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Why Are “Dumb Blonde” Jokes Trending on Twitter?

Apparently, this is still a thing in the year 2017.

Every blonde I know has a preferred and much-performed “dumb blonde” joke tucked away to break out when the topic arises, so that you can show that you’re a cool smart blonde who knows how to poke fun. You’re not like those other blondes.

It’s easier to laugh along with people than to sit there quietly while jokes are made about a feature that you have—tell your own joke first, be subversive, beat them to their game, and then maybe the topic will change.

Here’s my joke. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told it, acting out each action: A blonde goes to the doctor. She says, “Doctor! I’m in so much pain. I don’t know what’s wrong. You’ve got to help me.” She presses her finger to her shoulder. “It hurts here!” Then she touches her stomach. “And here!” Then she taps her forehead. “Here too! Ow! It hurts everywhere. Am I dying?” To which the doctor says to her, gently, “My dear, your finger is broken.”

The history of blonde stereotyping—and the mash-up of overt sexualization paired with an assumed lack of intelligence—is fascinating. Working backward, it encompasses modern ideas, lingers in the early Hollywood studio system, rears its head in the 18th century, and spans all the way into ancient Greco-Roman history. From William Sanger’s History of Prostitution:

Early Christian preachers were already taking issue with the idea of women putting on blonde locks—the concept of blonde hair indicative even then of a highly sexualized, and thus a morally dubious state. The assumptions about what blonde hair symbolizes—and its inherent power, even when maligned—have been with us a lot longer than Marilyn Monroe or Paris Hilton, and indeed contributed to celebrities dyeing their hair in the first place or finding a measure of attention because of its natural color.

The wonderful podcast You Must Remember This, which explores the old Hollywood studio system and the stars therein, has a multi-part series called Dead Blondes. The series traces the rise and often tragic ends of actresses who, because of the shade of their hair, were made out to be bombshells, dangerous and voracious sirens who were often the first stop before the hero settled with a more suitable and well-behaved brunette. There’s no better deep dive into how blonde hair has figured into American media and representation.

Wikipedia also explores the “dumb” blonde concept in depth:

[…] 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.”[5] At the same time, people tend to presume that blondes are less serious-minded and less intelligent than brunettes, as reflected in “blonde jokes”.[6] The roots 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 curiosites de la Foire for her habit of pausing a long time before speaking, appearing not only stupid but literally dumb (in the sense of mute).[6] The latter stereotype of “dumb blonde”[8] is exploited in blonde jokes. In Brazil, this extends to blonde women being looked down upon, as reflected in sexist jokes, as also sexually licentious.[9]

Yes, the very color of your hair renders you less intelligent, less serious, and far more prone to using sex to get ahead. And of course, this applies solely to women 99% of the time. It is still so ingrained in our culture that #SignsYouAreABlonde can trend on Twitter in this, the year of our Lord 2017, with the majority of users gleefully serving up their blonde jokes and gifs of women acting presumably ditzy—or with a focus on their body. Or both.

And that ancient, sneering connection to the selling of one’s self still remains. Those early Christian preachers would be proud.

There’re quite a few tweets engaging in this hashtag that use their blonde hair as a reason to disparage Trump apologists like Ivanka and Kellyanne Conway and to insult crass talking heads like Ann Coulter. This is unfair. Disparage them because they are terrible people who make excuses for a monstrous man and monstrous policies, not because of the hue of their hair strands.

It’s disconcerting to see how many people happily jumped on this bandwagon, and how many of us have disparaging blonde jokes and assumptions so close at hand.

There’s an additional stereotype that can strike where blondes are concerned, where suddenly all that simmering, silly-brained sexuality reverses and blondes are seen as pure and innocent and fetishized as a result. The amount of pro-Aryan twitter posts that slipped into the hashtag is, for me, the most disturbing element of this trending topic. Let’s summarize: blondes are stupid and whorish, and also conversely Nordic goddesses indicative of an imaginary master race. Oh! I almost forgot we can also be ice queen frigid bitches. That’s a whole lot for one hair color.

Our ability to know exactly what #SignsYouAreABlonde means without having to click demonstrates how we were raised with these disparaging views as a universal norm. This classification exists as another way to put women into a box of contempt and lust for male consumption. I’m hardly going to claim that blonde women face the overt hardships that other groups with longstanding cultural stereotypes encounter. But the lurking insidious nature of “this group of females is inherently idiotic/sexually available” feels particularly uncomfortable and out of place in our changing, #MeToo world.

(via Twitter, image: Wikimedia Commons)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.