Book recs/opinions: society telling women that the way they look should relate to them being believed?

(92 Posts)
LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 11:18:17

I'm just trying to work through this idea I have. At a conference a couple of years ago, Gail Dines did a talk about how all sorts of media send messages to women (and men) telling us that the way a woman looks is a good indicator of whether or not we should trust her.

Obviously we all know the rape-myth stuff: oh, that woman is wearing a short skirt, she must be up for it, etc. But there are also stereotypes like that blonde women are less credible as serious people, and so on.

Do you think these stereotypes still have a big effect on how people see women? And how do you think these stereotypes get communicated to us?

The reason I'm interested is that I was thinking about films like 'Legally Blonde', which seem to me to be pretending they're undermining the whole 'blonde and ditzy woman' stereotype - but they actually annoy the fuck out of me because they push a whole load of antifeminist stereotypes at the same time.

I don't know what feminist scholarship I could read on this issue (I've read Beauty and Misogyny but it doesn't quite cover it). You see, I was trying to think about how we all learn to interpret these cultural messages and how it affects our attitudes to our own looks, when often those looks are going to be used to measure how credible we are in different ways.

What do you think?

scallopsrgreat Wed 11-Sep-13 11:35:08

I think women are expected to smile a lot (more than men). People notice much more when women don't smile hence the "Smile, love, it may never happen" comments <rage>. A woman who doesn't smile is a 'wrong' thing. Most people won't notice men who don't smile but they'll notice them if they do smile a lot. Not sure if it is linked to credibility as such. There may be an element of distrust there for non-smiling women or women whose mouths just naturally point down. Certainly getting labelled as unapproachable.

Women who are overweight get noticed more as well. And their credibility is definitely affected. After all women aren't supposed to be overweight (if indeed they are overweight and just not a size 0). There have been many surveys with overweight people and getting jobs for example. I don't know the sex-bias on that but given that a lot of people think being overweight and obesity is a woman's problem (when in fact there is a higher percentage of obese men), I think there would be a sex-bias.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 11:38:11

That's so true about smiling. I hadn't thought about unsmiley women not being trusted but now you mention it, I do notice that people constantly go on about Victoria Beckham not smiling (even though she's made it known she feels insecure about her face and that's why she doesn't). And it does seem to be linked to the perception she's somehow faked her way to the top, doesn't it?

Interesting about weight, too. I didn't know that there as a higher percentage of obese men.

scallopsrgreat Wed 11-Sep-13 11:41:49

I think that I read on here that there is. I'll see if I can find it. (Worried now I might be spreading untruths!)

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 11:50:21

Certain characteristics on females seem to be considered as an invitation to certain types of attention.

eg I am blonde, I have a friend with very big breasts. These things have been pointed out to us by random people all of our lives. Why?

I suppose she could pay for a breast reduction so as not to be seen as inviting a certain type of attention, ditto I could have had my hair dyed from birth. But that seems the wrong way around.

Why are blondes thought of as thick / open to all sorts of male attention?
Why is it seen as reasonable to point out to a girl or woman with big breasts that yes, she has big breasts?
Do these things affect more than just communication with randoms? Certainly people are always very surprised by what I like doing / what I've studied etc, presumably on the basis that I'm small and blonde? Women who like this stuff are supposed to look more masculine or something?

Does my head in.
Men don't get this anywhere near the same - with them assumptions would likely be made on attire / presentation, which are easily changed, and if they are "making a statement" then that is conscious - it's not just down to their foot size or nose shape or something.

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 11:54:21

YY about VB

I have never understood why people go on about her not smiling
I've never understood why she gets slagged off so much at all TBF

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 11:55:54

Oh, I wasn't doubting you, scallops, just didn't know.

nice - yes, it's horrible, isn't it? sad I have heard the theory that blonde hair is stigmatized because more children than adults are blonde, and therefore it is subconsciously associated with childishness. Which leads us to the rather obvious question of why blond men aren't regularly seen as idiots. hmm

I wonder at what age we start getting these messages? Because I was blonde when I was little (I'm dark brunette now, you'd never know), and I can remember being about 5 and insisting my hair wasn't turning brown - because already I knew that brown was less good.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 11:56:26

I think VB gets it in the neck to a ridiculous degree and it really pisses me off.

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 12:08:32

I have been wanting to talk about blondeness for a while actually grin

As I have noticed something odd lately.

When I was young, men looked. Male gaze was obvious, always there. Being heavily pregnant, and having a day at FIL was a revelation, as it wasn't there, and it was lovely.

Anyway here's the thing. When I was young, and slim and small and not bad looking, I thought, well that's how it is.

Now I just got a job up in town where generally people seem to be quite slim and attractive (money). I am no longer slim grin nor young. I am just over 40, and a size 16. But what I have noticed is that men still look. They look because of the colour of my hair, I'm sure of it. There is nothing else to see grin

So WTAF is that all about? Is having blonde hair like a beacon to say "ogle me"???? When I was younger, was that why I had it so bad in terms of unwanted attention?

It's all very strange.

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 12:10:51

And yes obviously men will find something to harrass women about if they want to - too short, too tall, breasts too big or too small, hair to short or too long, and so on ad infinitum.

But this blondeness thing. Is weird.

And yes no-one assumes that blonde men are stupid, or up for it, or want to have random stuff shouted at them on the street confused

grimbletart Wed 11-Sep-13 12:21:46

I think the blonde thing is age related. Health warning: this is pure anecdote from personal experience.

I was blonde as a child but like many people turned brown as I grew up and was a definite brunette by my mid teens. In my 50s I started to go grey but not a nice grey - patchy at the front, for example, not that wonderful steely grey that is so attractive. I didn't like it so I gradually dyed my hair lighter until I "turned" into a blonde. But I didn't find it affected how I was treated either in business or socially.

Maybe by the time you reach the age of invisibility i.e. post menopausal, it makes no difference, or perhaps the personal confidence one gains by that age, means you give off a different aura. I don't know. But I suspect the effect of blonde being seen as ditzy or not bright probably applies only to younger women.

Any thoughts?

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 12:23:01

That's so odd. And quite dehumanizing, isn't it, as if you're a composite of body parts, one of which is somehow 'worth' looking at?

I do think this is really interesting. And blondness or fairness (of skin) is a really huge transhistorical symbol of female beauty, isn't it? I mean, it's not absolutely everywhere but it does seem to crop up again and again.

I don't know if it's related, but my DH has long blond hair. He is also six foot tall, sixteen stone, and bearded. But he still gets people using the wrong-gendered pronoun if they come up behind him. How odd is that?! As if somehow long blond hair is such a female thing, they just shortcut to 'her' in their minds, and don't compute the rest?

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 12:27:43

It is hard to separate out whether people are surprised when you can do certain stuff or have certain interests is because you are female, or blonde, or a sort of catastrophic combination of the two grin

The age of invisibility sounds like a nice place to be. Just another thing though - women are either ogled or ignored. Men can just be.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 12:31:25

Yes, and the other thing that annoys me (massive generalization, but) is that when men discuss aesthetics, it's all arty, whereas when women discuss it, it's us bitching about other women, or us being shallow and vapid about appearance.

scallopsrgreat Wed 11-Sep-13 12:32:30

LRD - I've very quickly found some stats from the US where a greater % of men are overweight or obese. Obesity levels are similar between men and women. You wouldn't think it looking at diet adverts hmm

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 12:38:55

YY reporting is terribly biased.

There was something about schoolchildren recently which was odd. I'll try and remember.

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 12:42:14

Well there's loads of examples.

It's like it's the job of females in society to bear the brunt / represent whatever it is that's going wrong.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 12:45:58

Thanks scallops. And no, you wouldn't.

nice - I'd like to know.

I am trying to get my mind around where I stand on aesthetic theory, I guess, because I feel really uncomfortable with a lot of it and historically there seems to be such a shedload of misogyny around appearances. Is there any positive way to approach all of this?

I'd like us all to be happy with how we look, and I don't know how we're going to get there.

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 12:57:43

What is aesthetic theory? [thick emoticon]

If men stand around talking about the aesthetic appeal of other men, people would think they were gay, surely? I can't imagine a conversation like that in my workplace! Patriarchy condoned homophobia in action.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 13:03:25

Sorry. blush

I may as well put my cards on the table and admit this thread is me trying to get my ideas in order for an academic project proposal, so I've got jargon in my brain.

Aesthetic theory is just theories about why something is beautiful (or ugly) and what it means to judge things as beautiful or ugly. A lot of it is really nasty judgements of women's bodies. And it gets all tied up with morality because historically there's this very old idea that if something is beautiful, that tells you about how good or bad it is.

What I'm interested in is stuff like, you know how when you start watching a film, you can usually tell who the 'good' woman is because of how she looks, and there are cues from appearance that tell you such-and-such a woman is probably going to come a cropper because of how she looks? It's really unpleasant.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 13:04:17

I think the sexuality point is important, btw.

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 13:05:30

TBF hollywood is not exactly subtle and you can usually tell who the "baddies" and "goodies" are on the male side as well.

The baddies are english
and/or have a scar on their face.
Simples.

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 13:07:23

On telly if it's a US crime show, the best looking woman is the one who will be horribly slaughtered.

Like the modern version of the red-shirts on star trek grin

You could have a field day with the messages from mainstream US TV / film. Very clear and very obvious and often really bizarre values on display.

Are you going to do that or stick with the UK?

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 13:09:49

You can see the difference in aesthetic standards by looking at photos / art over the years and the way women look changes just vastly including fundamental body shape (ribs out, corsets) etc and so on.

Meanwhile men stay looking pretty much the same. Sometimes they may have larger sideburns. Or a bit of a heel. And that's kind of that.

I expect you have thought of that stuff though as it's what you're studying and I'm just noodling away on my sofa!!!

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 13:26:24

grin Yeah. I take your point about Hollywood.

It's interesting about men staying more or less the same, and women's body shapes. I can't think of anything Western men have deliberately done to their bodies that would actually change them forever - like footbinding or corsets did. I'd be interested to know if such things ever happened, or if I'm missing obvious ones?

I'm actually using the films stuff as a gateway to look at medieval romances, but I want to keep in mind that it's basically not dissimilar to modern pop culture, and hopefully what I find out will say useful things about how these messages get constructed in modern culture as well as in history. I dunno.

FreyaSnow Wed 11-Sep-13 14:45:55

With regard to Tabard's point about blondes, there is definitely a particular issue with blondeness. I have heard blonde men say that they are taken less seriously, and I have had discussions with both straight women and gay men who who would never date a blonde man. It is definitely an asset for men to have dark hair.

I think I have most of the physical attributes that are markers of seriousness and credibility, but having those markers also puts me under suspicion of not being a good mother, caring or nurturing. So I would not be credible in any situation involving children.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 14:48:54

Really?! That is fascinating. I have not come across this about blond men, but interesting to know.

Isn't not being maternal also seen as something that's distrusted in women? So we walk a really fine line.

FreyaSnow Wed 11-Sep-13 15:08:46

I've also seen some comments by the extreme end of MRA/ Red Pill thinking of men who will only commit to women if they are blonde with either blue or green eyes, with various political/social/pseudo scientific reasons as to why. If you really needed to look into it more deeply, there is plenty of stuff out there in the murkier corners of the Internet.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 15:18:27

Eww. Lovely.

(Not heard of 'red pill' before, btw.)

I think I'll survive without looking into it more deeply. What I think is tricky is that it is so hard not to internalize these messages about how we shold look, and not to make assumptions about people's behaviour based on them. And I don't know at what stage we learn that, or how we learn to stop people picking those messages up.

I know there's stuff like studies with children who're in the ethnic minority in their class who pick white faces as the 'pretty' ones, and this seems to go away if you expose them to enough images of non-white people (obvious, I guess). But it seems harder to do with women because all kinds of women's appearance are associated with something negative, often all at the same time by the same people.

FreyaSnow Wed 11-Sep-13 15:34:40

Yes, physical attributes are like clothing for women. No matter which physical attributes you have, all of them have negative misogynistic stereotypes associated with them. There is just a variation in which stereotype will be applied depending on your hair colour, breast size, height etc.

I fist heard about red pill when I saw the 'feminazis stole my ice cream' video. The creator of the video has been harassed by MRAs and red pill men ever since (no surprises there). It is only 40 seconds long, if you want to watch it (sorry for derailing).

http://vimeo.com/64941331

FreyaSnow Wed 11-Sep-13 15:35:06
LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 15:36:48

grin

That is completely bonkers and brilliant.

what I find out will say useful things about how these messages get constructed in modern culture as well as in history

Yes! Do that! It would be fascinating to trace stereotypes of female aesthetic characteristics being linked to trustworthiness, status in society (which links to power etc) through history and then attempt to relate them to issues like female freedom, age of marriage, laws about women and their status, that sort of thing. What does a "respectable lady" look like, what power, status and freedoms does she have, and how does that relate to now. I think we'd probably be surprised (and saddened) by the results.

Good luck with it! I'm sure you have real colleagues to help, but if you want an internet random to give you a second opinion I'd be happy to help.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 16:30:45

Yeah, but you missed out the 'hopefully'! blush

I don't know if I can do this, but I think it would be useful. You see, part of what I was thinking was, when we try and explain these messages to lots of people, they feel attacked. It is hard to say 'well, this film you love is actually really shitty because it sends out messages x, y and z about women' or 'this advert you saw was actually telling you a, b and c about women, even though you didn't notice'.

So I thought maybe it would almost be easier to understand these things by looking at a culture that's a bit more distant from ours, and the fact that this culture actually developed into and influenced ours makes it a bonus.

(And internet randoms' opinions were exactly what I was going for! grin)

The thing about distant culture, though, is that it's distant, so people can still ignore what light it might shed on our culture by just repeating to others and themselves that things are different now. What I think is interesting is trying to draw parallels between the past (when most people can agree that women weren't treated equally) and now (when lots of people will argue until they're blue in the face that all the problems were solved in the 70s and everything's fine now).

Personally, what I think would be fascinating is the shock value of how much things haven't really changed a great deal in terms of our cultural perception of women. Despite equality legislation.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 17:02:06

Oh, sure, I think that is the risk with it being distant. But what I am hoping to do is to trace the emergence of some of these stereotypes in these stories, and to say, look, they're still here and some of them have even become sort of fossilised into our ideas, even though the social and cultural situation they were rooted in has changed hugely.

So yes, very much as you say, I want that shock value.

I don't know how much I will manage it. I had a vague idea that if I could get this project up and running, it would be a good one to do both some academic work on, and some public engagement stuff.

I won't and can't do it purely as feminist polemic (though I wish I could), I need it to be valid research in my subject as well.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 17:04:55

I also very much want to take a crack at that ever-repeated idea that things are sooo much better for woman nowadays, and what are you complaining about, cos it was horrible in The Past (with 'The Past' being some vague imagined time a bit like the 1950s and a bit like Game of Thrones).

Because it seems to me that young women and girls have fewer strategies for processing what messages they're getting from culture about how to look and how to be believed, not more. And it seems to be tied to saying, well, it's the internet age, you must expect to control your image. I find that very sad and a bit shit.

It sounds a tiny bit similar (in aim, not anything else) to a project that I am attempting with some colleagues from other disciplines trying to make a direct social and scientific (like proper, hard science grin) comparison with people who live in very deprived circumstances now and people who lived in poverty in the past.

I know that research councils are dead keen on multi-disciplinary collaborations at the moment, so you could consider collaboration with a like-minded colleague who has a similar interest but expertise in, I dunno, media or psychology? Unless you're looking specifically for individual funding of course...

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 17:17:19

I am a bit hesitant about collaborating, because it's rare in my discipline and because at the moment, what I primarily need is a postdoc and an institution to attach myself to, so for now, it needs to be an individual proposal, I think. I might rethink that later.

Your project sounds very cool, btw.

I don't know how practical this is, but I kind of wanted to get engaged with people who weren't academics, anyway. Because part of the point of focusing on the texts I'm looking at is that people both then and now used to put them down because they were popular, and because they were popular with women, and so sort of 'trash lit'. And I was thinking how women tend to get pushed into doing our thinking in the context of trash lit (or romcoms, or whatever you like), don't we? I mean, I know there's academic study of romcoms and so on - and I know someone who did a whole Phd comparing Middle English romance to Mills and Boon. But it would be kind of cool, methodologically, not to going all academic but to be getting a certain amount of 'general public' imput.

I don't know if that's even vaguely likely to work.

I do think this thread shows it is something we're all aware of, though, everyone has 'got' it as soon as I posted and has experiences of it, with things like being expected to smile or getting treated differently for blonde hair.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 17:19:54

(Sorry, that sounded really negative, it wasn't meant to!)

It's just, I've been so fascinated by this for ages, why we do get sucked into accepting 'oh yes, blonde is pretty' even when we know we have the cognitive dissonance going on. I think fiction is a big part of it and I am trying to put the pieces together on that, I guess, without wanting to change disciplines totally and look at modern film or modern books.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 17:27:55

Reading this back I feel really rude.

I didn't mean to get into 'blah blah blah me me me' and I have, and I meant to ask for book recs and opinions only.

I can get this deleted if people like.

FreyaSnow Wed 11-Sep-13 17:43:54

I think that The book 'Femininity' might be useful, if you haven't already read it. I read it about twenty years, but I do remember it related aspects of physical appearance to examples contemporary media and historical examples too. It definitely includes a discussion of the story (possibly Victorian?) about the woman who sold her hair to buy her husband a Christmas present, only to find that at Christmas he had bought her hair clasps, and the significance of long hair and the meaning of having to sell hair and be seem with short hair. Presumably there are other examples in there. Sorry for rambling.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 17:49:44

Thank you! That is really helpful.

I didn't know the story (that's sad).

You don't sound in the least rude, as far as I can see smile

I know less than nothing about methodology in medieval history, but if you wanted to engage people in your work as part of your proposal, you could consider finding a way to reframe the historical texts so that they are relevant to now. You could do this through workshops or other events (even online?) working with non academics.

Sorry, I will butt out now! You can tell that my interest is primarily methodological, can you blush

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 17:58:32

Oh, good! Thanks.

I'm not wanting you to butt out at all, btw, this is really helpful. I am trying to reframe, as best I can, I'm just new to it all.

I only started thinking about all this a few weeks ago (the academic bit I mean), because I was thinking how there's all this feminism that I am really, genuinely so interested in, and I would love to work on it more. So I am just trying to find a way to do that.

I had thought that there might be a feminist conference that would be interested in a workshop, maybe. I don't know. But people on here seem to like women's history, which it would be, and to be interested in talking about stereotypes like these ones, so it might work.

MiniTheMinx Thu 12-Sep-13 20:55:37

Have you seen this www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1250520/Blondes-really-fun-Men-claim-brunettes-make-best-wives-fair-haired-women-better-bed.html

Sorry its the Daily Fail, so I'll paste it in, might be useful smile

Blondes may have more fun - but it comes at a price. Men don't trust them. A study found that while fair-haired women are considered to be the most adventurous in bed, brunettes are seen as more reliable in a relationship ... and more sexy.In a poll of 1,500 men, more than 60 per cent thought dark-haired girls were the most trustworthy and loyal,compared with just 14 per cent of blondes. The result is men feel brunettes make the best wives

Some 61 per cent said they would prefer to marry a brunette over women with any other hair colour.Brunettes were also the most popular choice to have a deep and meaningful conversation with (63 per cent).While 34 per cent of men like the blonde-haired glamour model look, 42 per cent said they actually found brunettes sexier.More than half (51 per cent) also think women with dark hair are better kissers, while 47 per cent think they are the most sensual.Nevertheless, blondes take the prize in the bedroom stakes - 36 per cent of men considered those with light hair to be the most wild, while just 31 per cent think of brunettes in the same way

Commenting on the study for Philips Sensual Massagers, spokesman Karen Moore said: 'Blondes have always had a reputation for being fun, carefree and adventurous and it seems that can also be applied to relationships, as men think they have the best skills when it comes to the bedroom.'But brunettes seem to have every other aspect of a relationship sewn up, right down to the kissing.'However, it's interesting that despite thinking blondes are better in bed, men actually see brunettes as being the more passionate.'This research stands those with dark hair in good stead for a long-term relationship as they look likely to be the best at keeping their other half entertained and happy as well as managing a home and looking after children.'The study also found men see women with dark hair as more maternal, best at looking after family finances and the best cooks

Regards the blonde hair/dark hair I read years ago that it was to do with Blonde hair being synonymous with age, innocence, trust and generosity, dark hair being synonymous with witch craft, the dark arts and seriousness. I suppose in myth and legend witches were always portrayed as being dark haired.

NiceTabard Thu 12-Sep-13 21:13:33

Well fuck me.

What a bizarre survey to carry out. Men!!!! Who do you want to fuck / marry / have cook for you, and why????

I mean, WHAT?

Also the surveyors and the surveyed men appear to be working on the assumption that hair colour is like clothing - it can be changed at will.

If they carried out such a shit ridiculous survey in an area with lots of natural fair blonde people, would they get the same result? What about in an area where everyone pretty much had very dark hair? Doubt it.

And even the opener "Blondes may have more fun" - WHY? People who are born with blonde hair will have a range of personality types. Maybe they are not "fun types" and others try to have fun, kind of at them when they are young. WTF? That's not fun for the young person on the receiving end, it's shit. Then again, lots of not blondes dye their hair that colour - why? And what sort of effect does it have on the ones of us who just look like that? A fucking bad one is what.

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

<rants>

MiniTheMinx Thu 12-Sep-13 21:23:19

I know, lots of assumptions. Its absurd.

Portofino Thu 12-Sep-13 21:25:05

I was reading something about Katherine of Aragon and Henry VIII and how they were popular with the people because they were young and attractive (when they first married). Maybe attractiveness = perceived health = perceived fertility (which was important at the time) in a time when most people would have lived very hard lives, died young etc.

Portofino Thu 12-Sep-13 21:28:00

I never get the slating of VB either. She has never done anything to hurt anyone as far as I can see. Much misogyny and envy IMHO.

MiniTheMinx Thu 12-Sep-13 21:34:39

I have always wondered whether tall women are taken more seriously (says she who is a short arse) I equate being tall with being successful and having the respect of peers. I might be completely wrong and height doesn't convey any benefit to women. I'm sure I read somewhere that tall men out earn shorter men, I wonder if this could also be true of women?

NiceTabard Thu 12-Sep-13 21:49:16

I suspect it is true with women, as it is with men.

To do with commanding attention (in a positive way in our society) and automatic respect.

I know plenty of men who are tall and well built and who look good in a suit who sort of get automatic respect because of how they look. And they have to actively go wrong to lose respect - the starting assumption is they are good at what they do.

Whereas in the same environment someone like me, when I was younger and slimmer - so female, not very tall, blonde, not unattractive etc - I had to earn it. Even now, I got mistaken for a PA type person who was there to minute a meeting, just a couple of months back. Woman with pad = secretary. I was a bit confused as to why when we went round the table doing intros everyone looked pointedly at me. I didn't twig what they were thinking until the introductions were halfway around the table. They were expecting me to write it all down! So I continued nodding and smiling and all the men looked more and more confused until I introduced myself, clearly not as a PA. Was kind of funny but kind of weird.

Back to point, yes I feel that eg tall brunette women are taken more seriously on initial impression than a smaller woman with blonde hair / big boobs / etc. It's an "alpha" thing, so they like to say. I think it's good old fashioned sexism & stereotyping.

kim147 Thu 12-Sep-13 21:49:57

Tall men do earn more than short men.
Does being tall give you confidence? Or is it the way short men and tall men are perceived?

I think attributes such as a beard, moustache and being bald might have an effect on the way men are seen in business.

People are funny on what they judge people on.

NiceTabard Thu 12-Sep-13 21:52:57

I think that taller people get noticed in a positive way.

As a small blonde woman I always got noticed but not in a way that was positive from a "getting on at work" POV.

It's maybe this thing about "professional" = tall neat non bearded etc man (think presidents of USA). Actually the presidents of the USA thing is exactly right. they've never had a bald one (or something).

MiniTheMinx Thu 12-Sep-13 22:00:56

The have never had a woman, which is more irritating.

grimbletart Thu 12-Sep-13 22:04:08

I think I read somewhere (unless I imagined it) that of two presidential candidates in the US, it was the taller one that usually won.

Confession: in the 80s - that decade of power dressing - at business meetings I always wore high heels that put me on eye level with the blokes - oh, and power shouldered suits. And I was brunette then. It seemed to help smile.

Oh, and at the risk of stereotyping horribly it does seem to be small men that have a Napoleon complex in my personal experience - maybe have to throw their weight around because they feel inferior to tall men?So men have problems of perception too.

MiniTheMinx Thu 12-Sep-13 22:09:00

NiceTabard I can almost picture the meeting grin don't they say something about assumptions make a fool of you, they all must have felt very silly.

NiceTabard Thu 12-Sep-13 22:10:56

I wear heels and I'm still not on eye height with most people sad

Interestingly short men seem quite common where I work. But they are always super confident.

Portofino Thu 12-Sep-13 22:11:25

Grimbletart, I have noticed this with some small men also. Tis a generalisation, but I meet lots of people for work and IMHO the small ones tend to be the angriest.

MiniTheMinx Thu 12-Sep-13 22:15:19

I have given up NiceTabard I would need stilts.

Although being short has its benefits, can't think of any right now but I'm sure there are some wink

NiceTabard Thu 12-Sep-13 22:16:27

DH talks about "small man syndrome" - he says it's always the little ones to watch out for in boozy pub situations as they have something to prove.

In my work braininess is sought after but to really get on you need confidence / charisma etc. So I work with quite a lot of very relaxed short men in immaculate suitage.

Actually my current job / company is great so I'm going to shut up now grin

But in the past <draws in sharp breath in manner of plumber> not so good, not so good at all.

NiceTabard Thu 12-Sep-13 22:17:49

<snort>

Yes indeedy.

And actually being older and fatter and married and a parent seems to have toned down the sexist response to me. Which is good smile

MiniTheMinx Thu 12-Sep-13 22:20:41

It may be a generalisation but......DPs father is a gnome, he is actually shorter than me, he doesn't like me and he is a very angry man.

Portofino Thu 12-Sep-13 22:23:10

I am working on a project at the mo, where apart from the sales guy, everyone else is female. Buyer, project manager, senior it architect, engineer, programmer on the supplier side. It is so lovely, and sadly unusual.

SinisterSal Thu 12-Sep-13 22:29:28

Too tired to make this cohesive but there was a progranmme on BBC4 last night something like The Representations of Witches in Art History. Was interesting. Made me think of this thread. Might be worth a look. Good night.

kim147 Thu 12-Sep-13 22:33:18

I've said this before on here.
I was in Dixons looking at TVs. A women was next to me and asked the assistant for advice.

Except her words were "Excuse me, I'm just a dumb blonde. How does this work?"

It kind of made me sad to hear her say that and I don't think I'd hear a man say something like that.

NiceTabard Thu 12-Sep-13 22:46:03

Aha

But the people who say "OOH I'm having a blonde moment" or similar IME aren't natural blondes. Or, aren't blonde at all confused

And I sit there gnashing my fucking teeth like this [grrrrrrrrr]

My colleague dyes her dark brown hair blonde in a t-section stylie. She looks nice, as she has easy-tan skin and eyebrows and eyelashes you can actually see what with being dark and she puts on this ditzy voice and says to the men "ooh sorry I'm being a bit blonde".

I have a fucking physics degree.

ARRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Seriously it drives me up the wall. I HATE blonde jokes. So much.

NiceTabard Thu 12-Sep-13 22:53:36

Sorry for ranting

blush

Also poor blonde me not super top on oppression scale. But still. I suspect it played a part in the (apparently) fairly high amount of street harassment / random work shit that I have encountered. So.

Portofino Thu 12-Sep-13 22:57:34

No that would drive me bonkers! I work in a highly technical environment. The reason I might have to ask "stupid" questions is because I am not technical, not because I am blonde and female. Most people seem to get it though. I have suffered little sexism in Belgium vs UK.

FreyaSnow Thu 12-Sep-13 23:00:51

I'm not blonde NT and I believe I have experienced less sexism as a consequence. I've also had men approach me and allude to their intentions being purer, them being more sophisticated etc because they picked me out rather than blonde friends I've been with. It is all ridiculous.

NiceTabard Thu 12-Sep-13 23:09:14

Just watching QT

Of course we are socialised / (instinctive (?) to sort of pay more attention to deeper (male) voices. So that's another hurdle.

I am sure accents come into play as well. But certainly deeper seems to = more commanding for all but the most charismatic / accomplished people.

NiceTabard Thu 12-Sep-13 23:11:28

Freya - wow!

It seems (in my not huge experience) that blondeness seems to be quite prevalent in porn / glamour type stuff. That may well have an impact on how blonde women are perceived by men, especially young women / teens who have other attributes shared with that "style".

NiceTabard Thu 12-Sep-13 23:12:41

Yeah no men have ever approached me and said their intentions were pure!

I kind of got the other end of the scale of approachness.

Fun hmm

FreyaSnow Thu 12-Sep-13 23:22:10

Are we kind of circling around blondeness as being the extreme form of femininity. Blondes are seen as requiring more care, attention and protection but are also more cast in the role of person who gets victimised - missing white woman syndrome sort of thing? I don't know.

NiceTabard Thu 12-Sep-13 23:33:31

Also over-represented in western esp US porn and glamour type stuff / page 3.

I guess maybe it's the juxtaposition of "innocence" as signalled by the childlike hair with adult sexuality that gets people going with that.

IME blondes are seen as thick / sex objects / asking for unwanted attention rather than needing to be cared for.

Missing white woman syndrome = appalling. But that is skin, not hair. If a missing woman / girl looks like a porn-style blonde then I suspect the missing white woman thing might back up a bit. We have US TV to thank for a lot of this, I think. A lot of it is tied up in class / wealth / background and so on as well. The old rape myths / virgin.whore.

NiceTabard Thu 12-Sep-13 23:34:48

Sorry am on stream of consciousness here!

I too am blonde, not particularly tall and fairly curvey. In a bravissimo way. I've reconciled myself to the fact that people will underestimate me. In some ways I prefer it, it takes the pressure off me and wrong foots the more confrontational sort of person. It's better in academia strangely. I did a talk at a business event recent,y about a study I did. I may as well not have been there, I could barely get a word in edge ways in the ensuing discussion about, uh, my research! Much prefer academia.

If I had to guess through, I'd say my experience was less about me and more about the besuited audience's fondness for their own voices grin

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Thu 12-Sep-13 23:44:02

Hi, sorry, I am just back home after being out all evening and saw this had lots of posts. Thank you so much.

I will catch up slowly but didn't want to come across as if I'd just wandered out and ignored it all.

MiniTheMinx Fri 13-Sep-13 09:31:11

I find Freya's comments interesting because it is a familiar theme to me. I have very dark hair and I'm quite certain that I have received not just less unsolicited attention but different attention. I have never heard the line "I'm more sophisticated for choosing you" but I have been told by men and women "nah, I wouldn't mess" which probably stems from the this bias where darker women are seen as being stronger. In reality I'm no more assertive or confident than any of my fairer friends.

I spoke to DP about this, in terms of the characteristic of hair colour and cultural representations, he said that the Catholic church had always portrayed Jesus as being fair and Mary Magdalene as being dark.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Fri 13-Sep-13 10:11:58

That's odd - there is certainly a van der Weyden Magdalene who is fair, and I think she is usually fair in medieval images. I wonder when they shift to dark happens.

It is so strange that hair colour seems so important. The daily mail thing about trust is fascinating (and I agree, disturbing research to have carried out). I've also heard non-blondes talking about 'blonde moments'. hmm I reckon red hair is tricky too - I remember as 14/15 year olds being on a school trip, and there was a girl with long red hair who got huge amounts of really dubious attention from random blokes (we were in Italy, where I guess it's less common). I don't know what the connotations of it all were, though.

Btw, sal, thanks very much, I will look, that sounds really useful.

I was thinking how rarely women discuss this stuff (or women I know in RL, anyway) - I might be being cynical, but I think if we were in a pub or something and talking about the different kinds of response we each get for being dark or blonde or whatever, someone would say it's trivial. I would really like to get past that.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Fri 13-Sep-13 10:13:07

FWIW, I think short hair gets an odd reaction too. Definitely an 'I wouldn't mess' one.

FreyaSnow Fri 13-Sep-13 11:49:12

I've never actually had the line that they are more sophisticated. It is more a set of comments alluding to this, which I'm finding hard to explain or summarise.

An example would be that I walked into a taxi office after a night out and a man was going on to two blonde women (dyed blonde) about their general appearance including asking why they were blonde and saying how they would not get a serious relationship unless they looked more 'classy.' One of the women then asked what he meant by classy and he turned around, pointed at me, and said like this woman. There was not a great deal of difference between their clothes and mine, but I have dark hair.

My best friend at college was blonde but is extremely similar in appearance to me - same height, build, hair style and so on. She was consistently taken less seriously, approached more but often approached inappropriately, expected to be more involved in the 'jokes' of strangers both as the point of the joke and as the assumed audience to comical anecdotes, accused of being a threat to other people's relationships (even though she was engaged and I was not) and used as an example by other students in seminars when they discussed women and sexuality. She eventually left to go to Liverpool university. She told me that whenever she met people in Liverpool and said she was a student, the frequent response was, oh at John Moore (the former poly), the assumption presumably being that she was not intelligent enough to be at Liverpool university.

Now, some of that is also about class (we both had Northern regional accents) and blondeness together. But I also shared a house with a blonde student from an upper middle class background, and she was frequently approached (things like older men 'helping' her get stuff from supermarket shelves; that has never happened to me). There were also incidents like an electrician explaining a problem in the house to me rather than her, even though she called him in and spoke to him (although that could be an assumption that as the less middle class person I ws more practical), workmen expecting me not her to lift heavy things, her being blamed as the 'party girl' when we made too much noise and so on. I felt in that house I was the stand in for the man in other people's eyes.

I know all this is highly anecdotal, but I experienced it so many times that I do have to wonder if it is part of a wider trend.

FreyaSnow Fri 13-Sep-13 12:10:37

I may also be rather overstating my case about blondeness. I think it is more of a number of factors that come together - accent, clothes, hair colour, build, height and assumed class background, and these are used as a reason to view some women as less credible, serious or whatever.

I think this is why it is sometimes women can fall into the trap of claiming to not get on with women, not identifying with women, claiming some women bring sexism upon themselves, because they think when negative comments are made about women collectively, it doesn't apply to them because they are somehow the exception - the token woman who is kind of a man, but of course you never really will be.

kim147 Fri 13-Sep-13 12:59:28

"I think it is more of a number of factors that come together - accent, clothes, hair colour, build, height and assumed class background, and these are used as a reason to view some women as less credible, serious or whatever."

True - but don't you think that is applicable to both genders? Maybe not as much but many people are judged and seen as less serious / credible because of some of those things.

FreyaSnow Fri 13-Sep-13 13:15:53

Yes, I think it applies to men as well. I'm sure there have been studies done on things like length of sentence in court cases and physical appearance. I was talking about issues of women's appearance because LRD is interested in the historical roots of that, which I think would be interesting to know.

It would be interesting to know where this comes from as a lot of instances of appearance and prejudice are about people who are perceived as other ethnic or class groups. Even within white groups there was a historical attitude that white people with a darker appearance were somehow 'other' and less because it was a consequence of outdoor labour. The blonde thing is different from that in that blondeness is from within the Northern European ethnic group and it has no historical association with out groups, so where and when did the perception come from? Associations between blondeness and femininity and submissiveness also exist in other cultures, Japan for example. Where has that come from and when, given that blondeness isn't a trait native to Japan? I know this has got a bit away from LRD's question, but I do find the whole thing strange.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Fri 13-Sep-13 13:16:22

I totally agree, freya. I think that's why it's so fascinating, because it is all these things interacting, and I don't think we have the tools - in terms of a feminist theory - to completely unpick how they interact with each other and how they're knitted into our expectations.

kim - I think it is a spectrum, but that's true of so many things, isn't it?

I think the height thing is extremely cruel to men. And feminine/effeminate-looking men (however you define that) get stigmatized, too.

MiniTheMinx Fri 13-Sep-13 13:28:39

I have just done a search around the net, Mary Magdalene is often blonde, so you are right LRD, I will take this up with DP later! its interesting because she was very likely Jewish and Middle Eastern. Apparently during the renaissance it was popular to dye your hair, how they did this I don't know. Apparently one of MMs sins was bleaching her hair in sun light at a time when women should have kept their hair covered. If this is true she may well have had sun lightened hair confused or maybe not.

MiniTheMinx Fri 13-Sep-13 13:40:35

Sorry, that sounds as though MM was around during the renaissance, I'll trust you to realise I don't think she was.

I wonder how the reactions and statements of adults effect how children construct their social identity. The blonde girl in primary is the "love interest" of all the boys, she is the angel in the play, she is the princess in the ballet, she is the cute one who probably hears more often than not "oh what pretty hair" and so on. How you construct your social identity must effect the value you place on certain characteristics. This of course doesn't always hold true for blonde. As a child I had very long, very thick wavy near black hair. This became a talking point. I was mini with the big hair, mini with the black hair. People, mainly adults would touch my hair and comment, as a result its the one thing that I worry about and try to look after. I don't wear make up all the time but I do faff with my hair. So if so much of my identity is tied up with my hair, if how I feel good about myself hinges upon this one characteristic of my appearance, might it also effect others.

I only wish that girls could be subject to statements about talents, intellect, personality that positively helped to build resilient self esteem, rather than focus on characteristics that as we age become not a crowning glory but a bloody nightmare of insecurity.

FreyaSnow Fri 13-Sep-13 13:52:38

mini, I think people in the past bleached their hair with urine.

FreyaSnow Fri 13-Sep-13 13:53:51

Sorry, that was in answer to your how did they dye their hair. I wasn't contradicting the bit about MM's sins.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Fri 13-Sep-13 14:27:20

Oh, wow. I did not know that about MM and lightening her hair as a sin. That's fascinating, and presumably it's connected into the blonde hair=sexually available, I guess?

The stuff about children's roles is exactly the sort of thing I really want to get my mind around. Because it's giving you a role in a narrative that you know, even as a child, is based on how you look.

I am thinking about it, and something I think sometimes happens is that people noticed more when angelic-looking children were naughty, because it didn't fit with how they looked. Granted I had a couple of monumentally old-school teachers, but I do remember conversations along those lines.

The racial implications are really unpleasant, too.

Re. dying hair with urine, check this out. willscommonplacebook.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/breast-sacks-and-medieval-ideals-of.html

Isn't it amazing that he is referring to breast 'surgery' in this context, so long ago? It is quite possible it doesn't literally mean knives, but still, scary. And urine can't have been exactly healthy, just as modern hair dyes can be toxic.

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