2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

“You’re smart for a blonde”

Published: June 20, 2014, 4:51 pm, by interns

by Elise Schmelzer, elise.schmelzer@gazette.com

I’m not even really blonde.

But that doesn’t stop sources from “complimenting” me for my perceived above-par intelligence for people of my hair color.

I’ve heard this comment (and its cohorts) innumerable times and from people of every gender, profession and relation. Intended as a compliment, it sits salty and heavy in my belly – like all the cheap ramen I’ve been eating lately.

“You’re too pretty to work for a newspaper, you should be on television.”

“You report on crime? But you’re a girl!”

“Your smile is probably really popular with the boys.”

“Women aren’t usually interested in business.”

“You’re smart for a blonde.”

These comments are never flung malignantly at me, they tip-toe into conversations and interviews, often filling the silent space after a tough question as I scribble their answer frantically. They’re meant as endearing compliments, but highlight the stereotypes and sexism that continue to influence our everyday interactions.

I spoke with consultant Jody Alyn this week about how she helps businesses promote inclusion in the workplace. During our conversation, she named these comments “incivility” and defined them as “disregarding the rights and feelings of others.”

Her solution? Communication. Define what is okay and not okay. Don’t let the hurtful social norm develop without your input.

It’s kinda hard to work “My intelligence, capabilities and ambitions are not directly related to my gender or physical appearance” into the conversation, but I know I can’t let these words continue to be okay.

They only make me uncomfortable.

They only make you look unprofessional.

Elise Schmelzer is an undergraduate student at the University of  Missouri from Austin, Texas. Follow her on Twitter @eliseschmelzer.