Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Yes, I did hear the one about the blonde

Our fair-headed writer is at the end of her tether

Written by Olga White

Being a (just about) blonde who’s spent a lot of time and effort trying to disprove the blonde stereotype, I’ve always wanted to find out more about it, so when I came across a  book full of sociological experiments, my initial reaction was to look up ‘blonde’ in the index. Unsurprisingly, there were a ton of them.

One of the first results I found was a study conducted by researchers at City University, London. 1500 men were shown three photos of the same model, digitally enhanced to be a blonde, brunette or redhead, and asked to outline her personality. While brunettes were widely called ‘independent’ and ‘intelligent’, blondes were described by forty percent as ‘needy’ and ‘lacking in independence’. Forty five percent of the men were also convinced that the redhead was ‘neurotic’.

In a similar experiment, Dr Tony Cassidy and Georgina Harris asked 120 people (men and women) to look at pictures of a model wearing four different wigs: platinum blonde, natural-looking blonde, brown and red. The subjects were then asked to rate the model for popularity and intelligence. The platinum blonde was rated as less intelligent, especially by men, and no more popular than the others, but the natural blonde was assumed to be more popular, and thought to have intelligence equal to the brunette.
It’s interesting that the natural blonde was not stereotyped in the same negative way as the fake-looking blonde.

Dr Cassidy suggested that this may be because of the way people who dye their hair blonde are presented in the media, but others have offered other, more psychological suggestions. Very blonde hair implies youth, and youth implies lower intelligence than that of an adult. This is the same reason why, on a primitive level, gentlemen do actually prefer blondes - their hair indicates a younger age, and therefore better health.

In contradiction to the answers of Dr Cassidy’s subjects, it is rumoured that Marilyn Monroe, deemed by many to be the ultimate platinum blonde, had an IQ of 170, high enough that she could easily have joined Mensa (had she wanted to.) And she’s not the only smart blonde. Claire Danes attended Yale; Charlize Theron speaks two languages fluently, and the first elected female president in the world (Vigdis Finnbogadsttir of Iceland) was blonde. Another example is Fiona Shackleton, the £550/hour divorce lawyer to Sir Paul McCartney and Madonna, who was famously doused with water by Heather Mills-McCartney when managing her divorce from Sir Paul.

In Hungary, blonde jokes have actually been banned. Zsuzsa Kovacs, a spokesperson for the protest, which had blondes of every hue standing outside parliament, said ‘Blondes face discrimination in the job market, in the workplace and even on the streets. People are banned from discriminating against Jews or black people, so why not grant blondes the same protection?’

According to David W Johnson, we need stereotypes to ‘simplify social perception’, because the fast-paced world we live in forced us to make quick judgements and decisions. And, while not all of the blonde stereotypes are positive, all a blonde needs to do is prove people wrong if they stereotype her (or him) negatively.

Blonde jokes are everywhere, in the same way that people joke about accountants being boring, or women being bad at sport. Plus, if anyone’s getting the worst deal with the jokes and stereotypes about hair colour, it’s definitely gingers.

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