Follow-up To MIT Blonde Engineer

Firstly, wow. When I’d written “Things People Say When You’re A Blonde Engineer At MIT,” I was not expecting anywhere near the level of publicity that it received.

Through further thought, I realize that the overwhelming response surprised me as much as it did because I’m not anything out of the ordinary: I’m studying engineering (there are many engineers), am female (half of the population is with me on that one), and I happen to be blonde (not unheard of). It’s surprising that an attribute as simple as hair color and as complex as gender in the context of engineering can incite such a degree of absurdity from interactions with strangers.

I am very grateful for the diversity of perspectives and thoughts that the online community has shared in response: it has certainly broadened my understanding of the many stereotypes that people from different backgrounds face.

To the overwhelming outpouring of positive support: thank you so much. It is heart-warming to read positive comments from people I’ve never met.

To the negative comments, there are two possible reactions 1) allow them to destroy me or 2) use them as fuel to work harder to dispel stereotypes and advocate for societal empathy and kindness.

“Just another Social Media Darling looking for attention. And I’ll bet 5 bucks she doesn’t work a day in engineering.”

“I’d equate it to an essay about how much it sucks when they guy at Starbucks gets your order wrong.”

“For an example of real problems, go visit children with cancer.”

“Stop whining and go do something productive.”

“She thinks she’s hot. But her photo really isn’t that attractive.”

1.The above bolded commentary is the reason that those experiencing hurt through the words or actions of another don’t speak out. The reductionism, minimization, dismissal, and re-victimization put us as a society 10 steps back.

When someone describes the experience of a physical illness, tragic accident, natural disaster, or horrific circumstance, we externalize the blame to forces beyond that person. But when someone speaks of having been hurt by the actions or words of another person, we direct the blame to the person sharing their experience. We dismiss their feelings through telling the person to be less sensitive, to stop whining, to suck it up, or to think of those less fortunate. That’s cruelty at worst, insensitivity at best.

Through this behavior, we silence them and others. And the cycle of misconduct continues. We blame the speaker because we don’t want to realize that we’re part of the problem: at times, every one of us is guilty of assuming, judging, stereotyping, and otherwise hurting another person. This perpetual cycle of silencing those speaking out has been discussed repeatedly. We’ve seen it with regards to domestic violence, rape, and racism. This behavior must end. We must become mindful of our attitude towards and treatment of others.

2. All experience and emotion is valid and worthy of respect. A few females have expressed offense at my having thought that dyeing my hair brown would mitigate the disheartening interactions; those females have said that they are brunettes and that they have experienced similar encounters. I am aware that such encounters are not exclusively experienced by blondes.

I would like to clarify that the comment of dyeing my hair brown was made in context of my circumstance. MIT does not have an extensive blonde population; having dark-colored hair would enable me to “blend in” with the community, thereby standing out less, and perhaps being targeted less. On multiple occasions, I’ve received a text from a friend along the lines of, “I see a bright blonde head in the fourth row of lecture. You’re so easily spotted,” while in a hall of 200+ people; my blonde hair tends to be an obnoxious beacon in a sea of darker hair. Additionally, hair colors have associated stereotypes. I’ve been repeatedly subjected to the blonde stereotype; brown hair is not a panacea for all life struggles, but it might eliminate just the blonde stereotype.

The fact that I am female certainly contributes heavily to the described encounters. I am intensely aware that insensitive, derogatory, and violent offense against females and LGBTs is a huge issue. I do not at all wish to minimize or in any way dismiss the experiences or feelings of any brunettes, redheads, blondes, or those of any other hair color. Rather, I would like to listen to their perspectives, offer genuine condolences for the inappropriate behavior that they’ve endured, and serve as a source of support and encouragement.

3. I neither consider myself to be nor am I a self-proclaimed “super smart blonde beauty.” I have nerd trauma: I was that fifth grade student with glasses, headgear, braces, acne, and cringe-worthy fashion— all at the same time. I was subject to extensive bullying throughout middle school and the first half of high school. I’ve perhaps grown since then, but in my mind I still to an extent perceive myself as “that nerd.”

4. Assumptions and privilege. There have been a few comments describing the post as “self-serving” and expressing sarcastic pity for my being a “young, privileged, blond white woman with the opportunity of a world-class education at MIT.” I agree that the annoyances about which I wrote were minor; however, the aggregate effect can be major, especially when encountered by numerous females on a daily basis. It’s “death by a thousand paper cuts because you don’t have the power to make it stop.”

I did not select the topic of blonde female because it was my most significant current challenge. It is unnecessary to assume that my life is otherwise pristine; I have endured life-or-death challenges. I know what it’s like to nearly lose a parent to cardiac arrest, have a sibling with a life-threatening illness, and have personally had heart surgery. That said, I wouldn’t change any of my experiences, as they all played a formative role in my current understanding of life.

There is a lot that I’ve not experienced and most likely will never experience. Thus, there is a lot I will not completely understand. I am immensely privileged in numerous ways which I’m further realizing with each day. Life is hard; significantly harder for some than for others. Difficulty is relative. People have different experiences, and one’s reaction is a function of one’s prior experience and perspective. We might not totally understand, but we can at least be empathetic and open-minded. My heart breaks for the people in the world face that the most unimaginable of challenges, horrendous offenses, disheartening injustices, and worst of circumstances. To alleviate even the slightest amount of suffering with my life work would be an honor. Sometimes we are born to circumstance, and the best that we can do is help one another as humans — indiscriminately subject to the human condition and cohabiting the same fleeting physical realm.

5. Vulnerability is the most underestimated human experience. I know that the Internet is a turbulent place, that anonymity extends to unaccountable behavior, and that people will be hurtful sheerly to be hurtful. I would like to request that each person be permitted to share his/her/their experience and perspective without judgement and without degrading commentary; it’s a simple courtesy that can and should be afforded to all people. In short, life is about how you feel about yourself and about how you make others feel about themselves. When we share our thoughts, feelings, and experience with others, we render ourselves vulnerable. It is that very vulnerability that encourages others to share their thoughts, feelings, and experience with us, in response rendering themselves vulnerable. It is this honesty and openness that enables one to make impossibly beautiful connections with another human.

We’re in this together, regardless of hair color, race, gender, orientation, education, background, ethnicity, or nationality.

Let’s be better.