Letter to the Editor: Liana Raberg

To the Editor:

I was astounded by the arrogance, ignorance, and self-indulgence displayed in the opinion piece “The sad story of an American blonde”. The author introduces the article by admitting that she feels a sense of superiority because of her blondeness, disdain for non-blondes, and love for her hair.

“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.”

She then proceeds to lament the hardships she faces because of her blonde hair, all of which translate to: “it’s tough being beautiful and desired by everybody”. I think the author needs to examine her privileges and think more deeply and critically about why she really gets all this apparent attention and what it means.

I would like to deconstruct this article by pointing out some specific excerpts that I especially took issue with.

“…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 writer then describes a run-in with a “creep” at a train station, describing him as “complete with greased black hair, bad teeth and the beginnings of a moustache”. Well, we know by the “greased black hair” that he is not an Aryan like the author, and from the “bad teeth” that the man is probably not wealthy enough to afford dental care. Here, the writer implies that her blonde hair is an asset when it attracts someone young and sexy, but is a burden when it attracts a so-called “creep” of a different race and lower socioeconomic status. I think the author is trying to make a statement on objectification of women, but is not being consistent in her conviction. Being objectified and preyed upon is wrong. It doesn’t matter who is doing it. The fact that our patriarchal society deems it “ok” for a man to feel entitled to interact with any woman he chooses, expecting her to engage in a pleasant conversation (or else she’s a bitch), is the problem. The fact that interactions in which a woman and a man have equal power dynamics and respect are rare is the problem– not that an unattractive guy dared to flirt with a blonde instead of a “sultry Argentinian.”

“The prevailing stereotype of blond women being fun and promiscuous was not an easy one to bear.”

I think the ignorance of this statement speaks for itself. I would urge the author to think more deeply about other stereotypes that millions of people bear. What about the fact that Trayvon Martin was shot and killed because his coloring bore the stereotype of a criminal? What about the scores of Middle Eastern men who are stopped and detained in airports because their coloring stereotypes them as terrorists? What about the countless Hispanics who are routinely stopped on the street and asked for proof of American citizenship because their race stereotypes them as “illegal aliens”? Some stereotypes persist in our culture so strongly that they carry excruciating legal and social consequences. Thus, I believe that being stereotyped as “fun” and “promiscuous” is not quite the cross to bear that the author makes it out to be.

“It’s these abbreviated life experiences—both at college and abroad—that bother me the most about being a blond woman.”

“I miss out on a lot of culture simply because I don’t feel safe.”

Here the author makes two very strong statements, which I can fully empathize with, however, I would argue that the issue goes far deeper than hair color. The underlying cultural plagues that result in women feeling unsafe in their environments are sexism, violence against women, and rape culture, issues which the author does not touch in her article.

On what authority am I able to rebut this piece? I myself am a blonde, lived in a Central American country for three months, and frequently spend time in Sweden. I know firsthand what the author is talking about concerning blending in and standing out. In Costa Rica I lived with a host family in the capital city of San José, and taught English in a slum. I experienced being painfully aware of my hair and skin color every time I stepped out in public. I mastered the technique of tucking my hair under a baseball hat, wearing long sleeves and pants in 80 degree weather, wearing dark sunglasses, and having headphones in at all times, but without music playing so that I could remain aware of my surroundings. However, I never had my head so far up my ass as to think that my life was unfair, or that I should be simultaneously pitied and idolized, all due to my hair color. My blondeness wasn’t the sole motivator behind every leer, comment, catcall, act of aggression, or instance of disrespect. I eventually realized that as a white American woman teaching English to poor Costa Ricans, I was basically the embodiment of westernization, colonization, and white saviorism and that those issues truly superseded all else.

I felt compelled to write this piece because I thought that “The sad story of an American blonde” took such a narrow and shallow view on several extremely complicated and important problems. There is always more depth to an issue than what is superficially apparent.

— Liana Råberg ’16