Friday, June 25, 2010

Blonde jokes aren't funny


The stereotype is not hard to summarize. When a blonde isn’t dumb, she’s lascivious. This is no laughing matter. In fact, a lot of people seem to believe it according to a British survey:

Blondes may have more fun - but it comes at a price. Men don't trust them. A study found that while fair-haired women are considered to be the most adventurous in bed, brunettes are seen as more reliable in a relationship ... and more sexy. In a poll of 1,500 men, more than 60 per cent thought dark-haired girls were the most trustworthy and loyal, compared with just 14 per cent of blondes. The result is men feel brunettes make the best wives.

[…] Commenting on the study for Philips Sensual Massagers, spokesman Karen Moore said: 'Blondes have always had a reputation for being fun, carefree and adventurous and it seems that can also be applied to relationships, as men think they have the best skills when it comes to the bedroom.' (Daily Mail, 2010)

Actually, blondes have not always had this reputation. A very different one emerges from a study of Victorian-era novels:

In each a blonde maiden opposes a brunette, and in each the blonde is preferred. When the ending is happy, the blonde marries the hero; while the brunette is deserted. Most significantly, the blondeness and the darkness are continually emphasized by the authors until their symbolic intention becomes unmistakable. And this symbolic intention is always the same. The maiden with blue eyes and blonde hair is invariably “innocent,” “good,” and “pure”; while the dark lady is “impetuous,” “ardent,” and “passionate.” (Carpenter, 1936, p. 254)

This other study concludes: “In the mid-nineteenth century golden hair became an attribute of the pure and innocent maiden; while dark hair suggested the woman of passion and experience.”

Some hair-color preferences are undoubtedly innate, e.g., rare-color preference (Frost, 2006).
Most, however, seem to be culturally constructed. They are specific to a time and place. They are also specific to the social dynamic that links the observer to the observed. If this dynamic is ignored, one might conclude that light-haired women are indeed sexually freer than dark-haired women, all other things being equal. But all other things were not equal when this stereotype took shape. Light hair and dark hair were proxies for ethnicity.

The current blonde stereotype began in the U.S. of the early 20th century. It was a product of ethnic contact between the native-born population and darker-haired immigrants (Italians, Jews, Greeks, etc.) who were often shocked by the relative sexual freedom of ‘American’ women. This attitude existed in different communities, but it entered the mainstream culture primarily via Jewish immigrants and specifically through their contributions to art and literature. It is a common theme in Jewish-American novels:

The exotic female in Jewish life is the sexy shiksa, frequently a blue-eyed blonde who offers gratifications withheld, at least until marriage, by proper Jewish girls. […] A blend of arrogance and defensiveness prompts many Jews to claim that shiksas are more carnal and promiscuous than women of their own faith because Christians are less intelligent, refined, and clean than themselves. Goyishe Kopf (literally translated as gentile head), the Yiddish colloquialism for stupidity, exemplifies the traditional contempt for Christians. (Jaher, 1983)

This theme entered popular American culture through fiction, motion pictures, and comedy routines, with well-known examples including the novel Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth and the typecasting of Marilyn Munroe in vamp roles (Jaher, 1983).

The ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype gradually spread outside the U.S. As a rural Ontario teenager in the 1970s I heard this term on American sitcoms, but it had no connection to my reality. Nor were the blondes at my school thought to be sexually permissive. In the late 1980s, as a doctoral student in Quebec City, I remember the puzzlement that initially greeted blonde jokes, this humor having no relation to existing beliefs about hair color in French Canada. Today, blondes are routinely stereotyped throughout Canada as being sluttish and stupid, as if they have always been so.

This stereotype likewise came late to Europe. In the mid-1960s, Bastide (1967, p. 326) noted the following about the movie industry: “In Europe, a blond is usually the heroine, and a brunette the dangerous woman. In Brazil, the dark woman is loving and faithful, while the blond is the vamp who leads a man to ruin.”

Several generations now separate Americans from the social dynamic that created the current blonde stereotype. This is less true in northwestern Europe, where recent decades have seen immigration from North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. For these immigrant communities, light-colored hair symbolizes European ethnicity and, by extension, relative equality of men and women, low importance of female virginity, permissive attitudes to pre-marital sex, etc. Such stereotyping has been reported from Sweden, as noted in the following news article:


"Ah, girl, blond whore!"'

Josephine' was met with these words on the first school day at a high-school in an immigrant-dominated suburb south of Stockholm. Josephine was quite baffled, since aside from her hair color there was nothing about her appearance that would indicate she was promiscuous. She didn't use makeup and had completely neutral clothing. It was exclusively her hair-color that branded her a 'whore'.'

Josephine' is one of the informants for researcher Maria Bäckman, who did an ethnographic field study in a suburb south of Stockholm, where ethnic Swedes make up about 20% of the population.

[…] In her study she focused on ethnic Swedish girls. They experience being linked to the notion of free, Swedish sexuality, which in the densely immigrant suburbs is not necessarily linked with something positive. The strategy for the suburb girls was therefore to play down their Swedish identity.

"Several dyed their hair. Not necessarily because they wanted to look like immigrants, but because they didn't want to look so Swedish," says Bäckman.
(Brandvold, 2010)

Conclusion

Stereotypes are not merely observations of reality. They also reflect the power relationship between the observer and the observed. Too often, the target is a group that cannot fight back. Albinos, for example, have increasingly appeared in films as hit men and other villains even though their poor eyesight makes such roles impossible in real life. From the 1960s to 2006, they appeared as ‘bad guys’ in sixty-eight films (Wikipedia, 2010). They suited the role perfectly, being easy to stigmatize and yet numerically too weak to retaliate.

Blondes have similarly faced media-driven stereotyping, and this stereotyping has persisted for similar reasons. It incurs few social penalties. It’s like the little boy who gets beaten up just because he’s weaker than the bullies who gang up on him.

References

Bastide, R. (1967). Color, racism, and Christianity, Daedalus, 96, 312-327.

Brandvold, A. (2010). Mobbet fordi hun er hvit, Klassekampen, May 8, 2010.
http://www.klassekampen.no/57468/article/item/null/mobbet-fordi-hun-er-hvit (English translation at: http://islamineurope.blogspot.com/2010/05/norwaysweden-when-locals-become.html

Carpenter, F.I. (1936). Puritans preferred blondes, New England Quarterly, 9, 253-272.

Daily Mail. (2010). So blondes really do have more fun: Men claim brunettes make the best wives, but fair haired women are better in bed, Daily Mail, February 13, 2010
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1250520/Blondes-really-fun-Men-claim-brunettes-make-best-wives-fair-haired-women-better-bed.html

Frost, P. (2006). European hair and eye color - A case of frequency-dependent sexual selection? Evolution and Human Behavior, 27, 85-103.

Jaher, F.C. (1983). The quest for the ultimate shiksa, American Quarterly, 35, 518-542.

Swami, V., M. Rozmus-Wrzesinska, M. Voracek, T. Haubner, D. Danel, B. Pawłowski, D. Stanistreet, F. Chaplin, J. Chaudhri, P. Sheth, A. Shostak, E.X. Zhang, A. Furnham. (2008). The influence of skin tone, body weight, and hair colour on perceptions of women’s attractiveness and health: A cross-cultural investigation. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, 6, 321-341.

Wikipedia (2010). Albinism in popular culture.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albinism_in_popular_culture

21 comments:

Eugene said...

Good topic.

By the way, a large number of Jewish women are not brunettes, contrary to the stereotype. If you go on JDate (the Jewish online dating site) or to Jewish parties/social events, you'll see lots of natural blondish or light-haired girls.

In terms of value judgments ascribed to blondes/brunettes, I agree it's subject to culture and the current "zeitgeist" and doesn't have a whole lot of meaning.

But there seems to be one constant: People are attracted to those with the same hair color as themselves (i.e. a "genetic match" may be made on the basis of hair color). Based on my own experiences and also from talking to women, it looks like dark-haired people tend to pair up with each other, while light-haired people similarly prefer their own kind.

Tod said...

The long shadow of American mass 'culture'.

ItsTheWooo said...

I would argue that the association between sluttishness and blondeness has a root in reality. Not in the sense that blonde are slutty, but in the sense that women know men are attracted to lighter hair / complexions and so slutty women who manipulate men sexually are apt to dye their hair blonde. Being blonde doesn't make you a slut any more than being born with DD cups makes you a slut. However, women who ARE sluts will dye their hair and get implants so as to be more attractive to men.

As for the stereotype blondes are stupid, I would say this is also related to the fact that sexually manipulative women pretend to be naive and coy as men generally find that sexually enticing, since it suggests youthfulness and purity (even though, in reality, such women are far from pure and often not particularly youthful either). Men are biologically driven to be attracted to signs of purity and youthfulness in women as this suggests a greater chance for reproductive success. Less sexual partners, younger age, more fertility and more chance any offspring is yours.


So, in my opinion, the "goyishe kopf" blond women are actually sexually manipulative sluts who are rarely natural blonds and usually extremely savy about the world by play otherwise for their own gains.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if its valid to conflate rare color preference with hair color preferences as a whole. Rare color preference is much more contextual.

A better example would be gray hair- that seems to be universally disliked on both sexes, though how did things like grey/white wigs prior to the 19th century fit into this? Unless they were just white and not flat out gray. Still, white hair seems to invariably go with graying, and while platinum blonde hair comes close to this, it's still discernably different.

Hair colors that also fall outside of the biological limits of human phenotypic variation might be intrinsically disliked as well, like blue, green etc. hair. I know those can become popular with fads to a degree, but they're quite uncommon overall.

It's also rather contrary to so much cross-cultural evidence to really debate over whether certain hair colors beyond ones simply not found in humans or gray hair are intrinisically preferred. Look at how many predominantly black-haired societies that never seemed to dye their hair prior to western contact. I've never once seen a painting of a chinese court maiden or japanese geisha with blonde hair, and blonde hair isn't very popular in east today.

Some of these arguments about light hair being intrinsically preferred come about via arguments about neoteny, but it's extraordinarily unlikely that humans would select so strongly for a trait that encodes itself in a recessive form the vast majority of the time.

Plus, neotenic traits only seem to play a role when they show dimorphism following sexual maturity. Tiny, undeveloped bodies are "neotenic", but certainly not feminine.

Anonymous said...

Okay first off: I very much like your blog, you are one of the only people with the courage and lucidity to look at the scientific characteristics of race in an objective and unpolluted manner. The recent posts you have made about the inclusion of Neanderthal DNA in modern populations is interesting and I'm glad you are following this. All in all it is a great blog.

But it seems you are sliding down a slippery slope with your last couple of posts and I want to catch you before you do yourself a disservice.

It is perfectly fair to try to point out unwarranted stigmas and prejudices, but I think you and a lot of other Europeans succumb to a rather illogical case of the the 'halo effect' when it comes to blonde women. The underlying sentiment in this article has to do with blonde women and their sexuality, which is often over glorified by many white men. This is called the halo effect, and it means that we sometimes see attractive people as being smarter, purer, or better simply because they are physically more attractive. I would argue that the exact OPPOSITE is true of the conclusion in your article. White, western, and particularly BLONDE women are the single most inherently advantaged and overvalued group of people in the world. They are the most likely to be pampered and treated with special reverence. If you had light haired sisters and cousins living in South America you would know what I'm talking about! Americans are especially guilty of this. The truth is that women in the west enjoy the most privileged position on Earth, so much so they actually see it as a sort of prison sometimes. You're succumbing to the allure of their specialness, like so many other men.

Let's bring up the almost universal phobia of European/white men that these very same blonde women all might prefer a black man. I'm sure the idea makes you shiver in your boots. The trope is that black men are sexually and physically superior - leading the blonde damsels to be carried off by these supermen. Just about every other white guy I know has this phobia and gets protective about the idea. Why does this weird preoccupation exist? Because in both cases a group of people are given a form of special status that is out of touch with reality. Both groups of people (athletic black men, blonde attractive women) are given a reputation or status that clouds peoples judgment of them. Also both those groups of people are given that status not because it's true but out of psycho-sexual fears and fetishes.

Here's a thought: have you ever wondered if many of those bombshell blonde women that go out with black athletic men (not uncommon where I live) do so because they ENJOY the status that gives them? They become that trendy white heroine who doesn't judge others based on color. A civil rights hero! AND on top of that she gets to see all the frustrated white men swooning over her and trying to get her attention. For a spoiled little blonde girl can there be any greater form of validation and self importance? They must giggle with inner delight watching you all squirm.

ItsTheWooo said...

anon 6/26 12:32 seems a bit off his nut.

1) NO group of women are the most "priviledge dpeople on earth". if there is such a thing as a group of humans who have an easy life, it won't be women. Just an FYI.

2) Peter did not say that white women with blonde hair were special, all he said was that they WEREN't stupid hos. Which is a fair statement and not prejudicial in any way, and it is not expressing a bias toward blonde white women, simply it is dismissing a prejudice against them. Perhaps you took implicit from his passion about this issue that he must have a favoritism / fetish for blonde women, which I suppose is a fair suspicion but nothing in his post gave me the impression that he thought blonde white women were so much better than brunettes. His own girlfriend / wife/ SO appears to be a brunette (assuming the pic on the blog is accurate). FYI #2.

3) I find the "universal phobia" that you claim men have, that blonde women will run off with black men to be downright bizzare. It's pretty much consistently observe humans tend to pair up with other humans like themselves - light skinned people with light skinned people and so on. I think you might be watching too much pornography. I rarely if ever see a blonde white woman with a black man in real life. People gravitate toward others like themselves in terms of culture and ethnicity which is only natural, you have more in common with people who are from your tribe which creates an instant bond and sense of comfort.

And, while on the topic of this supposed phobia, why on earth do these men care about what blonde women in general are doing? I could see being afraid YOUR girlfriend would cheat on you or leave you, but why in the hell do "white men" in general fear blonde women running off with black men in general? Um, that's just crazy. I'm sure a few crazy men think that way, men holed up in basements watching interracial porn with major social adjustment problems, apparently. And, why not a fear of white women pairing up with black men in general, why only blonde women?

Anyway, maybe I am the one out of touch. I surely hope this isn't a common "phobia", I'll have to reevaluate my perspective of humanity if it is.


Again, I have NEVER seen a "black athletic man" with a "bombshell blonde woman" in real life. Maybe you are talking about wealthy sports athletes? In this case, it isn't because he is black, it's because he's wealthy and famous. If he were a CEO who was 65 and fat and white as paper, he would and could also obtain that "bombshell blonde" (who, by the way, probably isn't even really a real blonde, and also probably isn't entirely caucasian, FYI #3). It isn't about black and white, it's about status wealth and money.

And, those types of women are rarely the pure golden hair young maidens you are associating with blonde white women (i.e. the original stereotype). They're actually probably reaaaally slutty and use sex to get whatever they want without any moral qualms what so ever.

Just sayin is all.

And, I would also recommend getting therapy for your issues with women. You seem like you have MAJOR pent up resentment and assuming any propensity to violence exists within you, it might not end well, e.g. that dude who shot up a gym full of middle aged moms because of his crazy freak ideas about college girls dating black guys and his inability to get laid and such.

Peter Frost said...

Eugene,

Yes, we're talking about stereotypes here. There are blond Jews just as there are brunette Swedes. The English, for instance, are often stereotyped as being blond, yet their incidence of blond hair is only 20-25%.

Tod,

In the past, stereotypes were manufactured by 'tradition' i.e., the accumulated wisdom of a single population over many generations. Tradition has its faults. It's often out of date and distorted by unequal power relationships. But at least it has some connection with reality.

Today, stereotypes are increasingly produced out of thin air, often by the mass media. It's like the 'evil albino' stereotype. It has no relation whatsoever with reality.

Its the Wooo,

Thanks for your answers to Anon! I couldn't have said it better myself.

Yes, there is some basis to the current blonde stereotype. If you're a Muslim immigrant in Sweden, you would notice a high correlation between hair color and female sexual behavior. This correlation, however, is an artefact of cultural differences between two ethnic groups. If you control for ethnicity and culture, the correlation would disappear.

Blonde jokes didn't take off until the late 1980s. Should we therefore conclude that blondes suddenly became dumber and sluttier at that time? Or is this simply a manufactured stereotype?

Anon,

Actually, I see a lot of women with unnatural hair colors (bright red, blue, magenta, etc.). These hair colors don't exist in the natural state probably because they are physiologically difficult to engineer through natural selection.

Blond hair is becoming popular in Japan. Swami et al. (2008) actually found a significant preference for blonde women by Chinese subjects. On the other hand, they were not preferred by Pakistani subjects (perhaps because of the connotation of sexual permissiveness).

I don't believe that there is an intrinsic preference for light hair. Rather, there seems to be an intrinsic preference for rare hair colors (which would explain why blond hair has never reached fixation in any human population). This preference is fairly weak and can be offset by other preferences, such as the culturally constructed ones discussed in my post.

Anon,

Blondes do not deserve privileged treatment. Nor are they getting it, at least not in most Western countries. In fact, the survey mentioned by the Daily Mail suggests that people are internalizing negative stereotyping of blonde women.

I don't "shiver in my boots". Unlike many people, I try to understand the world I live in. And the first step to true understanding is abandonment of angry, irrational thinking.

Ben10 said...

"I don't "shiver in my boots""
Ach, sehr gut, your boots must always be clean and shiny then.

About this topic, seriously now, I understand that there is no point for a man who is not very attractive and not very successful to try to pick up the blondes at the top, right ? That's exactly what the blonde stereotype wants evreybody to believe, i.e, to convince that fair/blonde women are very demanded by wealthy men, and that poor guys, even of the same ethnicity, are loosing their time by competing with the rich.
To me, there is a logic in all that. This modern negative blond stereotype is not born out of nowhere like an artificial random creation. It responds to the need of a competitor group. If blonde or fair women become less available or unconsciously less attractive for men of their own ethncitiy, then they will become more available for men of competitive ethnicities who therefore have advantage to spread this stereotype.
Similarily, negative stereopypes put on white men (i.e: the nazi 'boots") will make blonde-fair women less attracted, consiously or not, by men of their own ethnicities, all for the same benefits: make these women more available for competitor groups.

Anonymous said...

"Blond hair is becoming popular in Japan. Swami et al. (2008) actually found a significant preference for blonde women by Chinese subjects. On the other hand, they were not preferred by Pakistani subjects (perhaps because of the connotation of sexual permissiveness)."

Seriously? Chinese having a preference for blondes? That's a new one. What's the full citation? And what do you base the increasing preference for blondes among the japanese? I seriously seldom notice dyed blonde hair among japanese or korean women. I've noticed more males than females with blonde hair, but that's mainly among celebrities.

Rocha said...

"In the mid-1960s, Bastide (1967, p. 326) noted the following about the movie industry: “In Europe, a blond is usually the heroine, and a brunette the dangerous woman. In Brazil, the dark woman is loving and faithful, while the blond is the vamp who leads a man to ruin.”"

I do not know much about how this was on the 60's but today in telenovelas this survives only in part. Blondes are overepresented as villains but there are also many "good" blondes, about the "dark woman" i doubt it is (or was) if the woman in question was black or mestiça, and even if she is a brunette usualy she is lighter (almost always in skin and sometimes in hair) than the mean in population.

Peter Frost said...

Ben10,

Mais je croyais que tu étais francophone ...

Anon,

The full reference is:

Swami, V., M. Rozmus-Wrzesinska, M. Voracek, T. Haubner, D. Danel, B. Pawłowski, D. Stanistreet, F. Chaplin, J. Chaudhri, P. Sheth, A. Shostak, E.X. Zhang, A. Furnham. (2008). The influence of skin tone, body weight, and hair colour on perceptions of women’s attractiveness and health: A cross-cultural investigation. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, 6, 321-341.

As for Japan, I'm just going by what I hear from friends (ex-ESL teachers). They say that artificial blond hair is popular among Japanese of both sexes, even among construction workers.

Rocha,

As a foreigner in Brazil, Roger Bastide was probably exaggerating. He also wrote that in Brazil "the ideal woman is not a blond or a fair-skinned woman but a brunette or dark-skinned woman and especially a "rosy-tinted" mulatto woman." I think this is only half-true. Fair-skinned women seem to be well represented among Brazilian pin-up girls.

Ben10 said...

@Peter, mais je le suis. My poor german could not possibly fool you?

Lamb said...

Sure...go ahead and leave out all us green-eyed redheads....

MK said...

*** They say that artificial blond hair is popular among Japanese of both sexes, even among construction workers.***

It is amongst some of their star soccer players.


http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/players/player=233500/index.html

Angel-Sächsen said...

By the way, a large number of Jewish women are not brunettes, contrary to the stereotype. If you go on JDate (the Jewish online dating site) or to Jewish parties/social events, you'll see lots of natural blondish or light-haired girls.

From my experiences in noticing Jewish phenotypes in women (and men) in the NYC area, the overwhelming average are not natural blondes or any other shade of naturally light hair.

Many Jewish women do dye their hair, however, and of course many others get plastic surgery to acquire more of a generalized North West European look.

The relatively small percentage of Jews that naturally do have light hair and Nordish features have family ancestries that are almost always mixed with NW Euros "gentiles", despite the fact the person in question may have an exclusive "Jewish" ethnic identity.

Anonymous said...

"The relatively small percentage of Jews that naturally do have light hair and Nordish features have family ancestries that are almost always mixed with NW Euros "gentiles", despite the fact the person in question may have an exclusive "Jewish" ethnic identity."

The ashkenazi jewish gene pool has a significant european component. Virtually all of them are "mixed".

Also, "nordish"? Who even uses that term?

Anonymous said...

No need to go into details -- and write the whole Thesis on it --

Every one knows Why Jews Spread those Blonde Jokes -- Jews who unsuccessfully try to Control the Media + Government + Resources
They think in their Super Extreme Arrogance that they are the only Intelligent people on Earth and all other people are not Intelligent and should be SLAVES to Jews and Jewish Manager

Anonymous said...

You are too serious as you have the options to or not to read the joke.........remember a joke is just a joke with no discriminitory intent

Bob Wallace said...

I think it's simple: blonds are generally smarter and better looking than most everyone else, so the stereotype is based on envy, to bring them down.

Anonymous said...

Blonde behaviour follows the cultural message, which is: If I can't be blonde, then I want to have sex with them. If I can't have sex with blondes, then I want to kill them.

Anonymous said...

Typo: Marylin Monroe, actress.