The Blonde Woman in Popular Culture

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Work Cited

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “The Blonde Woman in Popular Culture

  1. Hey Sydney!

    I really enjoyed reading your paper on the stereotypes that blondes hold in the media. Being represented as a stereotype is really frustrating sometimes. Something I noticed in your first two examples is that movies also hold the stereotype that women have to change in order to get a guy. Like in House Bunny, it’s all about looking good for the guy, and in Legally blonde, it’s all about changing your life pattern and going to another school to win a guy back. It kind of plays into the sexist stereotype too of having women change for men. I appreciate you facing the fact that blondes in the media are seen more sexualized than other hair colored women. It’s an eye opening fact that people don’t really talk about.

  2. It is true that the blonde stereotype has strong presence. Like in the movie “Grown Ups”, the blonde girl serves as a sex symbol and only exists because of her look. But lately I have seen some films that are not the case. For example, Reese Witherspoon in the movie “Hot Pursuit” is a energetic, disciplined and ambitious police officer. She is so dedicated to her mission that I want to pay my respect. That being said, film makers are, either deliberately or not, making changes to representation blondes and therefore impressions that people have for them. .

  3. Hi Sydney,
    I thought that you post was very insightful, I have watched both Legally Blonde and The House Bunny and I was really glad to be able to have a point of preference to what you were talking about. I like that you chose movies from different eras to show how this stereotype still persists. I really liked how you highlighted the focus on getting male’s attention in The House Bunny because now that I think of it, during the entire movie, you do not see any of the girls going to class or doing their homework. They were only shown during times when they were trying to get attention from the boys or battling with the rival sorority house. Additionally, I agree with you on the fact that in Legally Blonde, the only reason Elle Woods won her case was because of her extensive on hair care and that she was only picked because her admission video was of her in a bikini in a jacuzzi. This overshadows the positive notions of the movie about overcoming adversity and breaking the ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype. Overall, your essay was very detailed and I liked that you added your own experience to the post. It was a great read!

  4. Sydney-
    Although I obviously knew this stereotype existed, I’ve never examined it as thoroughly as you obviously experience it every day. I am and have always been a brunette, so watching movies like the House Bunny and Legally Blonde are fun experiences for me. I always knew that House Bunny was so obviously sending out a bad message, but it never really occurred to me to think about how Shelley was the dumb blonde that was teaching girls to basically be like her, and that’s the only way to get guys to like you. The fact that you need to be pretty and for guys to pay attention to you to be happy is a pretty disturbing message that I never considered from this movie, because I never really took it seriously.
    I’ll also admit that I am a fan of Legally Blonde, but I agree with your points that when you look deeper into the movie it really isn’t about overcoming other people’s expectations of you, but rather enforcing these perfect blonde stereotypes about women. It’s funny how as women we like to think that we all stick up for each other, and that we’re all trying to get rid of these stereotypes and expectations, but at the same time we’re blind to issues that affect women who are a little different than us. I’ll definitely be paying more attention, especially because these kinds of stereotypes hurt the women around me. It’s horrible that you experience these kinds of jokes or expectations every day, because you’re one of the smartest people I know!

  5. Hey Sydney,

    The blonde stereotype is definitely one that almost everyone is familiar with. Blonde jokes are a thing that almost everyone can say they have heard even if they don’t fully understand the meaning. Not many people go into much detail about these blonde jokes or how they originated and I am glad you were able to do that in your post. The unintelligent and oversexual stereotypes of blondes is common throughout popular media these days. The movies you provided as examples were perfect for showing these misconceptions in action. I have personally never seen Legally Blonde, however, I have heard that it encompasses these ideas to the fullest.
    -Austin V.

  6. Hi Sydney!

    Your post was a great read. Tt’s unfortunate that this stereotype has been repeated so many times throughout cinema history that it’s engraved as a fact in some people’s minds and that the chances of it leaving the theaters is slim. I’m glad to see you went in depth with this topic to show how some movies that seem like they’re empowering women, like Legally Blonde, are actually not doing so because her accomplishments were only based on her looks or on her stereotypical interests which still pushes the “dumb blonde.” Even though this stereotype may not leave society anytime soon, I do hope the media comes out with my pieces that goes against the stereotype.

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