Why I Trashed My Blonde Card (Looking Back and Forward)

“Excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism.” — Oprah Winfrey

It’s been a full year since I trashed my blonde card, resigning from expressing and otherwise celebrating the sexist humor. Since I plan to expand more on my blonde card-less year soon, I thought I would share last year’s post again. There is serious Girl Boner relevance here, as sexist humor is known to promote sexual harassment, low self-esteem, poor body image and related complications among its targets. I hope you’ll weigh in with your thoughts, and join me again as we explore the topic further. Happy #GirlBoner Monday! ♥

*****

What do you call a blonde who conducts surgery? Um… A surgeon.

Last week, I showed up at a friend’s wedding a full day late. Once I realized my error, I laughed—not because I thought it was cool, but because it was an honest mistake. Human error can be seriously funny. One of my first remarks afterward was, “I feel so blonde!”  I don’t actually blame the mishap on my hair, or believe that blondeness correlates to dumbness. I’ve even gone so far as to share the deprecating humor on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

August Johnson Tonight Show Jay Leno

All in the name of fun, right? I used to think so… Now, I’m not so sure. So why do I laugh at blonde jokes? Play my “blonde card” as an excuse for oversights? I’ve known for some time that research has shown no link between intelligence level and hair color. But since my own blonde remarks haven’t been sitting right with me lately and have been challenged by people I respect, I decided to dig deeper.

Some highlights from my research:

  • A study conducted at Western Carolina University showed that jokes about blondes and women drivers showed that sexist humor can lead to toleration of hostile feelings and discrimination against women.

“Sexist humor is not simply benign amusement. It can affect men’s perceptions of their immediate social surroundings and allow them to feel comfortable with behavioral expressions of sexism without the fear of disapproval of their peers,” said Thomas E. Ford, one of the researchers in the psychology department at WCU. “Specifically, we propose that sexist humor acts as a ‘releaser’ of prejudice.”

  • study, published in the Psychology of Women Quarterly in 2002 showed that men who view women as inferior are significantly more likely to be amused by blonde jokes than men who don’t. Shocking? No. But what does that say about blondes who celebrate blonde jokes? It’s possible we’re touting ourselves as inferior, if even subconsciously.
  • A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2007 showed that men act dumber after seeing blonde women compared to others. The researchers attributed the findings to human nature: We tend to take on behaviors of nearby others. (If we see someone yawn or twirl a pen, we’re likely to follow suit.) If men who perceive blonde women as unintelligent act less-smart in their company, how can we expect ourselves to display intelligence if we buy into dumb-blonde stereotypes?

My research and looking back on my own experiences led me to a few conclusions:

1. When we believe we are bright, capable and gifted, we present ourselves as such.

Years ago, after I’d modeled internationally and hit the recovery mark in my battle with an eating disorder, I was offered a modeling contract in Japan that would have provided significant pay. My medical and college bills were piling up, and though my heart saidNO, I considered taking it. After sharing the offer with my mentor, a psychology professor in St. Cloud, Minnesota, she grasped my hands, looked me in the eyes and said, You are brilliant. You can do so much with your mind. You don’t need to profit off of your body.”  Moved by her words, something clicked in me. I sat up straighter, studied harder and went on to complete the honors program with a 4.0.  When we’re confident in our intellect, it shows.

2. Words fuel ideas, whether we’re goofing around or not. 

Discriminatory jokes may seem harmless, but judging from the studies, expert insight and the distaste I have regarding jokes that poke fun at athletes, overweight people, drummers and others, they aren’t. If there’s a chance they’ll hold someone back, I’m not interested. So while I have no intention of judging others based on what they find funny or the humor “cards” they play, I am committed to embracing more positive definitions of blonde. My light hair represents my Scandinavian roots, my family, my style and sunshine. It’s part of my physical make up, but not the fabric who I am. It isn’t better or worse than other hair colors; it just happens to be mine. Off my list are blonde jokes, blaming “blonde moments” when I’ve made a mistake or misunderstood, and playing my “blonde card” as an excuse. And I’ve filed all negative blonde-isms away in my “lessons learned” drawer.

3. ‘Blonde’ often means something else.

You may think she’s a “dumb blond” when in fact she’s __________________

…excited, passionate and fun-loving. After I pitched to an editor last year, she asked me if I’d ever written before. When I shared my writing credentials, she said, “Say that in every pitch. This is a male-driven genre [thriller], and… You need to be taken seriously.” Her comment may have had nothing to do with my hair color, but I was, shall we say, EXCITED. ;) My peppy speak probably sounded more cheerleader than thriller-author-extraordinaire. I’ll happily mention my creds, but I’m keeping my peppiness. Many sweet, outgoing folks are smart as whips. (Think Penelope Garcia on Criminal Minds.)

…strategic or manipulative. Some women act like dumb blondes for attention, to move ahead in the work place, to get money or other freebies, or to wriggle out of a tough situation. (Paris Hilton, Anna Nicole Smith and Jessica Simpson have all been called strategically dim and business-brilliant.) Lorelei Lee, the protagonist in Anita Loos’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondestouted this motto: “A girl with brains ought to do something else with them besides think.” The film based on Loos’ novel is credited by many for launching the “dumb blonde” rampage. Ironic, seeing as Lee, played by Marilyn Monroe, is arguably the smartest schemer of the bunch.

…shy, anxious or insecure. Blondes do tend to stick out in a crowd, research shows. Imagine everyone watching you while you walk across a room. Think you might wobble more? Trip more easily? If you’re not comfy with attention, yes. Regardless of the reason, we tend to fumble more when we’re nervous or insecure. Maybe you’ve been told much of your life that you have less intellect or potential than others. If this is the case, please don’t buy into it.

…daydreamy, preoccupied or creative. Some of my supposed blonde moments have taken place during my writing furies. As I neared a big deadline this spring and was writing with my fingers or brain nearly 24/7, I showed up to teach a class with mascara above one eye only. (Other natural blondes know how odd this looks—my lashes are practically see through.) I also found my car keys in the freezer. Having our minds elsewhere doesn’t mean we’re dumb.

…misunderstood or unique. Thinking differently can be misperceived as stupidity. Marilyn Monroe is believed to have been dyslexic and appeared ditzy in the eyes of the public, yet she had a strong desire to understand the world and herself—signs of genius, if you ask me. She skipped out on film premieres and parties to attend college courses at UCLA, loved art and literature. Her melancholy side was sadly not accepted. (For more on Marilyn, read her fantastic book, Fragments: Poems Intimate Notes, Letters.) Temple Grandin is autistic and has revolutionized agriculture and become a nationally renowned speaker, author and advocate—largely because of her alternate way of thinking.

…sleep-deprived or under-nourished. A lack of sleep, calories, nutrients or glucose (the’s main fuel source, derived from carbohydrates) can trigger many stereotypical blonde behaviors, including memory lapses, poor concentration, tipsy behavior and an inability to learn or react quickly. Blaming our hair color for poor self-care isn’t particularly helpful. Better options: Establish healthy sleep habits. Eat more whole foods, like fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains and fewer processed foods. Don’t go too long without eating. Don’t diet.

…human. This one’s my favorite. We all make mistakes. It’s part of what makes us so darn relatable, often humorous, even spectacular. You know that children’s book, Everyone Poops? Well, everyone has funny human moments, too. This notion excites me more than jokes of any kind could.

How do you feel about blonde humor? What about other types of sexist jokes? Have you been affected by either? 

Leave a comment

39 Comments

  1. Being curvy (big breasted) I can relate. Oh, the things that have been said to me! Oh, the times I have been (and still am) “accidentally” touched. I always used to say, “Men respect beauty, but they do not respect sexy.” I always thought had I been beautiful, I’d have been admired from afar. Or had my “innards” been seen on the outside, I’d have been admired as intelligent and creative. But since I was/am curvy, considered a sex object, instead of respect/admiration, I received, well, disrespect!

    I thought it would stop once I reached my 50s but it has not – though it’s better. Part of what makes it better is I don’t tolerate it – I don’t believe in it as my total identity any more. I am not buying it even if others keep trying to sell it to me. Though, admittedly I still have my moments.

    I like to say, let them see the sex first and then I’ll kick their ass with my intelligence. I am often underestimated. Which, really, when you think about it, gives me the edge.

    Reply
    • I’m so sorry to hear that your beautiful curves have been a joke target, Kat. (ARGH!) Allowing others to carryon with the “humor” or giving the impression that we think it’s, God forbid, funny, is nearly as bad as telling sexist jokes, IMO. Your intolerance and attitude ROCK! And that intelligence sword is mighty powerful—your edge, for sure. 🙂

      Reply
  2. I love this post…I didn’t fully get it when I first saw it, as a big fan of self-deprecating humor. But what I’ve come to realize is that there’s a huge difference between poking fun at silly little things one does — life sucks if we can’t laugh at ourselves — and creating shame based on some part of what someone IS.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about sexist humor in general lately. There’s a post from around a year ago that I think gets to the heart of it: How to Make a Rape Joke.

    Basically, the point is that with sex-based (and, really, all) humor, the question is who the butt of the joke is. The rape jokes that make everyone upset target the woman, the victim, suggest that there’s something funny about being raped or the threat of being raped; the inoffensive ones are just as effective at making light of the day-to-day horrors we deal with or whatever, but the target of the joke is something other than the victim. It’s the (rich male and probably white) speaker, or the very ridiculousness of the idea that anyone could ever think rape is OK, and so on; never is there any suggestion that someone being raped was OK or funny.

    Might seem like a tangent, but I think it’s the same idea: with “blonde jokes”: the target is the woman (the “victim”), and the suggestion is that she’s somehow less valuable as a person because she’s a (certain “type” of) woman. Whereas a woman might poke fun at herself for showing up a day early to a party without that “blonde” element and be just as funny, and won’t be suggesting that it happened because she has blond hair and thus that there’s something intrinsically wrong with not only her but this whole other subset of women.

    Reply
    • And of course I don’t mean to equate getting raped with being a blonde, at all, hope nobody has a problem with my making that connection or thinks I’m putting them on the same level. Just think that in terms of “funny” vs. “offensive,” the same basic consideration applies, that the question in all humor should be whether you’re making a statement about culture or human nature or whatever rather than attacking a(n already disadvantaged) target.

      Reply
      • I appreciate that, Bill. Blonde women are absolutely the victim of blonde jokes. It’s incredible to me how many blondes (me, formerly, included) perpetuate the humor themselves. And it’s definitely one thing to point out a laughable truth about ourselves and society and to create and celebrate false ones, which is what all sexist and otherwise derogatory jokes typically do. Not funny, not true and not worth telling.

  3. Wait a second.

    You were on Leno?

    Reply
  4. Excellent blog, August! We’ve all either told, laughed at or received blonde jokes, but there’s really no place for messing with someone’s self-esteem. This is really well-written, with great examples and explanations throughout.

    Reply
  5. Such good points I’d never really thought about it. Being a red-head I was labeled differently and honestly got a lot of dates in high school because of the color of my hair. I am now wondering if I would have behaved differently or seen myself differently with those fiery red-head labels?

    Reply
    • Thanks for weighing in, Alica! The stereotypes about red and brunette hair can be equally damaging. I’m happy to hear that you haven’t bought into them.

      Reply
  6. Teasing is mean, and some people think it’s funny. The teaser enjoys seeing that hurt look in someone’s eyes after cracking their “joke.” Blondes, ethnic groups who are in the minority, you name it, all are sooner or later targets of cheap, hackneyed one-liners delivered by not-so-clever jokers who are having fun at another’s expense. My granddaughter is 16, has beautiful natural blond hair – movie star quality – and she died it black to shut people up. That’s bullying of the first order. Blonde jokes are like gross humor; they’re too easy. You get a reaction simply because of the subject matter. Unfunny, stupid people can then draw attention to themselves, and that’s what they really want when they go on the attack.

    Reply
    • This is so true. I tried to make a point that, like, the jokes can be just as funny without the “blonde” element. Except, I looked at some blonde jokes, and that’s not true because the assumption necessary in the “just as” is wrong. None of those jokes are funny, even at places like Comedy Central that generally know funny. The people that come up with them (and any other trait-based joke, whether based on sex or age or race or weight or whatever) are at the very bottom of the comedy barrel.

      Anyway, in THEORY, if you DO have a funny blonde joke, and your goal is to entertain rather than to put down, there’s absolutely no reason it has to be a blonde joke; a sound premise should be just as funny (funnier really) if it starts “you know, until recently I always thought…” rather than “what do blondes think….”

      Reply
      • Delivered in the right way, where everyone knows it’s gentle rib tickling, these jokes can be funny. But one has to be careful when dishing out humor – it can be offensive, even in an unintended way. If that’s what your looking for – roasts and that kind of thine – fine. There are other examples. But the primary thing with blonde jokes, Polish jokes, Jewish jokes, et al, is to hurt someone. To act superior to your victim, and enjoy their pain. One sure cure: leave and don’t come back. If it’s at work, make a complaint.

    • I’m so sorry that your granddaughter endured all of that, Rob. We shouldn’t have to alter our appearance for anyone.

      Excellent points. Blonde jokes really are a form of bullying. And much like bullying, it often derives from poor examples and insecurity. Women are also taught that “ditzy” is attractive–so sad.

      Reply
      • The “ditzy” thing, among others, dates back to the time when the physically bigger and stronger literally got to make all the rules. A large, strong man calls a physically over-matched woman names, what’s she gonna do about it? We’re still evolving as a race, as a culture. There are pockets of people who are above all that. People who post on your blog are; you attract good, nice people. (As I said once before, physical beauty only lasts a brief time. After that, it’s whaddya got? Not nice? No talent etc…See ya!) Off topic: I’ll be sending you a signed copy of my next novel, Dead Last, within a month.

  7. This is a great commentary, August. I actually found myself saying “That was so blonde of me!” this weekend after years of saying from when my hair was actually blonde. It felt passe.

    Reply
  8. August, this is beautiful. As are you. I love your smarts and how you really research things and come away with such eloquent advice. I needed to hear this today. As I get closer to 30 my body isn’t handling life the same way it use to and I’m not dealing with it well. I needed a reminder to just find balance and do what makes me happy for me and no one else. Thank you. *hugs*

    Reply
    • I’m so touched by those takeaways, Jess. You’re one beautifully insightful woman, which is one reason your 30s will probably ROCK! I’m loving them big time—far more than my 20s. Lots of love!

      Reply
  9. A few years ago I realized the damage certain “jokes” can do. Being short, part Asian and female I’ve heard a ton of jokes that have hit on each of those categories. It didn’t phase me at the time, but then, like you, I started noticing the “blond moment” “senior moment” type comments. It struck me that by allowing those kinds of jokes two things happen. There are people who start to believe that there’s truth behind them…and worse, there are those who know better and choose to use it as a crutch/excuse for not trying to live up to their potential. Like you, I opted out of that program.

    Reply
  10. I don’t really care for jokes that are aimed at any color, be it hair or skin. I’ve had dark hair all my life…and I take offense at ‘brunette jokes.’ I will admit that I have ‘airhead’ moments, and I do. Often.

    That aside, I think a lot of women like being seen as sex objects. I joined a game site a few years ago because I love Mah Jong (or in this case, Mah Jongg Dark 3D). When I joined, the site was just a message board kind of thing with games. I went to play the game, but sometimes when I’m bored, I’ll read what the members are posting. Apparently most people when to hook up with someone…or anyone. I’ve been stunned to see how many women take pictures of themselves showing off their chest. One even took a photo in the bathtub, not showing anything she shouldn’t…but enough that I was shocked – and the guys were over the moon.

    Everywhere you look, it seems like so many are dressing to be noticed…sexually. We might have come a long way, baby…but too many women seem to like the old standards. Maybe they need to come here to let them know there’s more to them than that.

    Reply
  11. As the mom of two very bright blondes, I have to agree with you. My teenager is smart enough to quip back when someone makes a blonde joke directed at her intelligence. She’s smarter than they are and shuts them down with logic. I’m so proud of her! Thanks, August!

    Reply
  12. Fantastic blast from the past, August!

    Reply
  13. I grew up believing “blondes have more fun” because of some dumb hair color commercial. So I envied them. Until my blonde best friend set me straight. She said she hated the attention because it wasn’t about her, it was about her hair color and figure (she was also quite curvy).

    Years later I got it that everyone needs to be who they are, period. And any joke, commercial, etc. that promotes stereotyping is unhealthy for society.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not putting down coloring one’s hair. I do it. Why? Because auburn hair complements my skin tone better than my natural dark brunette did. So I actually feel more like ‘me’ as a redhead.

    Reply
  14. I was blond as a kid – didn’t go dark until I was a teenager.

    It’s amazing the degree of stereotyping society creates through these cultural tropes, like the ‘dumb blonde’ idea (for which there is absolutely no empirical basis I am aware of).. I suspect such ideas gain power at a wider social level because, at that level, society accepts what it is fed. I think it’s important we don’t get suckered in by such misconceptions. The reality? For me, at least – people are people; we should not classify, pre-judge, categorise or otherwise bias our thoughts either from appearance – or worse, from what we’re told appearance is meant to signify.

    Reply
    • Well said, Matthew. I couldn’t agree more. Observing physicality is one thing; basing our perception of another’s value or intelligence is something else entirely.

      Reply
  15. I understand. Some of the most wonderful women I know are blonde.
    Men who are balding, like myself, are stereo-typed often, too. I had a person tell me once in a note a comment about how most women don’t care for balding men. The more I think on that the more I want to shake my head – as if balding means much of anything.
    Scott

    Reply
    • Exactly, Scott! The state of our hair correlates to our self-worth about as much as our sock color does. People who love us for who we are are the ones we should hang with, IMO.

      Reply
      • I am working on finding those people. A lot of them are bloggers and, as you know, we all have a different special relationship.

  16. Love Dolly Parton: “I’m not offended by all the dumb blonde jokes because I know I’m not dumb — and I’m not blonde either.” I’ve personally never met a dumb blonde — all my blonde girlfriends are hugely witty and intelligent, so I’ve never really understood the stereotype. Thought-provoking post, August!

    Reply
    • That’s so lovely to hear, Debra. Thanks! Dolly is one spunky lady. 🙂 Artificially blonde or not, she makes women look authentically good.

      Reply
  17. Oh… I guess I’ve been proving at times that someone who’s trying his wit against me won’t wait long for his answer. I most of the times I do have a good laugh at the end…
    But then, I have to admit, at times I have been playing MY blonde card with success… there was this one time when I got stopped by the police for speeding. They were two policemen on bikes, playing really hard Guys… I was spending some time in Florida with friends and had to hurry meeting them… I drove a rental car… wore sun glasses and felt numb… I knew I was in a hurry… *sigh*
    The cops started with: “Listen Ma’am… you were definitely too fast….”
    My accent got really bad when replying… “But offizzer, whoere I kome from, we kan drive 120 Kilomeeeeeters poer hour.”…
    The poor Guys ended with: “… and you promise to pay attention to the white signs with the black numbers that do exactly tell you how many MILES, not kilometers you are allowed to drive.” – “Yes, offizzer… I promise.”
    I got away that day…
    Do I think it’s good as a blonde to be reduced to my hair color?
    No, I don’t.
    I don’t like either, as a curvy girl to be reduced to my breasts…
    But then: once in a while being blonde can come in handy…

    Reply
  18. Kourtney Heintz

     /  July 2, 2013

    Loved this post a year ago. Glad you reposted before you did your one year later post. 🙂 Still as important as it was a year ago.

    Reply
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