Being Blonde

Vintage Portrait Photo Picture of a Little Blonde Girl in a Room of Plants and Sunshine I hear they’ve discovered the gene that makes one blonde.

I was a towhead as a child. As a baby, my hair was so light and fine I looked bald for a very long time. It darkened as I grew, and now my natural color can be called honey by the charitable and dishwater by the not-so-charitable.

Though you’d never know it to look at me. I henna now, but as soon as I could I started dyeing my hair, preferably black as sin. Occasionally I’d liven it up with a black that had red undertones, but I despised my natural color.

Why? people would ask. Everyone wants to be blonde, right?

No, they don’t.

The comments started when I was young. Oh, she’s blonde! So pretty, she’ll never have to worry about finding a boyfriend. Often, when I did something kid-stupid or silly, my haircolor was blamed. That’s so blonde of you. It was a low hum, something I was foggily aware of. I was busy with other things–surviving, mostly.

Then came adolescence. I gained weight in self-defense–food didn’t yell at me, judge, or hit me. I could always depend on food. Also, if I was heavier, men and boys stopped doing certain things. They only insulted me instead of insulting and sexualising, molesting and harassing me, which wasn’t much of an improvement but constituted some progress. Unfortunately, those were the years that “blonde jokes” had a resurgence. Sitcoms, songs, commercials, all got in the act. It was everywhere.

My stepfather latched onto the zeitgeist with unseemly lipsmacking glee. There was a constant barrage of blonde jokes, even outshining his favourite fat-girl and slut-jokes. I don’t mean occasionally, or just at holidays. I mean every day there were at least a dozen. Old favourites were repeated, and he brought home more from his buddies on base. Maybe they thought he was a connoisseur of such things, I don’t know. Mostly he deployed them during dinner, where I was also told clean your plate, we worked hard to get you that food and, in the next breath, if you just lost some weight you’d be such a pretty girl.

I didn’t want to be a pretty girl. I wanted to be left alone.

My mother took her cue from my stepfather, and it became a family maxim that I was book-smart, maybe, and I got fantastic grades but I was blonde, and that meant stupid. I’d never be street-smart. I wasn’t practical. If I just lost some weight, well, I was blonde and I’d find someone to take care of me, since I was so flighty and dipsy and head-in-the-clouds.

Black hair dye changed that. I looked in the mirror after rinsing it out, breathing in the chemical reek, and I saw someone different. Instead of blonde jokes, my infrequent family visits now meant I was told just that I was too fat and stupid, but without the constant “How do you confuse a blonde?” or “A blonde walks into a bar,” or “There was this blonde, you see…” The prevailing narrative was still that I was a mistake, but it felt marginally better.

A few times, over the years, I’ve had my natural color–mostly while growing my hair out after shaving my head in mourning. Each time, the jokes started again, the random comments from men. My response has become simple: I turn around and walk away, often in the middle of the joke. No discussion, it just makes me too tired. Often, the man in question will try to follow me, shouting. As if they cannot believe I don’t find them entertaining. My female friends say “I had a blonde moment!” or something similar only once or twice before they cotton on that such a thing makes me fierce. Don’t say that about yourself, I will fume. Don’t put yourself down at all, but especially like that. I can’t stand it. Please don’t do it.

The worst was having to listen to that sort of bullshit in an office environment. Nowadays I have the great luxury of not having to put up with that shit during my daily job, and I recognize it’s a luxury not many women share. I’m sorry. I wish I had some good advice, but I never learned a foolproof way of making a group of men you work with stop once they’ve discovered misogynistic crap irritates you.

I still don’t find blonde jokes funny. At all. In the absence of a gene treatment to give me a less awful color (seriously, I want GREY, dammit, with my eyes I could really rock long grey hair) the henna will have to do.

It’s a practical solution, after all. You could even say it’s smart.

photo by: Beverly & Pack
  • I have a blonde niece who now dyes her hair black. My blonde daughter wants to dye her hair. And while both are loved and supported at home, there is a ugly misogynist culture out there. At the start of her first year of high school, my daughter had to deal with being called slut and whore on a daily basis. On the other hand, being dark haired and olive skin isn’t a protection. There is a pretty good book on the issue called Slut.

  • Yeah. The misogyny in our culture–I think of Palmolive, actually. “You’re soaking in it, Madge.” You know? It’s so pervasive. It’s weird, because every time I hear other women’s stories, I don’t feel any shock anymore. Just weary “oh yeah, I’ve seen that too.” Awful.

  • Stephanie

    I was a redhead, so thankfully I was not the brunt of blonde jokes.
    I just didn’t smile. Well, just not enough. “You would be so much prettier if you smiled.” “Why so serious? Boys won’t like you if you’re always so serious”. So in a small, small way I can relate. All these ways to try to keep little girls in line, to stifle their voices, to tell them they can’t think or function on their own. To make them uncomfortable in their own skin.
    Keep writing, keep blogging. The best advice, I think, is just to carry on being smart and capable. Every penstroke you write is a repudiation of that very misogynistic crap.
    Ms. Saintcrow, you will rock the long grey hair.

  • Stephanie

    God, yes, the perfect analogy. ” You’re soaking in it.”

  • Oh man, daily guys tell me to “smile, you’ll be so much prettier!”, because I apparently look so grumpy… Well sorry dude, I don’t wake up in the morning to look pretty for you and secondly I don’t intend to look grumpy, it is just my normal face.
    I just hate it.
    I am a blonde too, but the only guy who thinks that was prettier is my stepdad. My fiancé likes my red hair. My cat in fact loved my red hair so much, that she slept on them since I dyed them. She never did it when I dyed them black.

    I am sure you will rock those grey hair. Grey hair are pretty cool.

  • It’s amazing how many of the constant comments like “smile!” or “You’d be so pretty if…” are founded in the idea that one’s sole purpose in life is to make the onlooker feel better about himself, or provide him with a pleasant experience. Amazing and fucking maddening.

  • True, sadly.
    About two weeks ago my 16 year old brother and two equally old (female) friends of him were visiting and we went to this Anime event. There was this dude, very weird guy, who was constantly telling one of my brother’s friends to “smile”. After we finally told him to get lost we had this conversation about dudes telling girls to smile because then they would be prettier.
    I was really appalled that even a 16 year old girl has these problems already.

    I even had a weird guy following me in a park because I was wearing my combat boots and he thought it was his mission to convince me to wear something more female. Luckily for him he left before I got really angry.

    Why is everything about the guys and pleasing them? My eyeliner is certainly not for them, it’s for me. My green eyes look seriously awesome with black around them 😉

  • The entitlement such males display is massive. And a lot of guys seem to settle on “negging,” as I believe those awful “pickup artists” call it. If they can give you a backhanded compliment, they think it makes you more receptive to their attentions.

    Really, with damn near everything in our visual and auditory culture (pop songs, television, print ads, magazines) treating the female body like something a man has a RIGHT to, one can see where that has its beginning and is fed and watered until it grows monstrous foul.

  • Winning the girl, as if they were some damn prize. It’s sickening and maddening. Women are beautiful, I agree in that, but it is like women aren’t people.
    It shouldn’t be said that “She is someone’s daughter, sister, friend, mother, whatever”. It should read “She is someone.”
    Thank you for being who you are Ms Saintcrow. You are a great role model.