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Blonde stereotype

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Stereotypes of blonde women were exemplified by the public image of Marilyn Monroe.

Blonde stereotypes are stereotypes of blonde-haired people. Sub-types of this stereotype include the "blonde bombshell" and the "dumb blonde". Blondes have historically been portrayed as physically attractive, though often perceived as less intelligent compared to their brunette counterparts. There are many blonde jokes made on these premises. However, research has shown that blonde women are not less intelligent than women with other hair colors.[1][2]

The blonde bombshell is one of the most notable and consistently popular female character types in cinema.[3] Many Hollywood celebrities have used it to their advantage, including Jean Harlow, Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Brigitte Bardot and Mamie Van Doren.[4]



There are several aspects to the stereotypical perception of blonde-haired women.[5]

In contemporary popular culture, it is often stereotyped that men find blonde women more physically attractive than women with other hair colors.[6] For example, Anita Loos popularized this idea in her 1925 novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.[6] Blondes are often assumed to have more fun; for example, in a Clairol commercial for hair colorant, they use the phrase "Is it true blondes have more fun?"[6] Some women have reported they feel other people expect them to be more fun-loving after having lightened their hair.[6] In much of the Americas, the blonde stereotype is associated with being less serious or less intelligent.[6] However, an analysis of IQ data carried out by the National Longitudinal Surveys on a survey database of American "baby boomers" (NLSY79 data), the natural blonde women in this population category (excluding African American and Hispanic persons) have a slightly higher mean IQ than brunettes, black and red-haired women.[1][2]

On the other hand, a blonde woman is often perceived as making little use of intelligence and as a "woman who relies on her looks rather than on intelligence."[7] At the same time, people tend to presume that blondes are less serious-minded and less intelligent than brunettes, as reflected in "blonde jokes".[8] The root of this notion may be traced to Europe, with the "dumb blonde" in question being a French courtesan named Rosalie Duthé, satirised in a 1775 play Les Curiosités de la Foire for her habit of pausing a long time before speaking, appearing not only stupid but literally dumb (meaning mute).[8] The latter stereotype of "dumb blonde"[9] is exploited in blonde jokes. In Brazil, this extends to blonde women being disparaged, as reflected in sexist jokes, as sexually licentious.[10]

Alfred Hitchcock preferred to cast blonde women for major roles in his films as he believed that the audience would suspect them the least, comparing them to "virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints", hence the term "Hitchcock blonde".[11] This stereotype became so ingrained that it spawned counter-narratives, such as in the 2001 film Legally Blonde, in which Reese Witherspoon succeeds at Harvard Law School despite biases against her beauty and blonde hair,[6] and terms such as cookie-cutter blonde (CCB), implying standardized blonde looks and standard perceived social and intelligence characteristics of a blonde. Many actors and actresses in Latin America and Hispanic United States have blonde hair and blue eyes and/or pale skin,[12] such as Christina Aguilera and Shakira.


Grace Kelly, an ice-cold blonde, in To Catch a Thief (1955)

Annette Kuhn divides blonde stereotypes in cinema into three categories in The Women's Companion to International Film:[13]

In cognitive linguistics, the stereotype uses expressivity of words to affect an emotional response which determines a gender role of a certain kind.[15][16] In feminist critique, stereotypes like the "blonde bombshell" or the "dumb blonde" are seen as negative images that undermine the power of women.[17]

Blonde bombshell

Jean Harlow, the original blonde bombshell, in Riffraff (1936)

The blonde bombshell is a gender stereotype that connotes a very physically attractive woman with blonde hair.[18][19] A review of English language tabloids from the United Kingdom has shown it to be a recurring blonde stereotype, along with "busty blonde" and "blonde babe".[20]

Jean Harlow started the stereotype with her film Bombshell of 1933.[21][22] Following her, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and Mamie Van Doren helped establish the stereotype typified by a combination of curvaceous physique, very light-colored hair and a perceived lack of intelligence.[23] During the 1950s, the blonde bombshell started to replace the Femme fatale as the mainstream media stereotype.[24] Marjorie Rosen, a historian of women in films, says of the two top blonde bombshells of the time that "Mae West, firing off vocal salvos with imperious self-assurance, and Jean Harlow, merchandising her physical allure for the masses, transformed the idea of passive female sexuality into an aggressive statement of fact".[25]

Dumb blonde

Jayne Mansfield in Kiss Them for Me. She modeled her image as a highly memorable "dumb blonde" persona.[26][27][28]

The notion of "dumb blonde" has been a topic of academic research reported in scholarly articles and university symposia, which tend to confirm that many people hold to the perception that light-haired women are less intelligent than women with dark hair.[8] It is believed the first recorded "dumb blonde" was an 18th-century blonde French courtesan named Rosalie Duthé whose reputation of being beautiful and dumb, even in the literal sense of not talking much, inspired a play about her called Les Curiosités de la Foire (Paris 1775).[6]

While there is no evidence that suggests that blondes are less intelligent than other people, it has been suggested earlier that the state of being blonde probably creates opportunities that do not require investing in education and training. A possible earlier hypothetical explanation is that physically attractive women have less pressing incentives to cultivate and demonstrate their intellect to ensure their future, since physically attractiveness is an asset, or correlatively that intelligent women have less pressing incentives to dye their hair to a presumed attractive color. The purported validity of this explanation is purely hypothetical and has been corroborated earlier by its applicability to a similar pervasiveness of the "dumb athlete" stereotype.[29] At the same time, newer data have shown that natural blondes have the highest IQ among white women, which is already explained by the scientists as possible greater incentive to intellectual activity in the place where the blonde grew up, which directly refutes the earlier suggestion that blondes have less intellectual incentives.[30] The dumb blonde stereotype (and the associated cognitive bias) may have some negative consequences and it can also damage a blonde person's career prospects.[31]

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925) by Anita Loos originated as a comic novel and explores the appeal of blonde women. It spawned a musical on Broadway, and two films released in 1928 and 1953. The Encyclopedia of Hair describes Marilyn Monroe's blonde role in the second film as that of "a fragile woman who relied on her looks rather than on intelligence—what some people refer to as 'dumb blonde'."[7] At the same time, in the film she demonstrates a certain amount of wit regarding her life position expressed in the song[32] "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend". Madonna emulated that screen-persona of Monroe in her music video Material Girl.[16]

Many blonde actresses have played stereotypical "dumb blondes", including Monroe (dyed blonde),[33] Judy Holliday,[8] Jayne Mansfield (dyed blonde),[34][8] Carol Wayne and Goldie Hawn. Goldie Hawn is best known as the giggling "dumb blonde", stumbling over her lines, especially when she introduced Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In "News of the Future".[8][6] In the American sitcom Three's Company the blonde girl (originally Chrissy, played by Suzanne Somers, and later Cindy and Terri) is sweet and naïve, while the brunette (Janet, played by Joyce DeWitt) is smart.[8]

Country music star Dolly Parton who recorded a song called "Dumb Blonde", famously said that dumb blonde jokes about her do not offend her because, "I know I am not dumb, and I am not blonde."[35]

Blonde jokes


There is a category of jokes called "blonde jokes" that employs the dumb blonde stereotype.[36] It overlaps at times with other jokes that portray the subject of the joke as promiscuous and/or stupid.[36][37] Some blonde jokes rely on sexual humour to portray or stereotype their subjects as promiscuous.[38] Many of these are rephrased sorority girl or Essex girl jokes,[39] much as other jokes about dumb blondes are based on long-running ethnic jokes. Many of these jokes are mere variants on traditional ethnic jokes or jests about other identifiable groups (such as Italian jokes involving Carabinieri, Sardarji jokes or Pathan jokes). Similar jokes about stereotyped minorities have circulated since the seventeenth century with only the wording and targeted groups changed.[39]

Blonde jokes have been criticized as sexist by several authors, as most blondes in these jokes are female, although male variations also exist.[40] In fact, dumb blonde jokes are overwhelmingly female-specific: according to an extensive search in various publications and on the Internet, about 63% of dumb blonde jokes are directed exclusively at women (compared to less than 5% that directly referenced dumb blonde men).[41] Research indicates that because of this, men report being amused by blonde jokes significantly more than women do.[37] The fact that most of these jokes target the invariably dim-witted, and sexually promiscuous, women makes them even more sexist.[38] In the 20th century, a class of meta-jokes about blondes (i.e. jokes about blonde jokes) has emerged. In a typical plot of this type, a blonde complains about the unfairness of the stereotype propagated by blonde jokes, with a punch line actually reinforcing the stereotype.[42]

Blondes versus brunettes

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes starred Marilyn Monroe (left) as the blonde and Jane Russell (right) as her wise brunette friend.[8]

In a 16 November 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",[43] including 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), and Dexter (where blonde Rita Bennent and brunette Lila West compete for the affections of Dexter Morgan, the main character).[43] Typically, she wrote, "... the blonde (is) stable, and typifies the 'girl next door,' while (the) ... brunette, is haughty, and a bit more exotic."[43] In Archie comics, Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge have been engaged in a mostly friendly competition for over 70 years.[44]

A number of studies have been conducted over the years to measure society's attitude toward blondes and brunettes. Wortham, et al. have shown that more men find brunettes more physically attractive.[45] [46] 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.[47]

Team Blonde at the 2011 Blondes vs. Brunettes Powder Puff Football Game in Washington D.C.

In a 2012 interview with NBC News, 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.[48] In a study by Diana J. Kyle and Heike I. M. Mahler (1996), the researchers asked subjects to evaluate photographs of the same woman with "natural" (not dyed) looking brown, red, and blonde hair in the context of a job application for an accounting position.[49] The researchers found that the blonde-haired applicant was rated as significantly less capable than her brunette counterpart. In addition, participants designated the female applicant's starting salary as significantly lower when she was depicted as a blonde than when she was shown with brown hair.[49]

A study that looked at the CEOs of the Financial Times Stock Exchange's (FTSE) top 500 companies investigated how hair color could be a potential barrier to professional success.[41] In another study by Brian Bates, two sets of MBA graduates were given the same Curriculum vitae of the same women split between two sets of attached photos - blonde and brunette. The brunette was considered more for a managerial position and for a higher salary.[50] A 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.[51] 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 physically attractive as a brunette than as a blonde.[52]

Counter representation


At the same time, there are many examples where the stereotype is exploited only to combat it.[8] The film Legally Blonde starring Reese Witherspoon featured the stereotype as a centrepiece of its plot. However, the protagonist turns out to be very intelligent and is shown to have been underachieving due to society's low expectations of her.[53]

Singer Dolly Parton, aware of this occasional characterization of her, addressed it in her 1967 hit "Dumb Blonde". Parton's lyrics challenged the stereotype, stating "just because I'm blonde, don't think I'm dumb 'cause this dumb blonde ain't nobody's fool". Parton has said she was not offended by "all the dumb-blonde jokes because I know I'm not dumb. I'm also not blonde."[54]

The author of the comic strip Blondie, Chic Young, starting with "Dumb Dora", gradually transformed the titular character into a smart, hard-working, family-oriented woman.[55][56]

See also



  1. ^ a b Jay L. Zagorsky, "Are Blondes Really Dumb?", Economics Bulletin 36(1):401-410 · March 2016
  2. ^ a b "Are blondes actually dumb?" by Jay L. Zagorsky
  3. ^ Ed Sikov, Film Studies: An Introduction, page 134, Columbia University Press, 2009, ISBN 9780231142939
  4. ^ Stephanie Ann Smith, Household Words, page 76, University of Minnesota Press, 2006, ISBN 9780816645534
  5. ^ Hornaday, Ann (4 May 2014) "In Praise of the Dumb Blonde" The Washington Post, page E14. Retrieved 4 May 2014 [1]
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Victoria Sherrow. Encyclopedia of hair: a cultural history. Page 149
  7. ^ a b Encyclopedia of Hair, p. 255
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Encyclopedia of Hair, pp. 149-151
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  10. ^ Revista Anagrama, Universidade de São Paulo, Stereotypes of women in blonde jokes pp. 6-8, version 1, edition 2, 2007
  11. ^ Allen, Richard (2007). Hitchcock's Romantic Irony. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-13574-0.
  12. ^ *Quinonez, Ernesto (19 June 2003). "Y Tu Black Mama Tambien". Newsweek. Retrieved 2 May 2008.
  13. ^ Annette Kuhn, The Women's Companion to International Film, page 47, University of California Press, 1994, ISBN 978-0-520-08879-5
  14. ^ Chapman, James (2017). Hitchcock and the Spy Film. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 54. Carroll was the archetypal 'Hitchcock blonde' – the first in a lineage that would also include Grace Kelly, Eva Marie Saint, Kim Novak and Tippi Hedren
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  56. ^ Blondie: the Bumstead Family History, by Dean Young and Melena Ryzik (2007) ISBN 1-4016-0322-X