Blonds Are Not Dumb: Demystifying the Stereotype

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 10
Words: 2209
Reading time:
10 min
Study level: Undergraduate

Introduction

Although most people assume that reality is an obvious and objective concept, numerous instances prove that reality is sometimes subjective. Some elements of what people consider reality is a result of factual concepts while other elements result from society’s perceptions of people, objects, and situations. Stereotypes are some of the subjective aspects that affect the perception of reality for individuals and society as a whole. As a general definition, a stereotype is a thought or an idea about specific people, objects, or situations that may reflect actual reality or not. In most cases, reality lays the basis on proof, which is mainly tangible or with scientific backing. Biases such as stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination result in subjective reality and a good example is a perception that blonde-haired people are dumb. Although there is no scientific proof supporting the perception or link between intelligence and hair color, the stereotype has taken root in various societies, especially in Europe and the United States of America where blonde-haired individuals are common. The projection of the stereotype is especially common in-jokes that depict such individuals as intellectually challenged.

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This paper seeks to demystify the concept of the blonde-hair stereotype, especially in relation to women, and prove that the stereotype is more of a misconception than a fact. This research partially depends on a literature review from previous research on the issue coupled with scientific facts in proving the hypothesis that blonde-haired people are not dumb. It also contains an analysis of some of the main theories associated with the stereotype. The findings of the research include the fact that the stereotype is perpetuated by media imaging and it has persisted due to the same imaging. Another worthwhile finding is that although there is no scientific evidence linking hair color to intelligence, societal perceptions have led to a transformation of the stereotype to a partial reality in terms of behavioral patterns. The paper includes a concise elaboration of the point.

Research methodology

The main research methodology in the application for this research paper is the literature review. It involves a critical look at literary material from experts expressing their views regarding the subject in forming an objective conclusion. The literature in application consists of previous studies on the subject thus making it relevant in application with regard to support of the hypothesis in this paper. Some of the main ideas that the paper explores from the chosen authors include the definition of stereotypes, their formation and development, some common characteristics, and their function. The paper applies these concepts to the issue of blonde hair stereotypes thus forming a concise explanation of why blonde-haired individuals, especially women, are not dumb. A look at different elements regarding the issue ensures that the research remains holistic and objective.

Literature review

Lawrence Kohlberg, a psychologist by profession, expresses his opinion regarding the effects of cognitive abilities for different individuals on moral development. This paper applies Kohlberg’s concept in support of the theory that the development of stereotypes depends on the same cognitive development. As children grow into adults, their ideas of reality depend on societal perceptions. For instance, according to Kohlberg’s theory, as children transition into their teenage, their perception of right and wrong largely depends on the perceptions that their parents and other older members of society have on the same. In the same light, individuals can develop stereotypes on various elements dependent on perceptions older members of society propel (Kohlberg 54). This assertion raises the issue of conditioning where individuals develop some kind of thinking, which later becomes a belief without any scientific evidence or any other evidence for that matter. With regard to the ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype, the perception has been around for centuries transcending down generations. The most plausible explanation for such occurrence is that children grow into adulthood with influence from older members of the society that they look up to in addition to environmental factors. ‘Blonde jokes’ are part of the stereotype that is shared among individuals of all ages, indirectly affecting individual and societal perceptions of people with blonde hair.

Kyle and Mahler (26) recognize the use of hair and particularly the use of color for cosmetic purposes. They explain that for centuries, hair color has been in use as a tool for beauty enhancement, thus indirectly affecting society’s image of individuals, especially women, and their roles (Kyle and Mahler 30). Presently, the idea is prevalent in the fashion industry with support from the media. Although the effect of hair color choice on gender roles is indirect in nature, the results are too significant to overlook. The authors take note that in history, hair color affected concepts such as elegance and power. The same notion applies today with the media subliminally projecting certain hair color choices as matching with specific roles people play in society projecting a stereotype even when the intention for the media is different. In most cases, in the past and present, blonde hair is associated with beauty, thus creating the stereotype that females with blonde hair do not have to apply their intellect as they can take advantage of their beauty to get what they want. A lot has been said concerning beauty or brains, with many critics saying that one does not need both, which again is a stereotype. From another perspective, beauty is relative and it depends on who is defining it. This stereotype is mainly visible in the choice of movie characters, in advertisements and even dolls children play with. This paper proposes that creating such images subconsciously makes some women with blonde hair believe it is possible and act accordingly thus playing into the stereotype, while it enables society to use the images and information as proof that the stereotype exists.

Victoria Sherrow’s idea further supports the theory by Kyle and Mahler, explaining how hair color as part of society’s culture affects the inner workings of society. In her book, Sherrow presents statistics that indicate the connection between hair color and certain roles in society (Sherrow 65). Although the data in use applies to both male and female genders, she expresses the opinion that hair color is an aspect that mainly affects women in contrast to men. One major similarity worth noting on all the books in the application is that the authors agree that blonde hair symbolizes beauty, especially in the American and European culture where individuals born with it are common. They also agree that society relates blonde hair to lack of intelligence or being ‘dumb’, a stereotype that has born roots due to several factors, key among them media influence. According to Sherrow’s findings, blonde women experience a disadvantage when applying for jobs, as individuals perceive them as intellectually inferior to women with other hair colors such as black or brown. On the other hand, the same individuals have an advantage over women with black and brown hair with regard to beauty thus appearing more dominant in the advertisement and entertainment industries (Sherrow 72). These statistics form part of the reason why people choose to conform to the stereotype and categorize themselves when choosing careers. In the process, the reinforcement of the stereotype takes place making it difficult for people to disprove the stereotype. Media is a powerful tool and unfortunately, a majority of people follow what the media propagates, which might not be true. Unfortunately, a repeated lie appears as the truth, which then solidifies any stereotype that might have been propagated by bad media.

McGarty, Yzerbyt, and Spears present a different perspective from the rest of the authors. They propose that in every society, people group themselves consciously and subconsciously depending on their unique characteristics. The authors explain that those characteristics usually appear in the form of elements indicative of personality including the choice of hair color. According to these authors, stereotypes enable people in one group to identify, categorize, and characterize other people, especially those that do not fall under the same group as the ones categorizing. They note that such stereotypes usually reflect outer groups in a negative light as opposed to the inner group in which the individuals analyzing others belong (McGarty, Yzerbyt, and Spears 92). For instance, in applying their theory, the authors suggest that women with dark hair develop the ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype, thus enhancing their own image as being smarter.

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Blonde-haired women on the other hand support the stereotype stipulating dark-haired women are unattractive, thus enhancing their own image as being attractive. The authors list several reasons why and how such grouping and stereotyping takes place. One of the reasons for grouping is that it makes it easier for individuals to identify other people based on unique characteristics. Secondly, it makes it easier to explain and understand why certain people act in certain ways. The third reason the authors use is that people find it easier to evaluate themselves and identify their place in society. The authors explain that stereotypes form as a way for other groups to explain the behavior of people bearing certain characteristics in certain groups as opposed to the notion that stereotypes are irrational, inaccurate, and erroneous. They explain that there is some truth to every stereotype and that although the formation of stereotypes may not fully incorporate all the characteristics of people in a certain category, it does take into account some of the most salient ones.

Findings

One of the most prominent findings in this research is that there is no direct relation between hair color and intelligence and it is thus possible that blonde-haired people are not dumb. There is no scientific evidence indicating a relationship between blonde hair and intellectual ability. In addition, the appearance of blonde hair may be natural because of lack of melanin in hair follicles or artificial in cases where individuals choose to dye or bleach their hair to achieve blondness as the color of choice. People with blonde hair are also at liberty to alter their hair color in cases where they seek to escape the stereotype associated with the same. What stands out clearly in this research is that the people’s understanding concerning ‘blonde and dumb’ hinges on suppositions that cannot be validated scientifically or otherwise.

Secondly, stereotype affects gender roles in society, especially with respect to women. Traditionally, in American and European cultures, blonde hair signified beauty and elegance. For instance, in the fifteenth century, women from royal families favored blonde hair as opposed to darker hair equating it to the beauty of gold. Consequently, this perspective affects the way society views individuals with blonde hair, in most cases perceiving people with blonde hair as beautiful. The effect of this perception on some individuals with blonde hair is that it creates the impression of beauty, as an asset equal to intelligence thus making it possible for such individuals to use their beauty to attain goals others would usually attain using intelligence. However, it is arguable that the use of beauty to attain things certain goals proves the application of intelligence, hence proving that blonde people are indeed smart as they work smart instead of working hard. The use of such antiques by blonde-haired individuals also creates the impression that such people use beauty as they experience a degree of intellectual poverty, thus forming the expression ‘dumb blonde’. The ‘brains and beauty’ stereotype also explains why people think the blonde is dumb. As aforementioned, critics argue that one cannot have beauty and brains, which again it is a baseless supposition. Research in this paper proves that it is possible for people to use the stereotype to their advantage, especially in terms of society’s perception of beauty and its application in various fields including advertising and the entertainment industry.

Thirdly, the development of stereotypes is, to some extent, dependent on cognitive ability. As children grow, they adopt some of the prevalent social norms in any given society, and depending on their age and ability to process information; it is possible for individuals to adopt stereotypes depending on society’s opinion in contrast to the development of personal opinions. The same concept applies to the adoption of moral values by individuals in society as Lawrence Kohlberg’s study indicates. In application of this theory, the ‘blonde’ stereotype is unjustifiable as individuals simply adopt it from society, with no forethought on the reason for its formation.

Conclusion

It is possible that people with blonde hair and lower intellectual capacity do exist. However, the perception that people with blonde hair generally lack mental capacity is a fallacy. Blonde hair may occur naturally or artificially for cosmetic purposes. However, hair color has no significant effect on a person’s ability to reason or apply his or her mental capabilities as ‘blonde jokes’ suggest. In addition, the fact that people with blonde hair have the ability to utilize their beauty to achieve things that most people use their intellectual prowess for is a clear indication that people with blonde hair are indeed smart, thus creating a weakness in the stereotype. It is also possible for people to manipulate hair color and take advantage of the stereotype to achieve certain results including getting jobs in the fashion and entertainment industries. The stereotype thus lacks plausible reasons for validation, proving that blonde-haired people are in fact not dumb.

Annotated bibliography

Kohlberg, Lawrence. Child Psychology and childhood education: A cognitive developmental view, London: Longman Group, 1987. Print.

Kohlberg introduces the concept of moral development in which he explains that moral development takes place in stages dependent on the cognitive ability of every individual. Kohlberg’s theory consists of six levels of development divided into three stages. The first stage is the pre-conventional stage, which occurs in the early stages of childhood where moral development are egocentric and weigh right and wrong depending on whether their actions yield reward or punishment. The second stage, the conventional stage, occurs during teenage or early adulthood where individuals mould their perception of right and wrong based on the actions of authority figures they emulate. The last stage, the post-conventional stage, consists of individuals making personal judgments based on personal perceptions of right and wrong with incorporation of societal views on the same.

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Kyle, Diane, and Heike Mahler. “The effects of hair color and cosmetic use on perceptions of a female’s ability.” Psychology of Women quarterly 20.3 (2006): 447-455. Print.

Kyle and Mahler recognize that hair color affects society’s perception of female gender roles, consequently affecting individual perceptions and subsequent behavior. The authors explain that although there is no biological link between hair color and intelligence levels, society’s perception of individuals based on their looks affects the way the individuals evaluate themselves and analyze their roles. For instance, the society’s perception of blonde-haired females as attractive affects their need to use wit in accomplishing their goals, instead using their attraction as a substitute in accomplishing the same goals. In such scenarios, blonde haired women use their attractive nature to either get other people to do their duties for them or escape punishment for oversight on important issues. However, people may overlook intelligent women with blonde hair with regard to job positions that require substantial intellectual prowess due to the stereotype, resulting in a double-edged sword effect.

McGarty, Craig, Vincent Yzerbyt, and Russel Spears. Stereotypes as explanations: The formation of meaningful beliefs about social groups, New York: Cambridge UP, 2002. Print.

The authors suggest that stereotypes form as means to explain specific behavior in different social groups. This point of view is different from the common perception of stereotypes that suggests that they are distortions of reality and thus erroneous in nature. In essence, the authors suggest that stereotypes occur because of the categorization of specific characteristics different groups of people exhibit and form a means through which individuals explain and understand behavioral aspects of the groups. The authors also indicate that a study of individual stereotypes is dependent on social stereotypes, a theory similar to that of Kyle and Mahler in their article. The concept’s relevance applies in the paper’s explanation of the formation and functions of stereotypes, with the blonde hair stereotype as an example.

Sherrow, Victoria. Encyclopedia of hair: A cultural history, New York: Greenwood Publishing group, 2006. Print.

The author explains how hair has had numerous effects on individuals throughout history. She notes that since as far back as the sixteenth century, hair has been in application as a symbol of status and indicator of class in various societies. For instance, in the Edwardian era, curly, voluminous hair was an indicator of elegance in the female population while blonde hair signified beauty, particularly in conjunction with blue eyes. Stories about the same have also been in existence for many generations, one of the most popular being the story of Rapunzel, a princess with long golden hair trapped in a high tower and later rescued by a prince. The book supports the arguments in this paper, particularly with regard to the significance of hair color for individuals and society holistically.