Blond Joke?

I have received thousands of e-mails from disgruntled Fox News viewers after my appearances on the network in the past few years, and one common theme has emerged: my blond* hair.

About one-third of the hate e-mail I receive makes some mention of my hair color:

–“Your PERFORMANCE on O’Reilly tonight enhanced the image of DUMB BLONDE BITCH tenfold” (no name given)

–“…apparently being a blond had a great deal to do with obtaining your ph.d…” (Danny Roturra)

–“My god I hope this don’t start a bunch of dumb blond jokes again” (Rick Carpenegro)

–“You certainly proved you are dumb blonde. “ (Robert Johnson)

Or my personal favorite, from John Holst:

You made the transition from ‘hot babe’ to ‘dumb blonde’ in one sentence… P.S.  Don’t be offended, I still think you are hot, and would greatly enjoy discussing world politics with you over a drink sometime.

I chose to dye my hair platinum blond about a decade ago when I realized that, for most of my feminist life, I had been bowing to the golden cow of masculinity. I started down the feminist path with the notion that women can do/be anything a man can do/be, and in the process I inadvertently  placed greater value on men and their socially proscribed activities. So why not upset the apple cart by openly valuing “the feminine,” and what better way to appear hyper-feminine than to sport blond hair?

Embracing social scripts of femininity is a slippery slope, given that women have been asked to place importance on such intrinsically meaningless, even personally damaging, values and activities as fashion, shopping, modeling and an emphasis on physical appearance. However, as a professor, my occupation requires me to trade on intellect, so blond hair is a strangely effective strategic choice. Blond hair epitomizes the racist standard of white “beauty” in the U.S. It epitomizes “femininity.” So when I am attacked because of my blond hair, it is often an attack on “femaleness” itself.

My appearance as both a political expert and “a blonde” in cable news television presents a quandary to many viewers. As Lorraine Code has noted, women are not seen as “possessors of knowledge,” and on the rare occasion they are asked their expert opinion, they typically present themselves in “masculine” ways to be considered a “knower.” Lisa dyed her blond hair brown in a recent episode of The Simpsons so her debating skills would be taken more seriously. What does it mean that blond hair, a prominent symbol of “femininity,” is synonymous with stupidity? To me, this is woman-hating in its rawest form and it should be challenged.

Embracing “the feminine” while performing “masculine expertise” causes great discomfort for some viewers who lash out at what I represent. But this “ignorant slut” (Trevor Beckett), “stupid pathetic bitch” (name not given), “a fucking pile of shit… [who] must have given all your professors blow jobs!” (Robert Johnson) is having the last laugh because it’s a performance that, if done properly, elicits great fear from misogynists.

* Blond is generally used to refer to someone of unknown gender. Blonde refers only to women. In fact, a woman can even be reduced to “a blonde” — an object rather than a person.

Comments

  1. Jeanne Oliver says:

    I have met Professor Heldman and am humbled to be included with the same gender as her. She is very intelligent, eloquent, inspirational, compassionate and a person much to be admired. It saddens me that there are such small-minded people in the world to attack her so callously and crudely.

  2. Of course, the biggest joke is on Fox News itself given that so many of the women on their so-called news shows are blond, and these comments prove criticisms that the women are simply there as eye-candy for their viewers.

  3. Thanks for this great post. It reminds me of my own refusal to give up on my lifelong love of make up even though I am so often told by students and others that my “feminine” made up look discredits my intelligence, etc — in ways that seem similar to those who question your hair color. I am often told I am “selling out to the patriarchy” or some such argument via my fondness for mascara. As such, the quote that speaks the most to me in your piece is “However, as a professor, my occupation requires me to trade on intellect, so blond hair is a strangely effective strategic choice.” I will keep utilizing my “strategic” lip gloss and am pleased to find this effective analysis of how sometimes “feminine norms” can be put to subversive use.

  4. Gaselyne says:

    It astounds me to imagine numerous viewers taking time out after an interview to author hate-emails.

    I checked out your appearances and I congratulate you for demonstrating the ability to hold one’s ground and articulate thoughtful, wise answers under such heated opposition. Thank you!

  5. I *love* it that you’re calling out misogyny and attempts to reduce female intelligence through sexualized threat. Double-love that you are not afraid to name names. I’ve seen your political commentary on Fox News. There is no doubt about your credibility, political insight, and sharp analysis. That these would-be detractors try to deflect attention from your brain to your blondness says a lot … about them. And it’s high time for public pushback on those cheap shots and unacceptable behavior!

    Thanks also for writing about the slippery slope of social scripts and femininity. Rejecting those scripts is to be as trapped as unconsciously embracing them. I read — and wear — what I damn well please.

  6. Great post. So much meaning is encapsulated when you write, “So when I am attacked because of my blond hair, it is often an attack on ‘femaleness’ itself.” It gives a lot to think about.
    On the topic of Fox News and the intelligence of women, John Stewart’s clip “Gretchen Carlson Dumbs Down” is really worth watching:

    http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-december-8-2009/gretchen-carlson-dumbs-down

  7. This again reflects how we as women can’t win. If we’re not playing the game by refusing to wear lipstick, sporting blonde hair, or trying to be pretty, we’re “lesbians” or not making an effort to please our patriarchal masters. If we do, we are targets for derision, labeled sexual objects and treated as though we are less intelligent.

    Thank you for this post and for sharing the bile with us. Nothing lessens its potency then sharing and airing the bullshit.

  8. Arthur Pearson says:

    Ursula Le Guin used to appear on campus in a tweed suit with leather elbow patches and tie, and smoke a pipe, just to freak out her university colleagues.

  9. Can someone please explain to me how blonde hair somehow is more feminine than brown? Please???

  10. Tom Vitale says:

    Very good article/statement.

  11. Tom Vitale says:

    to Nancy Schwartzman’s comment: You don’t lose! “They” twist everything so that you feel you lose and they can SAY that you lose. But in the end “true colors” (Cyndi Lauper) are always revealed.

  12. Um Dr. Heldman, a few points. I have seen you on Fox news and most people I have spoken with don't know who you are, because you are lost in the sea of blondes that air on Fox ( not that there is anything wrong with this fact, but sorry, you don't stand out). Secondly, I have often found your hair to be extremely jarring and distracting and significantly takes away from listening to what you have to say.

    Also, why would someone who is sensitive to racism, consciously dye their hair color blonde knowing that it promotes a racist ideal of beauty?

  13. "I chose to dye my hair platinum blond about a decade ago when I realized that, for most of my feminist life, I had been bowing to the golden cow of masculinity. I started down the feminist path with the notion that women can do/be anything a man can do/be, and in the process I inadvertently placed greater value on men and their socially proscribed activities. So why not upset the apple cart by openly valuing “the feminine,” and what better way to appear hyper-feminine than to sport blond hair?"

    I will be looking forward to the time that you wear a miniskirt and go-go boots to fox, using the same reasoning.

    You really and truly thought all of this before dying your hair? You didn't just think, "I think I'd like to have blond hair" and then did it?

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