Who’s the dumb one when scientists spend their time on cultural fantasies?


I know scientists are traditionally not the centre of attention, but a study on whether blondes truly are less intellectually gifted has to say more about the scientists involved than about anyone else, be they blonde, brunette, or bald as an egg.

As a PR exercise, a study on whether blondes are dumb is up there with a longitudinal survey on whether all Popes are in fact Jewish (Jesus was, you know).

An article in the Telegraph accompanied with a picture of Boris Johnson on the topic appeared to have ‘dumb’ confused with ‘incredibly attention seeking’. It’s also my first time seeing a blond man linked to the whole ‘dumb blonde’ trope.

There are very few blond men in Ireland, but blonde women, of course, are everywhere. Few of us are born this way, but submit, once every six weeks, to a scalp-tingling, time-consuming ritual involving tinfoil, rubber gloves and an array of pungent-smelling chemicals that would knock a horse.

When it comes to the hairdresser’s bill, I can confirm that blondes most definitely do not have more fun. €100 is cheap for a head full of highlights, not to mention the various potions and unguents that need to be applied in the meantime, to stop that brassy, Bet from Coronation Street look that can only be accessorised with blood red lipstick and leopardskin.

But I digress.

The blondes have more fun stereotype, which seems to have originated with Marilyn Monroe and her breathless baby voice, is part of a cultural trope that blonde women are childlike, if not childish, and not the brightest.

In other words, entirely dependent on whichever dark and handsome stranger they hook up with. They’re not meant to think for themselves, making them ideal sexual partners, because let’s face it, who wants a woman with opinions and an adult attitude to self-fulfilment?

This might sound like an exaggeration, but the cultural baggage around blonde women in US culture was shown most recently, and with devastating effects, in the recent homicidal rampage of Eliot Rodger. Rodger had posted YouTube videos complaining that blonde women wouldn’t sleep with him because he was Asian. Part of his murderous mission was to ‘punish’ a number of different blonde women, for not having sex with him, which he believed should not be their choice.

Blonde women are the ultimate sexual prize in US pop culture, a few notches up from a blow up doll but often depicted with a similar personality.

Researchers at Stanford University found that it takes a change in just one letter of DNA (or a whole load of peroxide, of course) to change a mouse from blonde to brunette. There is no impact on brain function, cognitive ability or even – shocker – sense of direction.

“The genetic mechanism that controls blond hair doesn’t alter the biology of any other part of the body,” lead researcher Professor David Kingsley told The Telegraph.

“It’s clear that this hair colour change is occurring through a regulatory mechanism that operates only in the hair. The change that causes blond hair is, literally, only skin deep.”

The film Legally Blonde (a favourite among my undergraduate law class, many of whom were, yes, blonde) took a poke at the stereotype, with Reese Witherspoon challenging the idea that you can’t be blonde, ditzy and bubbly and also have a brain.

As a blonde who has been regularly described as ditzy (mainly by people who have had the misfortune of waiting for me at a destination that eludes my atrocious sense of direction) but also has a first in law, it’s one of my favourites. Ok, it’s no Citizen Kane, but you take inspiration where you find it.

When it comes to blondes in high places, look east, and you find Angela Merkel, pulling the strings of the rest of the European leaders. Further east, and you have the ferocious Julia Tymoshenko, hardly a ditzy schoolgirl, plaits or no plaits. Look West, and you have another legal blonde on the ascendant, as former Yale law professor Hillary Clinton makes her bid for the US Presidency. I don’t need science to tell me dumb blondes are a fiction.

 

Published in The Herald.

 

 

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