Why are we told blondes are dumb? Or have more fun? Or are preferred, as Anita Loos once said, by gentlemen? Why, indeed, are people generally barraged with stereotypes about body shape, form or looks? Or attributed behaviours that are supposed to follow a particular physical characteristic? There is no actual truth to any of these tropes. Yet socially imposed appearance ideals have been part of human societies through history. Often as prelude to the targets being convinced to buy some product that will fix or produce the look. It leverages from a raft of factors, including pressure to conform and anxieties over self-image, and is why men spent up large on wigs and women accepted being crushed in corsets, way back when. And it s gained industrial dimension these days thanks to the way it s been commercialised aбcollision between industrial-age economics and the anxieties of the psyche. These days the pressure is mostly directed at women, but men get it too witness the hair restorers and muscle building products on the market. And in past centuries I m thinking the dandified eighteenth in particular it was men who led the image charge, primping and preening themselves in ridiculous ways. As far as I can tell, today s dumb blonde trope epitomising the phenomenon of socially imposed image and expected behaviour emerged in its current form during the mid-twentieth century, building on earlier ideas but pushed on the back of the movie promotional machine. It was popularised by Hollywood stars from the early twentieth century, starting with Jean Harlow, but epitomised by Marilyn Monroe, who wasn t naturally blonde (hydrogen peroxide isб
rocket fuel! ) Б and became both victim and a exploiter of the machine. Blonde sold. Dumbness sold, particularly when run for laughs. Monroe played the part to a T in Howard Hawks comedies, presenting child-like innocence and vulnerability over an aura of seething availability. The mix keyed into the male psyche in fundamental ways. And all this was set in a mid-twentieth century world that by today s standards was awash with sexism.
Check out The Flintstones or Bewitched. Monroe was a master at the game Б Norma Jean Baker БplayingБ Marilyn Monroe, perpetuating marketing imagery. The legend was sealed by her death Б an event that transfixed two generations and was not superseded as regular magazine fodder until Princess Diana Б another blonde Б died in that Paris motor accident. By the time Monroe was flourishing, the notion of dumb blonde had б left the context of movie marketing and become a truth. Blondes, it seemed, were БdumbБ Б an epithet also extended to fair haired men, the Бdumb blond oxБ image. None of it had any basis in reality. I know. As a kid I had fair hair, but that didn t make me stupid. I could already read, write, do arithmetic and so on when I went to school. This was an age, alas, when both ability and left-handedness were punishable offences in primary schools, but I at least avoided the epithet Snow, the derogatory army term that teachers of the day invariably gave to fair-haired boys. Needless to say, the specifics of the image we re told bestows status or behaviours tells us an awful lot about the nature of the society we live in. Can we do anything about tropes of this kind? For myself, I think humour is as powerful a tool for reversing stereotypes as it is for perpetuating them. IБd reverse the jokes Б spin them back on themselves. б ItБs time to turn the tables on negative social tropes, for us to think laterally and lampoon the whole phenomenon underscoring just how dumb these tropes actually are. Here s what I mean. ItБs severely geeky and I didn t make it up. Be warned. БTwo male mathematicians are having lunch in a restaurant. One bets the other that the waitress, whoБs blonde, won t be able to solve the differential equation y=2x+1. Then he disappears to the menБs room. The second mathematician calls the waitress over and says БWhen my colleague asks you a question, tell him the answerБs y=x exp2 +x.
Just that. OK? Б She nods. A few minutes later the first mathematician returns and asks the question. The waitress smiles. БWhy, itБs y=x exp2 +x,Б she explains, and walks off. As she departs she adds: БPlus a constant. ББ I am sure everybody has their own stories about being classified by imagery Б and the injustice of it. IБd love to hear from you. Copyright б Matthew Wright 2013 ( Confession when I was a teenager, and still fair-haired, I failed a maths exam by NOT putting a constant at the end of my differentiations. Sigh. ) COLUMBUS, Ohio Б The Бdumb blondeБ stereotype is simply wrong, according to a new national study of young baby boomers. The study of 10,878 Americans found that white women who said their natural hair color was blonde had an average IQ score within 3 points of brunettes and those with red or black hair. While jokes about blondes may seem harmless to some, it can have real-world implications, said, author of the study and a research scientist at The Ohio State University. БResearch shows that stereotypes often have an impact on hiring, promotions and other social experiences,Б Zagorsky said. БThis study provides compelling evidence that there shouldnБt be any discrimination against blondes based on their intelligence. Б The study found that the average IQ of blondes was actually slightly higher than those with other hair colors, but that finding isnБt statistically significant, said Zagorsky, who works in the universityБs (CHRR). БI donБt think you can say with certainty that blondes are smarter than others, but you can definitely say they are not any dumber. Б The results for blond white men were similar Б they also had IQs roughly equal to men with other hair colors. The was published last week in the journal. Data from the study came from the (NLSY79), a national survey of people who were between 14 and 21 years old when they were first interviewed in 1979.
The NLSY79 is conducted by CHRR for the. In 1980, participants in the NLSY79 took the, or AFQT, which is used by the Pentagon to determine the intelligence of all recruits. The overall AFQT score is based on word knowledge, paragraph comprehension, math knowledge and arithmetic reasoning. In 1985, all participants were asked, БWhat is your natural hair color? Б To eliminate any bias in the IQ tests caused by ethnic and racial differences, Zagorsky dropped all African Americans and Hispanics from the analysis. The resulting findings showed that blonde-haired white women had an average IQ of 103. 2, compared to 102. 7 for those with brown hair, 101. 2 for those with red hair and 100. 5 for those with black hair. Blonde women were slightly more likely to be in the highest IQ category than those with other hair colors, and slightly less likely to be in the lowest IQ category. The study canБt say whether there are any genetic relationships between hair color and intelligence, but Zagorsky did find one fact that could at least partially explain why blondes showed slightly higher intelligence: They grew up in homes with more reading material than did those with any other hair color. БIf blondes have any slight advantage, it may simply be that they were more likely to grow up in homes with more intellectual stimulation,Б he said. Zagorsky noted that more women than expected in the NLSY79 reported that they were blonde. In the survey, 20. 7 percent of white women reported being blonde, compared to only 17. 1 percent of men. Assuming that hair color is not related to gender and that men were less likely to color their hair, Zagorsky said the results suggest that about 3. 5 percent of women reported their natural hair color as blonde when it was not. Zagorsky said he couldnБt say for sure how that may have affected the results, but he said the major finding was almost certainly still true: Blondes could hold their own intellectually with those of any other hair color.