Thursday 21 September 2017

Blondes on blonde: ‘It’s hard to believe that people think hair colour reflects your ability to work’

In light of Arlene Foster's one-word jibe at Michelle O'Neill, our reporter asks well-known blondes if it's a sexist term or a storm in a teacup

Blonde ambition: Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill and DUP leader Arlene Foster
Blonde ambition: Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill and DUP leader Arlene Foster
Model Vivienne Connolly
Level-headed: Cassie Stokes urges people to think before they speak

Sinead Fagan

Why did the blonde tip-toe past the sleeping pills? Because she didn't want to wake them up.

Just one of a spate of 'hilarious' blonde jokes that still pop up on Facebook from time to time. I always had a bit of blonde envy, largely because I am a redhead. While I was being relentlessly bullied for my hair colour as a child, it was the yellow-haired ones that were having the easy run, as far as I could see.

So maybe the whole blonde joke thing is propagated by shameless begrudgers like me, who are really secretly jealous that a blonde will always catch a second look from those around them.

DUP leader Arlene Foster might be in that camp along with me, as she recently landed herself in trouble when, in an interview with the Sunday Independent, she referred to Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill as 'blonde'.

Model Vivienne Connolly
Model Vivienne Connolly

When asked to elaborate, she said: "Michelle is very attractive, she presents herself very well and is always - you know - her appearance is always very 'the same'. You never see her without her make-up, you never see her without her hair looking 'perfect'."

O'Neill responded: "There can be no room in our society for sexism, misogyny, racism, homophobia or any form of discrimination.

"As political leaders we have a duty and a responsibility to lead by example. There is a clear need for more women in public life and there is an onus on women in political leadership to empower women to encourage greater participation in public life."

Obviously O'Neill didn't take Foster's comments too well, so I asked some well-known Irish ladies with fair tresses to weigh in. How do they feel about being referred to as a 'blonde'? Is it really that offensive?

Claudia Carroll, author

"I personally don't take offence at all at being called blonde. Of course, calling someone blonde can be pejorative, there's the whole spate of blonde jokes equating the colour of someone's hair with being a ditz, which is obviously silly. Even Hillary Clinton, a blonde that you certainly don't mess with, rowed in on the subject - I remember thinking at the time that surely she had better things to talk about!

"Overall, I think the row over what Arlene Foster said is just a storm in a teacup."

Aileen Hickie, Barrister

"I think it's offensive to describe anyone by their hair colour but blonde seems to have more negative connotations as it's often preceded or almost implied as 'dumb blonde'.

"I've worked in male-dominated environments where I've been called 'blondie' both to my face and behind my back and I've heard myself being referred to as 'Barbie'.

"Whether it's meant to be derogatory or not, my hair colour is not a reflection of my personality or work, and generally seems to be just perpetuating a stereotype."

Vivienne Connolly, Model

"Being called 'blonde' can work to your advantage, so it's something you can use when you want. In a way, you're free to blind them with your 'dumbness'; you're starting out as an underdog and, to me, that's always a good position to be in. So if someone's perception of you is that you're a dumb blonde, and you know you're not, then that works in your favour - it's certainly not what I am, I have a degree in marketing and I know lots of other successful blondes.

"Of course, most blondes are that way by choice. For me, I was blonde as a child but it changed as I grew up, then when I was around 22 I went on a sun holiday and got some highlights and I liked it so much, that I added to it, and I kept adding to it!

"If someone wants to make a remark about who you are based on the colour of your hair, it says more about them than it does about you."

Amanda Brunker, Columnist

"Michelle O'Neill needs to get over herself. I absolutely do not worry about being called blonde - at 43 years old, it's probably the least offensive thing that somebody could say to me.

"When I was younger, and had more to prove, then yes, I suppose I would've been annoyed if someone had just dismissed me as a 'blonde', but I think once you hit your thirties you've stopped caring and by the time you hit your forties it's probably a good thing, because, for me at least, it means that I'm doing a good job at hiding the grey!

"Believe it or not, I'm a natural blonde, I was born with that really white Austrian type hair, but by the time I hit my twenties it had gone a bit mousey so I started to colour it. I've experimented with other colours, but I feel like my personality is blonde, I'm naturally jovial and fizzy. Blonde reflects me as a person, and if people write me off because of it, well, at this stage of my life, then so what?"

Cassie Stokes, TV Presenter

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Level-headed: Cassie Stokes urges people to think before they speak

"Two of my friends who work in firms in London have told me stories of colleagues thinking they're not the brightest tool in the shed because of the colour of their hair, I assure you, both are the brightest tools you can find in any shed.

"It's hard to believe that people think your hair colour reflects your ability to work. But discrimination is nothing new, we just have to hope that by talking about it openly, people will think before they speak or judge. I'm an ambassador for Brown Sugar's Smart Blondes campaign for Smartbond haircare, and before that I wasn't aware of how hair colour can affect people in the workplace. It is my belief that it shouldn't reflect how smart people think you are."

Sinéad Ryan, Journalist

"I'm not really blonde, a bit like most blondes! This is the current shade that I'm happy with and if people want to infer something based on the colour of my hair, then they're more than welcome. I think we all know that it's what comes out of someone's mouth rather than the colour of their hair that's more important.

"Arlene Foster was probably just making a cheap point with what she said, but Michelle O'Neill should be big and bold enough to handle it; she could've pointed out that Arlene Foster always looks pretty much 'the same' herself! When it comes down to it, a comment like that says more about the person saying it than anything else, and that would've been a better reply from Michelle than what she said.

"To be honest, I find this kind of handbagging between female politicians a bit disappointing; it's the kind of thing they would complain about men doing, and then they go and do it to each other. I think it's a case of 'let's all move on', there are bigger problems to think about, especially in Northern Ireland."

Caroline Grace Cassidy, author

"I am often described as 'the blonde' and it doesn't bother me in the slightest.

"I haven't ever been insulted with 'blonde jibes' or found blonde jokes particularly insulting... I guess I'm just thicker skinned. I think anyone who dismisses a woman's abilities by mentioning their hair colour is frankly unable to argue their point.

"That reminds me - my T-bar needs doing!"

Irish Independent

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