A recent experience at work has left me annoyed and curious at the same time. But first I shall set the scene;
Though currently brunette, as a child I had a mess of white blonde hair. I do not consider myself overly vain, though I do have my moments, and I was most put out when a teacher in year 7 referred to me as having brown hair. Being quite a tenacious ‘tween’, I took action and dyed it back to its ‘rightful’ colour. This tradition continued for around 13 years, until I got bored and went back to brunette.
I have experienced blonde jokes over the years, but I (reluctantly) let them slide. I never took the stereotypes seriously. So imagine my surprise, just days after returning to ‘the dark side,’ when I was on the receiving end of the following comment:
‘Ah, Now I feel I can have an intelligent conversation with you’.
I was speechless (which for me many of you will know is quite a rarity). This could have been passed off as another ‘entertaining’ joke if it wasn’t for the fact that the offender now genuinely speaks to me more frequently and actually asks about my research. What, in the speaker’s mind, made them believe that prior to changing the colour of my hair I was less capable of having an intelligent conversation?
This interaction clearly got a bee in my bonnet, so I decided to dig into the origins of a question that has puzzled me for quite some time; ‘Where did the ‘dizzy blonde’ stereotype come from?’
- One theory is the stereotype comes from the 1860’s, when a burlesque group from the UK performed a parody of the Ixion myth at the Wood’s Museum theater in New York City. The show featured four blonde women frolicking on stage. It was apparently quite the hit at the time, but some people felt the women were only popular for their physique, and were otherwise ‘talentless’. The dancers came to be known as the ‘British Blondes’, which morphed into ‘dizzy blonde’, a type of slang to refer to this new breed of beautiful but ‘risqué’ stage performers.
- A second theory, posed by Joanna Pitman, originates from France about a century before the Brits, suggesting that a blonde haired courtesan named Rosalie Duthe is believed to be the namesake of the ‘dumb blonde’. She trained as a ballet dancer and was favoured by French royals and other members of European high society. She has recently been described as an ‘18th century Kim Kardashian’, as she was essentially famous for being famous. She was also known for being ‘a bit dim’, and was known to pause for extended periods of time before speaking. She was the muse for the one-act satire called Les Curiosités de la Foire (Paris 1775) that “kept Paris laughing for weeks”.
Shame on whoever decided that one blonde represents the whole bunch, or that the colour of your hair defines your intelligence in ANY way!
With the bee in my bonnet, I assumed that ‘any Psychology Professor worth his salt must know that there is no link between hair colour and intelligence’. Though Google Scholar tells me there is no proof to back up this stereotype, at least in any peer-reviewed journal that I can find, social psychology has confirmed that the notion has well and truly stuck. A study conducted at Coventry University found that pictures of a woman wearing a platinum blonde wig was judged to be less intelligent than when she donned a brunette or red-haired wig. Unfortunately, my experience seems to be quite a common one, as these findings have also been translated to the workplace. In 2006 it was found that blondes were under-represented compared to other hair colours in a sample of 500 UK CEOs. Another study asked participants to read CVs that included head-shots of the ‘applicants’. All CVs were identical, however the blonde applicants were consistently rated as less competent.
Findings like this frustrate me; once again stereotypes are holding back women in the workplace. I have actually heard stories of such prejudice driving young women to dye their hair darker to avoid unwanted comments and assumptions being made about them, thinking that their hair colour will hinder their work progression.
Read the last sentence again. Doesn’t it sounds ridiculous? If these are the lengths some women are taking to be taken seriously in their place of work then we have a big problem. Haven’t people heard the saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’? Equally, we shouldn’t judge a blonde by her colour.