I just learned about a new privilege I have: blonde privilege (no, I ain’t linking that crap; go Google if you must). It’s true; my hair is naturally blonde. Light blonde even. Now let me tell you how great it was to grow up with all that blonde privilege.
First, there was the steady flow of dumb blonde jokes ranging from the idiotically sexist to the viciously misogynistic with such hilarious punchlines as the one about women who look like me being too dumb to know when we’re being raped. I know, right? That’s a real thigh-slapper. Particularly when told to a girl who’s both blonde and a rape victim. Hearing that shit on the radio or TV was bad enough, but it was even worse when people I knew, supposed friends even, told such “jokes” right in front of me, expecting me to do what? Laugh?
Then there were the wonderful assumptions many people routinely made about my intelligence and supposed shallowness. Not only was I often presumed to be dumb unless and until I repeatedly provided evidence to the contrary, but lots of people also figured I had neither knowledge of, nor interest in “serious” stuff like politics, law, environmentalism, and social justice movements. Because everyone knows that girls who look like me are airheads who are all about fashion and guys and parties and shopping.
Another huge advantage of being blonde was the type of guys I attracted. Thank goddess I have small breasts or I would have hit the trifecta. Still, talk about being a magnet for the biggest assholes around, the type of guys who think of their girlfriends as trophies. When I was too young to know better, I actually dated a couple of guys who introduced me to their friends like a prized possession while I stood there wishing the earth would swallow me. Meanwhile the progressive and alternative dudes I was interested in thought they were “protesting” mainstream culture with its constant messages that all guys prefer blondes by NOT being into blondes. It wasn’t until I was a little older that I realized any guy who thought a woman’s hair color was this important wasn’t worth my time.
But as a teenager all that stuff hurt. So I solved my problem by buying two boxes of Clairol hair color and locking myself in the bathroom to douse my hair with chemicals. An hour later I emerged with a jet black mane. I loved, loved, loved the response I got. Strangers were substantially less likely to automatically assume I was dumb or shallow. When I showed up at a planning meeting for a political event, people didn’t ask me if I was in the wrong room. Other girls were less likely to hate me on sight. I even experienced less street harassment. It was GREAT!
There was just one problem. My hair grows very fast, and while blonde hair with dark roots can look kinda cool, dark hair with light blonde roots makes you look like you’ve got bald patches. If I went longer than a week without “touching up” my roots, people began to wonder if I had a contagious skin disease that made my hair fall out! Dying my hair on a weekly basis was way too expensive, time-consuming, messy, and unpleasant. I tried black spray-on hair color to maintain my roots, but that stuff not only felt icky, it flaked off onto clothing, pillows, everything! So ultimately I was forced to part with my raven tresses.
As I got a little older, I made peace with my natural hair color. People who make assumptions about me based on the color of my hair can go fuck themselves. Which is not to say that shit doesn’t continue to piss me off. That reminds me, I’ve been meaning to write a letter to the local radio station. While their morning show deejays would never make jokes about racial or ethnic groups, dumb blonde jokes are on the menu at least twice a week. Sexist humor in general is a more or less daily occurrence. Part of the show involves listeners sending in their favorite jokes to be read on the air, and what I’ve noticed is this: Women are far less likely than men to send in jokes that make fun of women in general, but they’re at least equally likely to send in dumb blonde jokes.
During my pre-feminist teen years, my entirely unhelpful response to this was something along the lines of, “Nah, the dumbos you’re thinking of are natural brunettes bleaching their hair to make it look blonde.” Occasionally I’d add something about all that bleach penetrating their skulls to affect their brain function. Or I’d rattle off a list of famous bleached blondes/natural brunettes who were giving us natural blondes a bad name with their dumb blonde acts.
Because that’s one way the patriarchy maintains itself: pitting women against each other. If we can be divided over something as trivial as hair color, what chance do we have to overthrow the system? Which is why I’m really surprised to see some feminists perpetuate this garbage.