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?