Stupid blondes

19 May 2010 by Mike Gogulski
Posted in mind control | 11 Comments »

I got an email a little while ago from an acquaintance who I’ve never met in person, asking for some help with English terminology. I provided an answer, she accepted it, and wrote back saying something to the effect of: “Oh! Silly me! I’m just a stupid blonde.”

I replied, saying that it is NOT OKAY to refer to herself in that fashion. Her query back was difficult to read: “Why? Should it be someone else who so describes me?”

My reply:

When I see you use language like that, I think: [My interlocutor] has internalized some evil. She tells herself regularly that she is stupid, even though that’s only a set of lies handed to her by other people. She tells herself that she’s a “stupid blonde” because that’s also a set of lies handed to her by other people. And the “stupid blonde” label simply translates into “stupid woman” or, more exactly, “fucking bitch” by means of the cultural attachments it has.

I don’t know you at all, but I know some patterns. Maybe you are just making a light joke here, but I reacted (in your defense) to what I feel is a terrible aspect of our shared world. Maybe you don’t think of yourself, regularly, as “stupid”. Maybe you don’t think of yourself, regularly, as being well characterized by the simple word “blonde”. But when I see a woman apply that description to herself, I would like to interrupt her and ask her why she is doing so.

The language we use is important. It shapes our worlds, and it shapes ourselves. Use better language. Now, damnit.

  1. 11 Responses to “Stupid blondes”

  2. By Jeremy Weiland on 19 May 2010

    I’m all for changing deep-seated norms that make things like sexism and disparaging classes of people socially unacceptable. I’m not sure we get there by scolding people for self-deprecation. The words a person uses may reflect many varieties of inner oppression and neurosis, but if I don’t see as helpful to jump inside another person’s head and make assumptions about her inner psychological condition and biases. That’s the kind of political correctness that sets us back because it is not persuasive – it is a hostile attempt at shaming, which almost always elicits a defense mechanism and, quite possible, more inner oppression.

    Language is important, but it’s important because it reflects states of mind and cultural artifacts far more subtle and nuanced than the naked words themselves. It is those ideas, those concepts we must attack whenever possible – not the people, in my opinion. If we fixate on words, we are making the kind of intrusive presumptions that turn genuine social change into politically correct rules for decorum. We’re saying the person doesn’t belong in the world we want to build because they aren’t saying the right things, instead of saying that we want the person enough to calmly persuade them that they themselves don’t want to hold the attitude we find offensive.

    Too often, we take righteous indignation as some sort of license to preach to people about how bad they should feel for social conditions that they are not solely responsible for and which have existed for millennia. None of us are totally innocent, but we’re also none of us totally guilty. I would encourage you to be more gentle with people, since it is they we have to live with in this new world we’re trying to build. Attack the concepts, not the people, whenever possible. Cheers.

  3. By Mike Gogulski on 19 May 2010

    @Jeremy: Thank you very much for responding with this, especially so quickly! You are absolutely right. However, this interaction occurs within a broader context in which she and I (I hope) are not bound to adversarial positions. Also, I’m continuing the dialogue with her privately, attempting to tease out the roots of the thing. My disclaimers could run to hundreds of pages if necessary, but hopefully what I suggest will have a positive effect rather than the negative one which is all too likely if the shaming you describe happens. I desperately want to avoid that, so your word of caution is most welcome.

  4. By Jeremy Weiland on 19 May 2010

    Awesome. Thanks for listening. I’m glad this has been an opportunity to start a dialogue. I loathe political correctness because it arrests precisely the kind of persuasive process that brings people around to a more enlightened point of view.

  5. By Mike Gogulski on 19 May 2010

    @Jeremy: Thanks back at you. I am not interested in “correctness” at all. I’m interested in a dialogue with anyone who seems to have fallen into a socio-linguistic trap which hurts their own self-concept. My intent here is to expose the field against which language is used as a tool of oppression (whoa, did I just write that? — wait… “PATRIARCHAL OPPRESSION”, better), and to suggest that those I speak with may have fallen into easy,traditional, culturally acceptable error of one sort or another. I would not like to browbeat anyone into “you must express X in fashion Y”, but rather to point out that when fashion Y includes background Z and context Q, X ought to be expressed carefully, in one’s own interest.

  6. By nihiofkdi on 19 May 2010

    The hell does one’s interest have to do with anything? The very fact that she’s being self-deprecatingmeans that she’s willing to sacrifice her own self-interest for the sake of humour. By reacting with digust and, quite frankly, a trite and presumptuous condemnation of her mode of expression, you have rendered her sacrifice meaningless, and worse, been offended by a joke that you have no right at all to be offended by.

    OK, the above is tongue-in-cheek, but freedom of expression is an incredibly useful freedom. There is the patriarchically oppressive culture of the past which colours her remarks, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is good that the past is available to us, and we can drag out a dinosaur every now and then if we want to, especially for the sake of some greater good. In this case, the greater good of humour.

    A better response: Haha! Funny! Oh, you’re not stupid. You don’t really think you’re stupid, do you?

    Or whatever.

    For a start, now you’ve probably made her feel more stupid by pointing out what terrible stereotypes she encourages.

    Pragmatism, man!

  7. By Mike Gogulski on 19 May 2010

    @nihi: “condemnation of her mode of expression” — I don’t know that. I have encountered far more women who refer to themselves in such manner who are not just joshing around, but expressing their very intimate internal view of how they fit into the world.

    If I’ve made her feel stupid, my apologies will be profuse and private.

    I’m not sure what your plea for pragmatism is about. I can imagine thinking, “on the average, one ought to adopt approaches to situations like this falling into range X”, but I’m not dealing with an average, I’m dealing with an individual human being, and one with whom I’m confident that the level of communication is sufficient to either expose or dispel issues without scaring one or the other off from the conversation.

  8. By Neverfox on 20 May 2010

    I just want to say that nothing about your post indicated to me that you attacked her as a person, tried to make her feel bad, or were anything other than calmly persuasive. I thought your note was the height of civility, sensitivity, and gentility. If it’s going to be talked about at all, I can’t see how it could have been handled better. FWIW.

    Also, I think there is a difference between self-deprecating language on the one hand, and self-demeaning or self-degrading language on the other. You seem to have picked up on that difference quite well. It’s the same thing when people say, “It’s just a joke” about demeaning or degrading humor towards others. No, it’s not just a joke.

  9. By Mike Gogulski on 20 May 2010

    @Neverfox: Thank you very much. Still, I do admit that the other comments made here point to a dimension of sensitivity I may not display well. I’d like to learn from all of them; most of all, I’d never like to hear a woman describe herself as a “stupid blonde”.

  10. By marquise on 20 May 2010

    Mike, it is very thoughtful from you to have wrote that reply and I am pretty sure that the lady appreciated it.

    And if there is one thing I really agree with is that the language we use is important. But when the person is not english speaking born the nuances are slightly different. Much like the cultures.

    I consider myself being smart. And when I don’t understand smth, I always say that I am having a blonde moment…lol! Maybe because I am a frenchie 😛

  11. By Robin on 20 May 2010

    One point not directly addressed here (aside from any commendation or condemnation of techniques) is that what we say or do to ourselves has a much stronger impact that what others say or do to us.

    It’s rather convoluted, but insecurity is a sign of pseudo-self-admiration. One is insecure because they believe they need to be held to a higher standard; one which they believe is possible to achieve. That’s a form of admiration. The greater the admiration for the source of a comment, the greater the impact that comment has. Those who are insecure, therefore, have the greatest impact on themselves.

    The degree to which self-deprecation is cause for concern is therefore directly proportional to the degree to which the individual is insecure. Self-deprecation from a very secure person is less self-destructive because the person doesn’t take themselves seriously. More insecure people take themselves more seriously and therefore self-deprecation is far more destructive.

    I would think that is the main consideration one might want to take into account when hearing someone refer to themselves as a “stupid blonde” or whatever. I’m no professional, but this has been my experience and my observation.

  12. By Mike Gogulski on 22 May 2010

    @Robin: Thanks for chiming in. That is convoluted, but still quite plausible. And it comports well with what I understand, anyway.

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