I’ve always considered being blond a gift. My hair color made me unique, made me stand out from the crowd. In high school, when non-blondes—or worse, fake blonds—would ask me if my hair color was natural, I would reply with a haughty, “Of course,” before proceeding to look at their hair with a mixture of pity and disdain.
As I’ve gotten older, however, I no longer look at my hair with such unadulterated fondness. Why? Quite simply, it has a way of attracting attention. From my limited time abroad and from what other people have told me, this seems to be especially true in Europe, Latin America or really anywhere outside Scandinavia. Everyone wants to befriend or bed the young lass with flaxen locks.
Now at this point in the article, some of you may be asking, “What’s so bad about your hair attracting attention abroad?” Well, just that, you attract attention—not from the seductive young Frenchman or the sultry Argentinian that you’re imagining, but from the drunk, the creep or the man twice your age hanging around the bus stop. The result of this attention is never good; at best, you get verbally harassed or ripped-off, and, at worse, you get raped or killed.
I’m not saying that bad stuff only happens to blond women because that’s just not true. However, I do want to argue that being a blond American woman is not all it’s cracked up to be. It can be rather distressing and scary.
Case in point, when I studied abroad in France this past fall, I was bothered on the streets on a semi-regular basis. Part of this was just the French culture, where loudly “complimenting” a woman on the street is considered a fact of life. A large part of this, though, was me being a blond amongst a sea of brunettes. Men could tell that I was American just by the way I looked, and thus became louder and pushier. The prevailing stereotype of blond women being fun and promiscuous was not an easy one to bear.
I vividly remember one day waiting for the tram at the University in Nantes. A sleazy-looking guy—complete with greased black hair, bad teeth and the beginnings of a moustache—oozed across the tram tracks to chat me up. Aside from my blondness, I looked like the stereotypical French person: I was wearing dark clothes, feigning superiority and boredom and avoiding all eye contact. Despite this, the first words out of this guy’s mouth after “Bonjour” were “Vous n’êtes pas française” [“You are not French”]. He then proceeded to guess my nationality, flirt outrageously, ask me out for a drink and leer at me after I repeatedly refused him. I was never so grateful to see the tram in my life.
These are just a couple instances in which by virtue of my hair color, I was a target of unwanted attention. Unfortunately, this is something that has occurred in every country I’ve visited or lived in, including the U.S.
Even at Lawrence, my blondness can be a pain. In fact, just recently I had the great privilege of being wolf-whistled at by a few members of a fraternity here on campus. One particularly enthusiastic member shouted, “Hey Blondie, whatcha doin’ tonight?” followed by a few lewd suggestions. What was I doing? Cutting across the Quad to get back to my dorm.
Okay, so what’s my point? Sometimes I hate being a woman, and sometimes I hate being blond. I miss out on a lot of culture simply because I don’t feel safe. At Lawrence, I don’t go to frat parties—and thereby don’t meet as many people—because I’m afraid of getting harassed. In France, I left a big soccer game early just so I was guaranteed a safe way home. In England, I forwent the pleasure of eating in a pub because I was a young woman alone on a Friday night. On my way to Finland, I stayed locked in my room on an overnight cruise ship because I was worried about all the drunks roaming around.
It’s these abbreviated life experiences—both at college and abroad—that bother me the most about being a blond woman. It’s not that I’m hesitant to try new things and meet new people, but it’s that I’m afraid of what—or rather, who—my blondness attracts. I think every woman can relate to that. We’ve all had times when we’ve been made to loathe or fear our hair color, our body shape, our way of speaking, etc. And that’s just a sad reality in the 21st century.