From whence came the "dumb blonde" stereotype?

Hmmm? From whence?

From dumb blondes, of course!

As the resident nitpicker I have to point out that in the phrase “from whence” the word “from” is redundant. “Whence” is equivalent to “from where”.

What color did you say your hair was again?

But seriously folks –

I’ll take a WAG at it. I think it relates to the notion that women can get by on looks if they don’t have brains. {NOTE: I do not subscribe to this notion. I’m only pointing it out.)

If (I said IF) that were true – then there would be certain number of good-looking, but not very bright, women in the world who try to get by in the world by trading on their good looks. This would succeed if (and I’m pretty sure I’m on solid ground on this one) men were more likely to evaluate women on their looks than on their ability. Now since we don’t really have to use our brains a good percentage of the time these good-looking but, um, grey-matter-challenged, women are reasonably successful. But occasionally (i.e., whenever brains really are required) they would not be able to deal with the situation and would look particularly foolish. So the stereotype of a good-looking but dumb woman would arise – not because they are particularly dumb but because they have been assumed to be smarter than they are just because they’re good looking (Men are such pigs!) so when they do mess up, as we all do, they look stupider than they are.

Now, having offended all women, everywhere, I will compound my felonies by further postulating that blond hair is stereotypical of good-looking women. (I know. There are millions and millions of good-looking brunettes and redheads, many of whom are active on this message board. I would elaborate further but this is not the “fantasies and crushes” thread.)

So, given these two questionable premises – 1. Good-looking women are more severely criticized when they make a mistake because we have higher expectations of them and 2. Blondes are good-looking women – we arrive at the basis for “dumb blonde” jokes. Flimsy? Yes. Sufficient for harassing a group of people we are secretly jealous of? Yes.

I will now go hide myself in a safe place until the storm blows over.

I would say that the whole idea comes from dumb men, of every hair color.

At least I didn’t say “wherefore.”

I’m a brunette, actually. (No, wait. I’m a guy. So I’m a brunet.)

And for the most part, I agree with your WAG that blonde hair correlates, in popular culture, with beauty. But I don’t think the dumb blonde stereotype arose because “good-looking women are more severely criticized” due to higher expectations. Rather, I think society tends to view beauty and intelligence–in women, anyway–as pretty much mutually exclusive qualities.

(They aren’t.)

So if a woman is pretty, she’s more apt to be dumb…so says society. Hence the ‘airhead’ stereotype. And since the archetypal American beauty is blonde, a transference takes place. I’d wager that when people form a mental image of a “dumb blonde”, it’s a pretty woman rather than a plain one.

Hey, I just answered my own thread. With help from pluto, o’ course. :smiley:

(When y’all think of the more intelligent female posters on this board, what color hair do you see them having? Not blonde, I bet–unless you’ve met them and they are blonde.)

I’m gonna go out on a limb here …

I’ve spent time living in both the American heartland and on the East Coast. This allows me to make a few overbroad generalizations:

  1. The heartland is overwhelmingly blonde. Women with medium-brown hair in the heartland invariably dye it blond, even if brown hair looks good on them. In contrast, there are a LOT more brunettes back East – both to begin with and because not as many women dye their hair blond.

  2. While it’s not universally true that East Coast women are more sophisticated, there are certainly more sophisticated women to be found on the East Coast than in the heartland.

  3. Acknowledging that correlation does not imply causation, there certainly seems to be a very strong correlation between cultural emphasis on blondeness and general lack of sophistication. (Granted, this relationship breaks down when you get out to the West Coast, where you find a lot of very sophisticated blondes – who are, nonetheless, as dumb as paint.)

What conclusions can be drawn from this? None. At least, not safely.

Gawd, I love to watch everybody being so prudently and defensively politically correct.

Let’s face it, it is common for women who have less intellectual interests to devote more time to their looks.

I blame the movies.

The Judy Holliday role in “Born Yesterday”, to be precise.

Seems like before that (in movies anyway), the blondes were smart, sultry vixens, or pert and bubbly girls next door. But not “dumb” till Judy, who of course wasn’t really dumb.

Y’know, in my personal experience, I’ve met several ditzy women (and men, but that’s a different topic), but not one of them was blonde. What I have met, are a large number of blondes who are very good at acting ditzy, but who are in actuality very smart-- life can be a lot easier if people underestimate you. Many women actually dye their hair blonde for this very reason, to take advantage of this stereotype.

Pop quiz: Name the ditziest female character on television-- most would say it’s Phoebe from Friends. Ever see an interview with Lisa Kudrow? Total nerd (I mean that as a compliment :slight_smile: )

As pluto points out, it’s not so much that blonde women are dumb; it’s that so many dumb women choose to be blonde.

Now that I’ve opened myself up to all sorts of perfectly justified attacks, I’ll also mention that the same sort of thing applies to dumb guys, except that they’re more likely to go for muscle cars, or maybe just muscles. I do realize that some muscle-car guys and some bodybuilders aren’t dumb.

It goes back at least to the mid-19th century, and most likely even farther back. I love Victorian novels—the more “penny-dreadful” the better!—and have noticed that the sweet, fluffy-bunny dumb heroine is always blonde; in fact, if she isn’t, a huge to-do is made of it. The “brainy” gal or the villainess is always brunette. I think it might just boil down to the light = good/dark = evil dichotomy.

In the earlier movies, it still held true. Blondes (Lillian Gish, Marion Davies, Mary Pickford) tended to be sweet and innocent, while brunettes (Theda Bara, Pola negri, Nita naldi) were villainesses. Only in the '30s did blondes become “wise-cracking,” a la Jean Harlow. But by the '40s, blondes were dumb again.

I think Chronos makes a very good point about the number of blonds who act dumb, but have actually discovered just what rewards they can reap from that act. Be it knowledge or some form of material benefit that they get.

Conversely, I also agree with Pluto that there is a segment of the female population that has discovered they can make a good living based on looks alone. However, this is a fairly intelligent move on their part. Play to your strengths… or your opponents weakness. Let’s face it men are pigs. There are a ton of male bosses out there who hire female employees based on looks and the “hope” that they just might be able to “get a little” in return. This is a chink in the male armor and through natural selection will hopefully be weeded out. After all, if looks are your basis for hiring(and you’re not hiring models) you aren’t positioning your department to shine. You will then be replaced, possibly by one of the people you hired based on looks.

Oh, one last thing…women hire based on looks also so don’t climb the soapbox about men being evil we’re just more prone to it.

It’s not a stereotype; but simply an attempt to pull down someone to a lower level.

Fair enough, and I appreciate everyone’s speculation and anecdotal evidence (never knew that the characterization extended back that far–thanks, Eve!). But why blonde hair? Is there an ethnic derivation (have Scandinavian and Germanic peoples been unfairly pegged as less intelligent in the past?)? A sociological one? Something relating to the lighter-colored pelts on females Australopithecenes? Enough WAGs…I want some scientific-sounding shots in the dark!

Why blondes?

Well, we’re still suffering a 1,500-year long fashion hangover from the Völkerwanderung. The Germanic tribes that conquered the Western Roman Empire were, on the average, fairer and taller than the Mediterranean and Alpine populations over which they ruled (see, e.g., Sidonius Apollonaris on this point). Thus, if you were tall and fair, you looked more like an aristocrat (and were even more likely to be one) than if you were short and dark.

Now, this association of tall/fair/aristocratic vs. short/dark/plebian can work against the aristocratic in three ways:
[li]Aristocrats don’t need smarts, because they can get by on their connections[/li][li]Aristocrats don’t need smarts, because they can get by on their looks[/li][li]Aristocrats don’t need smarts, because they can get by on their swords[/li][/list=1]

Numbers one and two has hung on in the assessment of tall, blonde (=aristocratic-looking) women.

It’s probably worth noting that, for much on the 19th century, the blond male was considered to represent dreaminess and a lack of vitality (thus the stereotypical tall, dark, handsome stranger). It wasn’t until (IIRC) 1870 or so, with the rise of nonsense theories equating Aryanness with blondness, that the image of the tall, blonde, virile hero became popular (not that Aryanness has anything to do with virility either).

Something vaguely scientific?

Many people’s hair darkens as they get older. Both my sister and I were almost white at 10, now we’re both pretty dark. My wife was blonde at about 15. Now at 30 odd she’s also pretty dark.

In those with W. European background then, “blonde” might be associated with “childlike”.

What most people have ignored so far is that many blondes are out of the bottle: they are choosing to appear to have certain characteristics.

If (some) people try to present their best features and come up with “look, I’m youthful-looking”, it probably does not say much for your other characteristics.

Hope no-one takes too much offense at this, but in rereading it, it doesn’t look too great. Sorry.


For the record, I am blonde.

Amongst women of my acquaintance, those who are hung up on their own looks also tend to come across as less intelligent, regardless of whether they are. And those more hung up on their looks are also amongst the group more likely to colour their hair. The most common colour chosen - blonde.

I think you’ve hit on a partial answer. However, this addresses ACTUAL dumb blondes as opposed to STEREOTYPICAL dumb blondes.

There is also this element of it: When a person acts in a ditzy manner, and they are not blonde, it does not seem negate the blonde stereotype. But if they are blonde, it reinforces it. Thus, the stereotype seems to get more reinforcement than dissuasion.

And while I do not consider myself to be a dumb blonde, I have my share of blonde moments :slight_smile: