Sunday, August 28, 2016

Mixed Feelings

Clearly, I'm not posting my weekend links this week. They should be back next week. If you're suffering link reading withdrawl, I recommend Nicoleandmaggie's list. The McMansion one made me feel so much better about my small 1950s house with tiny closets and small bathrooms. Although, to be honest, I've been feeling a lot better about it since we added on an office and expanded the living room, making it not seem so small. It still has tiny closets and small bathrooms, though.

Anyhow, the main reason the links post didn't happen is time. I spent all day Friday hanging out with my kids. They'd gone to Sea World camp earlier in the summer, and that left them with "fun passes"- passes to return anytime for the rest of this year. So I bought one, too, and we spent the day at Sea World. It is not my favorite of our local attractions, and I have mixed feelings about it. But we went, and we had a lot of fun. Petunia loves the bat rays, and both kids love the water ride (Shipwreck Rapids). We started the day at the rays, and then rode the ride three times in a row, because it wasn't actually sunny yet so there was no line. We got soaked, of course, but the kids were happy to have shown me their favorite ride, and the sun was out by the time we'd finished our rides, so being soaked felt good. I let them mostly make the choices about what we did for the rest of the day, and it was a very good day.

But, when we got home a little after six, I was exhausted. I'd started some pizza dough (the Smitten Kitchen lazy option- thanks for the recommendation, Today Wendy!) so I had to make pizza. The crust was really good, but Pumpkin says she prefers Bobolis. She doesn't like change. I'll probably try the homemade dough one more time at least to see if she comes around. Or maybe I'll try one of the other recommendations I got for making dough.

By the time dinner was made and eaten it was time to get the kids' bedtime routines started, and by the time they were in bed I was done with the day.

Yesterday was almost as busy. We had gymnastics, back to school shopping, and then a birthday party at a roller skating rink. That lasted all afternoon, and in the end both of my kids really liked skating. Petunia, in particular, wants to go back ASAP. However, we got to Petunia loving skating by having me spend three solid hours skating slowly next to her and as you might guess, that is pretty tiring. Then we had dinner at some friends' house, and stopped to see the Sea World fireworks over the bay on the way home. We got home late and put the kids directly to bed and then I went to bed, too.

So, there wasn't a lot of time for blog post writing. Still, on other busy weekends, I have made some space to put up a quick links post. If I'm honest with myself, I was avoiding the internet Friday. Thursday night, someone I like to follow retweeted someone else who I usually like making a joke that implied blonde women are too stupid to do science. 

And that took me back to being 14 and listening to blonde jokes and other put downs from the boys in my classes. It was amazing how deflated I felt. I logged off and didn't really want to get back online the next day.

I know that blonde jokes do a tiny fraction of the damage that is done by the racist crap people of color get online. I don't consider blonde jokes to be on par with racism at all, and please do not interpret anything in this post as me equating blonde jokes with the structural racism that people of color must navigate in order to succeed in their careers. I didn't want to make a big deal out of it when I saw the tweet (I didn't reply) and I don't really want to now (this is why I'm not giving details). But I find it interesting how one offhand joke can essentially strip away all of my hard-earned confidence and turn me back into that awkward girl, unsure of her place in the world, wanting to be taken seriously but getting message after message that embracing the "dumb blonde" personna would be an easier and quicker way to feeling like I belonged. And I want to explore that a little bit.

I've been hearing dumb blonde jokes since I was in elementary school. I heard them all through my school years, from classmates and adults. Our local newspaper once printed a list and invited readers to send in their favorites. I heard them at college, and also was told by multiple people that I was only accepted because my picture was atttached to my application (an accusation that I've never felt attractive enough to warrant, and a "joke" that erased my high test scores, good grades, and other application materials). I heard them when I was visiting graduate schools. I heard them in grad school, both about me and and about one of the other blonde students in our program. She looked even more like the stereotypical SoCal blonde than I did, and our fellow students made a lot of jokes about how she didn't really belong in science. I don't know how many of those she heard, and how many were just things people would say behind her back. From what I could tell, she was a good scientist. She is no longer working in science. I didn't know her well enough to know why.

I heard blonde jokes through my early career days. Often, people would tell me a blonde joke within minutes of meeting me, even in professional situations. I don't hear them so often now, perhaps because my hair has darkened with age and while still blonde isn't strikingly so. Or perhaps people don't tell them as often now. I don't know, but I think I'll find out soon, because Pumpkin is almost the age when I started hearing those jokes, and she has blonde hair.

At some point, I decided the best option was to laugh along, and for awhile would reply to any blonde joke with a barrage of additional jokes. I never felt comfortable in the role those jokes ascribed to women like me, so I kept working to be taken seriously for my accomplishments. I kept working to learn to take myself seriously, too, something that I really struggled to do in college and in graduate school. I learned not to try to talk to other students about my feelings of inadequacy. If I did, I'd often get something like a blonde joke in return. I shouldn't worry about whether I would fit in when I went to grad school, a college acquaintance told me. I'd be popular because I had blonde hair. The guys I befriended when I first got to grad school didn't really like me, a classmate said. They just wanted to go out with me and—here she picked up the braid hanging down my back—my blonde hair. (Agonizingly, I eventually realized that this classmate was at least partly right.)

I am fairly certain that most people telling me blonde jokes just thought they were being funny. Obviously, they didn't really think blondes were stupid. I am fairly certain that the people telling me I got into college based on my looks thought they were paying me a compliment. I am fairly certain that the people telling me that the male scientists just wanted to talk to me because I was blonde thought they were doing me a favor. Maybe they were, given that experience eventually taught me not to trust that a man coming up to talk science with me at networking events was truly interested in my work. But Thursday night, I was reminded that all those years of jokes and off hand comments did some damage, and that I haven't really fixed that damage, just papered over it. I should work to really fix it before my daughter starts getting the same jokes and comments. Maybe I can help her figure out how to avoid being damaged by them. I now ironically joke about the blonde jokes with friends, so that's progress! I don't know how to help her skip to that stage, though. Perhaps it isn't possible.

(And yes, I've seen the recent study about the disproportionate number of blonde women in positions of power. I'll direct you to this article that looks at why that might be.)

So anyway, sorry for the lack of links. I was busy working through personal baggage I thought long since stored away. 


  1. Something else about blonde women in power: A lot of those women are older. Their hair likely is at least somewhat grey. Lighter colors are easier to maintain. I've been shifting my own color lighter the last year or so, because I can't go to the salon often enough to eliminate roots--and they are less apparent if the contrast is lower.

  2. Oh, and we, too live in a small 1950s house. The storage is actually pretty good--maybe it was retrofitted? But a lot of it was built in. Maybe not. We did have one very strange closet, but Mr. Sandwich redid that and now it actually works as a closet. I would love a true master suite (right now we have 1-1/2 bathrooms, which certainly is enough for our needs). But overall, I'm pretty happy with the house. And our neighbors are fantastic.

  3. Blonde women in power: It's common to dye hair a lighter color with age, because dyeing hair very dark makes the wrinkles look deeper and the face older and more stern, so even naturally dark-haired women are advised to go a couple of shades lighter as they get older (auburn and whatnot). Lighter hair on older women helps soften the features, basically.

    I was blonde when younger, I am now what counts as dirty blonde/light brown, after having become progressively darker with each pregnancy (the extra melanin that darkens the line on the belly, nipples, etc., and goes away from the skin after the baby is born doesn't ever go away from the hair).

    I also grew up with blonde jokes in a fairly sexist society, and I learned early on to laugh at them and share a few jokes myself. I think that in retrospect I never believed the jokes applied to me because (brag alert) I always kicked everyone's a$$ in school, and kids knew it. But I suppose that made me complicit because I think I totally believed that the jokes applied to those "other stupid blondes" (just not me)...

    I spent a lot of my teens and early twenties pretending to be dumber than I was, and being blonde helped. So many people would be freaked out to learn that I studied theoretical physics and get just all weird around me, I told new relatively irrelevant people (e.g., dudes you meet at a bar or a party) that I was a hair dresser; that worked swimmingly. I think being blonde definitely helps if someone wants to not seem intimidating. I am tall and not particularly attractive, so those cancel much of my blondeness... But I am assuming someone like Marissa Meyer can afford to me much meaner or just more demanding as a boss than a woman who's less pretty or simply more stern looking.

    Anyway, I really can't say that I was bothered growing up by the ubiquitous blonde jokes as I probably should've been. Nobody told me that I got anything because someone wanted to date me, but I guess that's a perk of not being very attractive (I certainly got that memo loud and clear). I got labeled "the smart one" early on and my peers seemed to agree, so it became a core of my identity.

    We are in McMansion-adjacent territory. My house is 3400 sq ft, but no other criteria. The house was originally circa 2400 sq ft but the owners before us seamlessly added 1,000 sq ft. We have a 2-car garage, 4 bedrooms, 2 full baths, one 3/4 bath and one 1/2 bath. We have no guest bedroom at all, as our 3 kids each have their own room; we make the younger two share a room if we have anyone staying over. I actually wish we had a 3-car garage since that would mean I could get Eldest his own car. It's insane to have a car here without a garage, so he always borrows my car... We use every square inch of the house and it's actually not big compared to other houses around here. Gotta have a big house when you are snowed in for months on end.

    1. We have a 2 car garage but a one car driveway. I also wonder what we are going to do when the kids can drive since HOA says no street parking overnight.

  4. I had a blonde co-worker/peer (PhD physical scientist at a national lab) with a first name that indicated that her parents had a very different future in mind for her.

    She subverted her name and her hair color.

    She posted a sign outside her door (next to her name plate), "Caution: blonde thinking."

    There are many managers who wouldn't think of launching a satellite until she signed off on the pre-launch prep.

  5. EarthSciProf1:59 PM

    Really sorry to hear about the tweet. Hope your weekend finished better than it started and that this week was better.


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