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When I was six years old, my mother would braid my hair for school and tell me, “Don’t let anyone call you stupid just because you’re blonde.” Because my brain was the size and texture of raw chicken breast, I’d nod along, blissfully unaware of stereotypes, sexism, or the fact that I was internalising whatever the hell she was talking about.
For a long time, being smart was my only point of pride. If I couldn’t be the prettiest, the thinnest (thanks, early ’00s body dysmorphia), the most talented soft rock musician this side of Stevie Nicks, or the best with boys, then I’d settle for being clever. Not only did I have to be the smartest person in every room, everyone in said room had to know it, too. I read. I studied. I researched. I was the insufferable embodiment of Tina Fey’s seesaw school of feminism: the one that shoves one woman down to lift up another, insisting that pretty girls are a threat to equality, because if you know your way around an eyelash curler then you are obviously an idiot and thus a good excuse for the patriarchy to keep smart, good women down. Gross.
Could I be both? Can a woman exist beyond the binary of hot or smart? The answer may shock you.
Maybe the most freeing moment of my life was when I let those ideas go. When I stopped feeling immense shame for having soft, feminine interests and started embracing two sides of myself instead, the second part of my life began. I realised that I could pursue my master’s degree in Russian history while also being beside myself with excitement about Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie. I could write novels that explore mental health, identity and gender roles in a way that makes readers feel like they’re eating fairy floss. I could be informed and outspoken while drawing a perfect liquid liner cat eye.
A million years ago, or in 2006, a paparazzi photo of Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton crammed into the front seat of a car landed on the front page of the New York Post, the words “Bimbo summit” splashed across it.
Bimbo. What a word. The Post article is an antique by pop culture standards, but it’s been doing the rounds on the internet again lately. It’s easy to think we’ve made light years of progress since then, but only recently did this newspaper print a Quick Crossword clue for the word: “Brainless, but attractive, woman.”
Didn’t Elle Woods teach us anything?
This argument is … tired. It’s boring. It’s 2023, and people are still telling us we’re stupid because we have an elaborate skincare routine, or because our goals and interests don’t align with some rigid idea of worthwhile pursuits. We deserve a better class of sexist. Didn’t Elle Woods teach us anything?
OK, OK, but you’re saving your ire for real bimbos. You know, the ones who have skated through life on a road slick with lip gloss and the drool flowing out of slack-jawed male mouths, contributing nothing to society and reaping the benefits of pretty privilege. Socialites and influencers and famous-for-being-famous airheads.
There are legitimate reasons to criticise these women, including their rampant overconsumption, but being stupid isn’t one of them. I’m not saying I’d want Kim Kardashian to represent me in court any time soon, but no one sustains a multibillion-dollar empire that keeps the media in a chokehold for more than 15 years by being completely vacant. There’s something they can teach you, you just don’t want to hear it.
As ever, Gen Z is above all of this, freer than Millennials and smarter than Gen Xers in just about every way. They’re seeing the institutionalised condescension for what it is — dismissive misogyny — and twisting it in on itself, reclaiming it, owning it. Across TikTok, hundreds of thousands of people enrol in bimbo university, engaging with content that takes historically intimidating concepts such as inflation, abortion and Reaganism and breaks them into digestible bites of information.
When you realise that being smart isn’t the ability to retain swathes of information, but to understand it and communicate it back in simple terms, suddenly, the world isn’t so complicated, and that’s a problem for a lot of people.
When you reduce women to the least interesting things about them, when you trivialise their pursuits because they don’t appeal to your narrow definition of intelligence and success, you do so at your peril. You’re missing out on unique and compelling lessons in business, politics and culture because you don’t like that it’s wrapped in a pink ribbon.
Keep underestimating bimbos. Just don’t be surprised when they take over the world and look cute doing it.
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