My research was focused on how blondes are portrayed in popular culture, but I specifically looked at movies. In order to research this topic I chose to watch three films. The first film was House Bunny starring Anna Faris. The second film was Legally Blonde with Reese Witherspoon. The last movie was Gentlemen Prefer Blondes starring Marilyn Monroe. I decided on these three movie because it gave me some variety in time periods. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was filmed in 1953, while the other two were filmed in the 2000’s, but 8 years apart. I found that in popular media, blonde haired women are continuously shown as oversexualized and unintelligent.
House Bunny is the most recent film out of the three. Anna Faris’ Character Shelley is a well-known playboy bunny. The movie starts out very sexual already with her life in the playboy mansion with many other beautiful women. Throughout the movie it seems that the only clothing that Shelley owns look like clothes that would fit on a Barbie doll. From the very beginning Shelley is obviously not the sharpest tool in the shed. In fact, the cover of the movie says it all. A close-up of her perfect face, but she looks vacuous and confused.
Throughout the plot of the movie, Shelley finds herself the new sorority mother of the ‘weird’ girls on campus. Though she remains the same airheaded beauty throughout the film, she is looked to by the girls for advice on how to get attention from men. Shelley is the classic example of a highly sexualized blonde bimbo.
A female critic, Ruth Hessey, wrote a review on the film. While pretty harsh, her review, in my opinion, is fair. She writes, “It takes sexism to a new low, and it manages to attack women in the last place on earth where they continue to outperform men — in universities.” She goes on to pull a couple things out from the movie to write about specifically. One being when Shelley stated that men don’t like girls who are too smart. It’s obvious the movie is trying to be ironic, but this critic didn’t find too much humor in it. She was disappointed in the writers of this movie, who were also the writers for Legally Blonde, and are both women. She even went as far to write, “..this film may as well have been cooked up by the Taliban as far as I’m concerned.” While this is a bit extreme, I am also disappointed in the writers. The two women who wrote these movies used their power propel the stereotype of blonde women even further, and do even more damage to women in general.
This movie tells an audience that all women care about is trying to get men. Also, that women should care primarily about how they are outwardly perceived. Even more so, that blonde women are the epitome of all of this. Throughout the film the girls are taking advice and getting makeovers to get boys to like them. These makeovers and advice all come from the sexy blonde one, Shelley. Before the girls get their makeovers they all look depressed and the house looks plain and dirty. After, they are happier and the house is a more pleasant place to be. This gives us the idea that women need to be pretty and wanted by men to be happy.
My next film, Legally Blonde, portrays their blonde character slightly different. The fact that this movie did reference the stereotype surprised me. A couple times. Elle was well aware that she was being underestimated because of her looks, blonde hair being the major player there. And while she struggled throughout the movie on proving her intelligence, she did at the end. Kind of.. She won a case because of her extensive knowledge on beauty routines. Which was a win for her, and was portrayed as a positive thing, but didn’t really convince me she was actually smart enough to be going to Harvard. And if Elle had not stumbled upon the error in her witness’ story, due to her knowledge of hair-care, she would have not succeeded. Like the last movie, this movie also has a cover that I’d like to point out.
This cover is definitely less obvious than the last, but this one still has components that catch my attention. Besides the obvious use of photoshop here, the main one that captures my attention is that Elle Woods is head to toe in pink. The classic girly-girl color. Not only is she in all pink, but she also has a stereotypical, tiny dog that is also dressed in pink. The last component that catches my eye is the background. The people in it are the ‘smart’ones that go to Harvard and Judge Elle based on her looks. In this film, the difference in the appearance and wardrobe of Elle compared to the rest of the law students is heavily exaggerated. While Elle is constantly in designer clothes and has her hair perfectly primped everywhere she goes, her Harvard colleagues dress in plaid and neutral colors. All the while these colleagues shame and underestimate her, specifically.
While this film may come off as a movie about a ‘smart’ blonde, at the very root, Elle Woods is just another ditzy blonde who attracts attention with her looks. In my research I found a review of the movie Legally Blonde from an author that hosts his own website and has many other movie reviews as well. From my brief research, the author, Roger Ebert, seemed pretty prestigious in the critic world. Throughout this review he praises the film. He calls the film “a featherweight comedy balanced between silliness and charm.” He briefly addresses the dumb blonde stereotype when he writes, “Despite the title and the implications in the ads, this is a movie about smart blonds, not dumb ones..” He goes on to commend the character for winning the murder trial through her extensive knowledge of hair care. On the surface of this film it does seem as though Elle Woods was over-coming the stereotype by going to school. Now if this man was a blonde woman watching this movie more critically, like me, perhaps he would’ve noted the extremely exaggerated girly-ness of Elle woods, in addition to her over-sexualization, and the fact that she really wasn’t that smart in this movie. The board of admissions for Harvard was persuaded to accept her, even though she was not qualified, after they watched her admissions video, which was her in a bikini. Watching her try to question a witness was painful as she had no idea what she was doing. While this movie differs slightly in the way that Elle is portrayed, that sexy dumb blonde is still there.
Elle’s experience reminded me of some of my own experiences throughout school. While I can contribute most of the experiences I’ve had to being a woman, like the objectification and perceived inferiority, the experiences I’ve had in this field remained mostly in my younger years. Throughout middle school and high school people loved to bring up this stereotype! I was literally called the ‘dumb blonde of the group’ with my middle school friends. At the time it didn’t bother me too much, but as it continued through high school I grew to hate it. To me, it isn’t cool to be stupid and it isn’t ‘cute’ to be an air-head. But I do still hear jokes about it because I work at Starbucks and we have a roast of coffee that is light, it’s called a ‘blonde roast’. You all wouldn’t believe the jokes I get when people ask for ‘a tall blonde’. As I am also pretty tall. It really is painful for me to fake laugh at the trivial joke every time. Much like it is difficult for me to find these air-headed characters charming.
My third movie, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, stars the very famous Marilyn Monroe along with Jane Russel. Jane’s character comes off as strong and witty, often rolling her eyes, with a sexy deep voice. Marilyn’s character is portrayed as money loving. Throughout the movie Jane’s character makes witty joke at the expense of Marilyn’s character, usually without backlash or any sort of acknowledgment from Marilyn. This seems to be because Marilyn does not understand that she is being made fun of, it just goes over her head. While both women are highly sexualized in this film, Marilyn’s character is the only one that comes across as ditzy and immature. Not to mention the title alone speaks wonders.
Throughout my research on this film, I learned that there was first a book written by Anita Loos in 1925. I learned this from an article written by Cristen Conger, on the blog, “Stuff Mom Never Told You”. This brought on the popular term ‘dumb blonde’. The part that interested me the most about this book, is that there is a sequel that was not made into a movie. The second book was titled, “But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes”. This detail shocked me because it seems so cruel on both ends. So blondes get the preference, but not the ring. Brunettes get the ring, but aren’t as preferred as a blonde. It’s pretty harsh really.
One of the details that interested me was how Marilyn’s character came off as immature. The wide-eyed, naïve girl can be more simply put as immature. Especially with the addition of how much she loves money and material possessions. I also found the physical differences between the two characters to be interesting. While Marilyn is blonde, she is also very air-headed and her voice is much higher. Jane’s character had a darker look. Her hair was much darker and her overall appearance just came across as darker. But the most interesting part to me was her voice. Her voice, while talking and singing, was much deeper. While remaining sexy, this gave her a more mature persona.
I also wanted to share an interesting side note about what I found in the results of my google search “Dumb blonde stereotype research”. I came across many papers that were scientific ‘disproving’ the stereotype that blondes are less intelligent. Many papers that explained that hair color has no effect on one’s intelligence. This blew my mind! I had no idea this stereotype was taken so seriously or that people thought this was real. Maybe because I am blonde, but I can’t believe people actually think that hair color affects intelligence level. But, it would be consistent with the way many other stereotypes are perceived that causes people to be believe other races or gender are ‘inferior’.
Underestimated abilities and exaggerated sexuality have been a common theme for blonde women throughout many years in popular culture. As long as movies have been produced, the ‘dumb blonde’ has been a popular character, though they are not always the main character. My research has lead me to the conclusion that our beloved sexy blonde bimbo will not be leaving our screens anytime soon.
As for my two significant learning moments, my first was in the first week of the course. I thoroughly enjoyed “The Evolution of the Doltish Dad” article. Aside from enjoying reading the article, I was completely shocked at this stereotype/depiction I was not aware of. Throughout my education I have learned a lot of about stereotypes and negative depictions of other races and females, but never one like this. This was a great article to remind us that harmful stereotypes can be about anyone, even white males. My second significant learning moment was in week six when we did the revision workshop. I read about the reverse outline and transitions and I was shocked these weren’t techniques I had learned in writing courses. Both of these strategies really helped me with my writing and I’m sure I won’t soon forget them.
Ebert, Roger. “Legally Blonde Movie Review & Film Summary.”RogerEbert.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Aug. 2015.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes [Motion picture]. (1953). 20th Century Fox Film Corp.
The House Bunny [Motion picture]. (2008). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Hessey, Ruth. “The House Bunny.” Radio National. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Aug. 2015.
“History’s Original Dumb Blonde.” Stuff Mom Never Told You. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Aug. 2015.
Legally blonde [Motion picture]. (2001). MGM Home Entertainment.