Blonde versus brunette rivalry
One aspect of how women are portrayed in popular culture is a purported rivalry between blondes and brunettes. The rivalry is a cultural phenomenon found in many countries that have a significant blonde population to include: Argentina, Austria, Chile, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom. In the United States, evidence of a blonde vs. brunette rivalry is common in the popular media and especially in television and movies.
An example of a competitive event are the blonde vs. brunette chess matches that began in 2011 as part of the World Chess Tournament held in Moscow. The match was hosted by the Botvinnik Central Chess Club and featured two teams of young girls, blondes dressed in light colors and brunettes dressed in dark colors. All of the contestants had to prove a degree of expertise to participate. The 2011 match, which was the first in the series, was won by the brunettes. The 2012 re-match was won by the blondes who defeated the brunettes, 36.5-24.5. A third blonde vs. brunette chess match, also held at the Central Chess Club on April 1, 2013, resulted in a tie score.
"It was April 1st and the world’s top chess players were involved in the thrilling finale of the Candidates Tournament in London. But at the same time the Central Chess Club in Moscow was the venue of fierce fighting between Blondes and Brunettes who set out to determine the prevailing color. This was the third match of the ladies. Two years ago Brunettes won, but a year later the Blondes struck back. The third tournament was seen as an opportunity to claim the supremacy of one color over another. The girls were motivated, exchanging punches round after round, but when the dust has cleared the overall score was a 50:50 tie! The claim of supremacy will be postponed until the next meeting."
The existence of the blonde vs. brunette rivalry in American society dates back to at least 1875 when the first female professional baseball players were assigned to teams according to their hair color. Baseball historian John Thorn notes that blonde and brunette baseball teams barnstormed the country in the late 1800s. A 1924 newspaper article referenced a female swimming meet and listed, among the many events, a "blonde vs. brunette" relay race, that was "Won by the blondes." A more contemporary example is the gridiron football game called blondes vs. brunettes powderpuff football, a charity event that raises money for the Alzheimer's Association. The annual contests were started in the fall of 2005, in Washington D.C. The games have received considerable publicity to include feature articles in The Washington Post and are now played in 16 cities around the United States.
In some cases, blondes and brunettes on the same team may compete against each other. Anson Dorrance the women’s soccer coach at the University of North Carolina is known for dividing his team into blondes and brunettes and then having them compete against each other. Losers have been forced to stand in front of the goal facing the rear of the net while the winners take penalty shots against their posteriors. Dorrance, in his years of coaching female athletes, claims to have learned that women are motivated differently from males and that his “blondes vs. brunettes drill” worked with his female team because it was a “matter of pride.” 
In the media and entertainment industry
The most enduring blonde vs. brunette rivalry in American culture may exist in the comic book industry where Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge have been engaged in a mostly friendly competition for over 70 years. The teenage girls form two-thirds of a blonde vs. brunette love triangle that is completed by their high school classmate and object of their affection, Archie Andrews. As Archie’s next door neighbor in the fictional town of Riverdale, the blonde and blue-eyed Betty Cooper is portrayed in the comic book series as a wholesome, popular, middle class girl. Her high school friend and chief competitor for Archie's affection is the vain, spoiled, upper class brunette Veronica Lodge. Despite their rivalry they remain good friends. Other comics have used a similar construct where two girls compete for the affections of a young man and the blonde girl is the "good girl, while her brunette rival is the bad girl." The comic book industry's blonde vs. brunette rivalry over a male has been replicated in other forms of media, including television.
In a November 16, 2011 article titled "Blondes vs. Brunettes: TV Shows with Betty and Veronica-Style Love Triangles", media critic Tucker Cummings cited several TV shows that featured a "classic war between blonde and brunette love interests." Typically, she wrote, "... the blonde (is) stable, and typifies the 'girl next door,' while (the) ... brunette, is haughty, and a bit more exotic." Shows cited by Cummings that feature blondes and brunettes competing for a man include:
- The Office, where lighter haired Pam Beesly competes with brunette Karen Filipelli for the attention of Jim Halpert.
- Suits, where blonde Jenny Griffith competes with brunette Rachel Zane for the attention of Mike Ross.
- Dexter, where blonde Rita Bennent and brunette Lila West compete for the affections of Dexter Morgan, the main character.
Three's Company, an ABC sitcom that ran from 1977-1984 also featured a blonde and brunette triangle. The blonde, Chrissy Snow, was played by Suzanne Somers and the brunette, Janet Wood, was played by Joyce DeWitt. The man in the middle, Jack Tripper, was played by John Ritter. Somers and DeWitt were continually faced with media stories that described both an on and off-screen "rivalry" between the two co-stars. Both women repeatedly denied the stories and attempted to dispel "...the myth that women, especially blondes and brunettes, can’t get along in Hollywood."
At the same time ABC was running the Three's Company sitcom, it was also running Dynasty, a night time soap opera. The show starred John Forsythe as Blake Carrington, an oil tycoon who was caught in the middle of a triangle that featured his wife Krystal Carrington, the blonde Linda Evans and his ex-wife, brunette Alexis Carrington Colby Joan Collins. During the show's 10 year run the women had a number of fights. The spectacle of two middle aged woman engaged in a catfight during prime time boosted the show's ratings considerably. Feminist author and cultural critic Susan J. Douglas believed that the shows emphasis on the male lead character, highlighted by women fighting over him, confirmed the traditional patriarchal role of men in society. Notwithstanding, Douglas and other feminists were not only huge fans of the show but were captivated by the sight two women engaged in a catfight. Douglas even suggested that in popular culture, the "purest" form of a catfight was between a blonde and a brunette.
"Dynasty upped the ante ... On one side was the blonde stay at home Krystal Carrington ... in the other corner was the most delicious bitch ever seen on television, the dark haired, scheming, career vixen, Alexis Carrington Colby ... Krystal just wanted to make her husband happy; Alexis wanted to control the world. How could you not love a catfight between these two?"
During Dynasty's run, Collins co-hosted Blondes vs. Brunettes for ABC. The show featured a number of skits that gently poked fun at popular culture's blonde vs. brunette rivalry. The final skit featured Collins and co-host Morgan Fairchild in their elderly years offering a toast to each other.
Pitting blondes and brunettes against each other, especially as romantic rivals, is a Hollywood technique that extends back to at least the early 1930s. In a 1932 interview with an Australian newspaper, Hollywood director Dorothy Arzner stated that lead women and women in supporting roles must always have different hair color to accentuate the contrasting beauty of each type. Arzner also stated that blondes were usually cast as the fickle types while brunettes are cast as the more serious and emotional types.
Arraying blondes against brunettes, is not unique to the American film industry. The British film company Hammer Films produced a 1967 movie that took the blonde vs. brunette concept to an extreme. The film Slave Girls (also released under the title Prehistoric Women) starred Martine Beswick in the role of Kari, the queen of a tribe of brunettes who had enslaved a tribe of blondes. Their existence was disrupted by the arrival of a male explorer who discovered the two tribes by means of a time portal. Witnessing the brunette’s cruel treatment of the blondes, he rejected Beswick's advances and was subsequently enslaved himself. He soon discovered a group of men who were also held in bondage. He eventually led a rebellion where the blondes overwhelmed the brunettes, Beswick was killed, and the explorer managed to escape back through the portal. The production has been described as one of the most bizarre films ever released.
"An eccentric and unloved Hammer film that uses a blondes vs. brunettes scenario." -- The Hammer Vault
"Idiotic Hammer Film in which the Great White Hunter stumbles into a lost Amazon civilization where blondes have been enslaved by brunettes. Honest! Nevertheless it has developed a cult following due to Beswick’s commanding, sensual performance as the tribe’s leader." -- Leonard Maltin's 2010 Movie Guide
Les Gladiatrices: Blondes vs. Brunes is a 2004 DVD based on a French reality TV program that features 10 young bikini-clad women wrestling each other in oil. The women are divided into two teams, five blondes and five brunettes. They are described on the producers fan page as “The most beautiful women on TV in their ultimate challenge" who engage in competitive wrestling matches that are "… real fighting, not faked.” All of the women are established TV actresses. The brunettes win the event by a score of 19-3.
A similar event leveraging the blonde vs. brunette rivalry can be found in this video description from an Austrian company that specializes in women’s fighting:
"Imagine if the women in your office were divided into two rival teams: blondes and brunettes, who decided to settle their differences in a series of catfights, first in one-piece swimsuits and then in their office blouses and skirts. The fantasy comes true on video! The eight girls meet in a deserted basement. The office manager keeps score, because there is a prize for the winning team at the end of the tournament. There are no time limits: the first to three falls is the winner. Because each girl must fight again, a quick result is in her interest. Attacks are fast and merciless as their team-mates cheer them on."
Although many countries have used the blonde vs. brunette construct in the media and entertainment industries, the French daily newspaper Le Monde believes that the phenomenon is more prevalent in the United States. In a 2012 article, Le Monde argued that American TV has almost, without exception, characterized blonde women as having the positive values of purity, goodness, and sincerity, frequently at the expense of their brunette counterparts. The article provided several examples:
- Bewitched – Samantha, a blonde witch who is the perfect hostess and wife. In a comic twist the actress playing Samantha also plays her dark haired cousin Serena, who embodies mostly negative qualities.
- Dynasty – Blonde Krystal pitted against brunette Alexis.
- V – Both the original series in 1984 and the remake in 2009 featured an intelligent, humanistic blonde battling a brunette who was the leader of the alien cannibals.
The article argues that in recent years, the American TV industry has begun to move away from the positive blonde stereotype and has begun to portray brunettes in a more favorable manner.
As part of an advertisement campaign
Advertisements have also used the blondes vs. brunettes construct to sell merchandise. An example is the British-Dutch firm Unilever’s Sunsilk Color Showdown advertisements that tout a "war" between blondes and brunettes. Although Unilever's web site colorshowdown.com is no longer active, the commercials are still available on YouTube and other media sites.
"In order to answer the age-old question of who is better: blondes or brunettes?, Sunsilk created the Color Showdown, a campaign to ignite conversation about hair color rivalry while launching our newest line of products: the Sunsilk Color Collections."
Accompanying the ad campaign was an on-line poll sponsored by Sunsilk that asked 4,000 men to express their opinions about the differences between blondes and brunettes. Despite the fact that the advertisement campaign was intended to amuse, some found the approach sexist and the campaign generated discussion on various blog and web sites.
A more recent example of using blondes vs. brunettes as part of an advertisement campaign is the 2012 "For Eyes Optical" advertisement titled "No Matter How You See it, See it for Less." The advertisements feature people arguing points of view.
"The new commercials from For Eyes Optical's long-time agency, DeVito/Verdi, show a sparse debate stage where two differing points of view are monotonously and succinctly volleyed back and forth. In one spot, two Europeans go back and forth on their beachwear preference for the man-kini or the thong. Another spot shows two voluptuous women simply stating their hair color in the debate as to which one is superior."
The ad features two young women seated at tables and includes a large projection screen in the background that showed the title of the debate: "Blondes vs. Brunettes." The debate itself simply consists of the blonde saying "Blondes" and the brunette saying "Brunettes." The debate ends with the brunette tricking the blonde into saying "Brunette."
A 2006 advertisement for a Scrabble tournament held in France adapted a theatrical poster from the 1957 movie Reform School Girl. The original poster featured a blonde and brunette fighting over a pair of scissors. The Scrabble adaptation used the same image and included a French version of "Blonde vs. Brunette" spelled out in Scrabble tiles. The slogan read, "In Scrabble anything is possible. Grand National Tournament September 23, 2006."
The internet-based Russian matchmaking company Anastasia has used the idea of "Blondes vs. Brunettes" to help sell their services to men. Their 2012 internet advertisement campaign, which was repeated in 2013, asked men to vote for their favorite women: blondes or brunettes. An image associated with the campaign shows a blonde and a brunette wearing boxing gloves.
Research and studies
A number of studies have been conducted over the years to measure society’s attitude toward blondes and brunettes. Many of the studies have shown that men, especially those of European descent, find blonde women more attractive than brunettes, redheads, or women of other races who had darker hair, eyes, or complexion. Other studies have supported the findings by examining behavior shown in public settings. As an example, a Cornell University study showed that blonde waitresses receive larger tips than brunettes, even when controlling for other variables such as age, breast size, height and weight.
In a 2012 interview with NBC News, Dr. Lisa Walker, Sociology Department Chair at the University of North Carolina said that hair color "absolutely" plays a role in the way people are treated and claimed that numerous studies had shown that blonde women were paid higher salaries than other women.
"Most people would tell you, if asked, that it doesn't matter what your hair color is. What style your hair is in. They would say whatever is best for your face," explained Walker. "But from a very young age these stereotypes appear. In cartoons and children's programming, we see the way women are portrayed based on their hair. The associations continue through childhood into adulthood.”
The local NBC news affiliate in Charlotte tested Walker’s theory by asking a natural blonde to walk around the Charlotte business area, drop a scarf and keep going. The volunteer did it 20 times as a blonde and then 20 times wearing a brunette wig. As a blonde, every time she dropped the scarf a bystander picked it up for her, but when wearing a dark haired wig, people simply mentioned that the scarf was dropped or ignored it altogether.
A well publicized 2011 University of Westminster study evaluated how men perceived women who entered a London nightclub as a blonde or a brunette. The study, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, used the same woman and had her dye her hair a different color for each visit.
After spending some time in the club, she departed and then researchers entered to club and interviewed the men who had engaged her in conversation. The results showed that, as a blonde, she was more likely to be approached for conversation than as a brunette. However, when the researchers interviewed the men who spoke to her, the men rated her more intelligent and attractive as a brunette than as a blonde. Many news organizations covered the story as evidence that blondes were not preferred over brunettes.
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