Kim Kardashian West is studying for the California state bar exam so she can be a better advocate for criminal justice reform. She’s facing the same criticism Elle Woods, the protagonist in the 2001 film Legally Blonde, overcame.
There’s an occasional misconception about Woods, played by Reese Witherspoon, that she’s an airhead who stumbles into Harvard Law School. But any true Legally Blonde fan knows that is not the story of Elle Woods. Woods crushed the LSATs with a score of 179, putting her at the top 99.9 percent of test takers. The movie is about her awakening to her own talents and passions, a story Kardashian’s fans hope will be hers too.
Woods arrives at Harvard, where she is dismissed and mocked by her peers and then sexually harassed by a powerful professor. But she does not quit. She pushes ahead and thrives, relying on her wit, her grit, and her network of female supporters, including a champion in a distinguished female professor.
Like Kardashian, Woods discovers a passion for advocacy. In Woods’s case, it’s a client wrongly accused of murder whom her peers have nearly given up on (and had already written off because of her good looks). Woods doesn’t. In a Perry Mason-style court scene, Woods exposes the real killer under intense cross-examination. (The movie is fiction, after all, and meant to be fun to watch.)
Kardashian has been mocked for her involvement in the criminal justice movement in ways familiar to Woods. She was treated as a joke when she lobbied President Trump in the Oval Office (successfully) to grant clemency to Alice Marie Johnson, a great-grandmother who was sentenced to life in prison for a nonviolent drug offense and had already served 20 years in prison.
Twitter scoffed at her, and the New York Post ran two headlines on one front page referencing her rear end:
Tomorrow's cover: Kim Kardashian visits the White House to discuss prison reform with President Trump https://t.co/1N3bNkVmK7 pic.twitter.com/yPaL93Tyhe— New York Post (@nypost) May 30, 2018
This is not typical treatment for a celebrity advocate — whether it’s Bono testifying on the state of AIDS resources, Brad Pitt meeting with Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi on sustainable housing, or Ashley Judd taking on saving wolves.
Instead of being cowed, Kardashian is shoring up her bona fides. She is attempting to become a lawyer without a degree from college or law school, which are not requirements to sit for the notoriously difficult California bar. She’s planning to spend the next few years studying and preparing, while keeping up her work as an entrepreneur and reality TV icon and fulfilling family commitments. (Critics point out that Kardashian has limitless resources, so her dream is not one easily followed by a typical mother of three with a full-time job. Woods came from wealth too, and didn’t worry about student loans or making ends meet.)
Still, Kardashian is making a choice to put in the work to become a better advocate, and she is being criticized for it. In a post on Instagram this week, Kardashian said, “One person actually said I should ‘stay in my lane.” Woods was told by her own father and her ex-boyfriend that maybe she should give up too — plan parties, be a socialite, be beautiful. None of those are in themselves bad things. But a woman who wants to use her significant profile and fortune to change the world should be encouraged to go for it — not held back.
Millions of Kardashian’s fans, meanwhile, are eager to support her:
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Last year I registered with the California State Bar to study law. For the next 4 years, a minimum of 18 hours a week is required, I will take written and multiple choice tests monthly. As my first year is almost coming to an end I am preparing for the baby bar, a mini version of the bar, which is required when studying law this way. I’ve seen some comments from people who are saying it’s my privilege or my money that got me here, but that’s not the case. One person actually said I should “stay in my lane.” I want people to understand that there is nothing that should limit your pursuit of your dreams, and the accomplishment of new goals. You can create your own lanes, just as I am. The state bar doesn’t care who you are. This option is available to anyone who’s state allows it. It’s true I did not finish college. You need 60 college credits (I had 75) to take part in “reading the law”, which is an in office law school being apprenticed by lawyers. For anyone assuming this is the easy way out, it’s not. My weekends are spent away from my kids while I read and study. I work all day, put my kids to bed and spend my nights studying. There are times I feel overwhelmed and when I feel like I can’t do it but I get the pep talks I need from the people around me supporting me. I changed my number last year and disconnected from everyone because I have made this strict commitment to follow a dream of mine - It’s never too late to follow your dreams. I want to thank Van Jones for believing in me and introducing me to Jessica Jackson. Jessica along with Erin Haney have taken on the role of my mentors and I am forever grateful to them both putting in so much time with me, believing in me and supporting me through this journey. This week I have a big torts essay due on negligence. Wish me luck ✨⚖️
Woods graduates from Harvard and goes on to work for a congresswoman in Legally Blonde 2, a clear sign of success. Kardashian is still slogging through the original. Passing the California bar is difficult for even law school graduates, so her task is a big one. Regardless of whether she pulls it off, she’ll still become a better advocate in learning about the law. Woods’s story, too, is really about rejecting her critics to recognize that she has it in her to do good work.
As Woods put it in her speech at graduation: “It is with passion, courage of conviction, and strong sense of self that we take our next steps into the world, remembering that first impressions are not always correct. You must always have faith in people. And most importantly, you must always have faith in yourself.”