this (partially because “Legally Blonde” is one of my favorite movies) but also because this is very accurate. Because Elle talks like a “sorority girl” and dresses in all pink, people at Harvard don’t take her seriously. However, I love how at the end of the movie she is able to win the court case by knowing facts about hair. Girls who are girly like Elle should not be forced to feel like a muted group. Just because they do not speak like others, or frankly, like men, does not mean they are unintelligent.

  9. I think this post is very well written and thought about. It really gets people thinking about how unfortunate society really is. As much as I love Legally Blonde, there are many stereotypes against women which is frustrating. The way men treat Elle in this movie is awful and I think it is because of the theory you talked about and how men, the more powerful group have control over the language in society.

  10. This is a great example to explain Muted Group Theory. I feel like a majority of movies also explicate this in their plots. For example, the rich silencing the poor, the powerful silencing the weak, majority groups silencing the minority groups, etc. All of the “smaller” groups must change their communication in order to gain recognition from the dominant groups. Very good connection!

  11. This is the first information I have read regarding Muted Group Theory. I think it is a theory that is very prevalent in our present society. Women are still viewed as inferior by many. Not everyone views women differently but our country as a whole has made it obvious that as a collective whole, we share the idea that women are somehow lesser than men. We see this through situations like the fact the men and women still do not have equal pay for equal work. Theories such as this help to explain the culture that we are living in.

  12. This is the first time I have heard about the “Muted Group Theory” and I have to admit I am impressed with the example you have provided. When I previously watched this movie I understood that Vivian was more respected than Elle because of her outward appearance and behavior. However, now that I have the words to explain why that is I can’t help but imagine a world in which the roles are reversed. People tend to believe that women are more compassionate and understanding, so would a world dominated by women make it easier for men to be understood or would they too need to alter their communication for the dominant group? We may never know, but it’s interesting to think about!

  13. I feel that the movie “Legally Blonde” was a great way to describe the Muted Group Theory. I know personally being in a sorority, sometimes my group members or peers automatically assume that my actions within an assignment will not be that much of a contributing factor. And there have been experiences that even my outgoing personality has been “muted” by a male group member and it was interesting to get insight from your article as to why that occurs. It is a shame that this occurs, but being in a sorority it has become my reality in a lot of ways. Just because I do not speak like a man does not mean that what I have to say is not credible and lacks intelligence.

  14. Legally Blonde is a great movie. Bend and snap is funny exploration of stereotypes as well. The theory that comes to mind when I watch Legally Blonde is Expectancy Violation Theory. In many ways she does adapt as noted through Muted Group but in many ways she doesn’t and that becomes a strength as well–expectancy violation.

  15. I don’t think that you could have found a more perfect example of this theory. There are not nearly as many women that pursue a career in politics as do men, and the Muted Group Theory could be the cause and the effect for women not to pursue careers in Law.

  16. I can honestly say I never quite thought about this movie in this particular light. I always noticed the described scenes and I knew that they were in the film to make a point. But, now that I am a COM major I can see much more clear distinctions in the film and it becomes more relate-able to my studies.

  17. There are lessons to pull from fictional movies; ultimately the ability to speak properly is a universal concept. I think this goes beyond males vs. females, but societies as a whole are accountable. In our culture, it is frowned upon that someone communicates their thoughts in an educated manner. In our culture, people are mocked for annunciating their words. In our culture, “you talk proper” is such a commonly heard back-handed compliment that I would not be able to count on both of my hands how often I have heard this growing up.
    It is true that females are challenged by the stigma that they are “less than” the common man in society. I do not believe this though. I have not ever believed in it, nor will I ever practice it. It takes every individual to encourage the expression of thoughts, regardless of gender, or “social status”, or religion. We all have minds with the creative spark necessary to better our world. It is time to stop categorizing one another, and start encouraging each other.

  18. I see this theory especially in politics. Women have to act or take on character traits of men just to be taken seriously as a candidate. I wish this wasn’t so but in order to make it in that kind of social setting men are tolerated much more.

  19. I think this movie is a great example of the Muted Group theory. However, in the beginning I believe the way Elle expresses herself is why no one believes she can do it. She is called on in class and is confused about every question. Once she starts studying and applying herself, she is able to add her personality into her job. The professor that hits on her because she is not “masculine”, is a good example of Muted Group theory. Also, the fact that she is one of the only non-masculine females at Harvard in the movie is a big red flag on the way society views intelligence as a masculine trait. Luckily, she proves them wrong in the end, however, I still believe that society is still biased towards this issue.

  20. It seems in any business field women are the muted group, I can compare that to personal experience as I am a woman who works at advance auto parts, a male dominated field and I have noticed most customers come in and assume that if I don’t understand exactly what they meant then I don’t know anything about cars when in reality they usually don’t know the name for the part they’re looking for, but in order to be taken seriously I have to guess what they are looking for based on what they call the part or what they say is wrong with the vehicle

  21. I think the muted group theory is one that can really be applied across all contextual boundaries. It’s ageless, race less, and classless, meaning at some point or another one can inevitably feel or make another feel like the muted group. The example of Legally Blonde is a perfect example of this. It shows how Elle begins and how her personality and communication styles evolve as a result of her situational understanding. Another good example of this could be the movie The Devil Wears Prada, even though it’s not a woman vs. man struggle, Andy is still ultimately muted by Miranda.

  22. Muted Group Theory is an interesting concept in relation to ‘Legally Blonde’ since the film is more than definitely a feminist approach towards today’s society. Legally blonde highlights that women are sometimes viewed as a Muted Group but with the rise of feminism in the film. Elle Woods does adapt her communication methods within her law degree, which takes he deeper into the industry. The film also shows how even with keeping up in a male-dominated industry she is still prone to sexual harassment, men trying to assert their power. Overall the film at first discredits women but with a feminist approach overcomes the male dominated industry by conforming to the males’ standard of communication.

  23. Thank you all so much for your comments! It’s great that all of you are able to use your knowledge of COM Studies and find even more examples of this theory in the movie. As Dr. Olsen noted, the movie can be viewed through other theories as well. You all raised very interesting points and pointed out other great examples of where you’ve seen the Muted Group Theory. The most important thing to keep in mind about this theory is that men have the power because they have created the language. As Leanne suggested, it is very interesting to think about how roles might be different if language was created by women, rendering the men the muted group.

    -Morgan McCleaf

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