Trigger Warnings: sexual harassment, assault, mentions of rape.
Xyla Foxlin is a role model for all young women in STEM. She has overcome countless barriers to make a place for herself in the engineering world. From launching a startup in college to flying a small airplane to competing for the Miss Ohio title, to running her STEM education non-profit Beauty and the Bolt, Xyla proves time and again that engineers can be princesses too.
Robots are for girls.
Xyla has been interested in math and science since she was a little kid. But in middle school, peer pressure for what a girl should be doing started to create insecurity for pursuing her interests. As a freshman in high school, Xyla secretly signed up to join the robotics team.
"I told my friends I joined the cross country team, as an excuse for why I couldn’t hang out after school. I was embarrassed to be a part of ‘nerd club.’"
Her natural fear of judgment from her peers could not keep her from the robots, though. As the only female recruit, she was told to run the team’s outreach and fundraising rather than working on the robot. That didn’t stop her.
"Sometimes I’d go in late at night after everyone left and work on the robot when no one was looking."
At the time, Xyla didn’t see any reason to report her overt exclusions. Chalking it up to “boys will be boys,” she chose to do her best in the jobs given to her and try to let it go. Soon the exclusion turned into more serious forms of microaggressions when several of her teammates broke into her bedroom while she was gone and sent her several sexually suggestive pictures.
As any teenager would be, Xyla was confused and hurt but never reported it as she was told by a trusted older teammate to “let it go and not turn it into a big deal.” It wasn’t until a year later when Xyla wrote an essay about it for her English class did the incident get taken care of.
With so much time having passed, Xyla found that she had forgiven her teammates despite the hurt they caused her. This showed her the importance of processing events and information and was instrumental in helping her handle later occurrences of sexual harassment.
Flying against the wind.
After Xyla’s junior year of high school, she worked at a small airport in exchange for flight hours so she could start earning her pilot’s license. The flight industry is known for its history of violent sexism and misogyny, so Xyla was often the subject of many inappropriate sexual comments and jokes. She was turned away from assisting the pilots as they said, “No chick is ever going to touch my plane.”
While the comments and criticisms hurt, she found it was best to brush it off and move on. The obvious sexism was easier for her to handle than the microaggressions she faced from her teammates. Though she still has to face the sexism entrenched in the aviation world, Xyla is literally soaring over those who once doubted her.
"They blatantly told me I can’t do something because I’m a girl. It’s not that something is wrong with me, or I’m inherently worse, it’s an old red-faced guy who is clearly just sexist. I can fight that."
Harassment from the invisible beast.
What Xyla had to fight during flight training helped her realize the importance of choosing her battles when dealing with sexual harassment. She tries to ignore the comments section of her various social media accounts as much as possible and suggests that others do the same.
It’s easy to hide in the anonymity of a phone screen, and people who choose to attack via social media are oftentimes not worth fighting.
However, some posts simply cannot be ignored. While Xyla was in college, she began receiving hateful messages and getting tagged in threatening social media posts. The posts ridiculed Xyla for her femininity, claiming she “slept her way” into the engineering world, and posted doctored photos of her depicting her as a “she-demon.” The posts escalated and eventually revealed Xyla’s personal information including her address with a charged message encouraging others to “Go rape this girl.”
Xyla talks about the ugly details of this sexual harrassment case in her article, Beauty and the Invisible Beast. It's a brutally honest piece that opened our eyes to understanding the hidden struggles that many women and girls are still facing
Knowing this went too far, Xyla contacted Twitter and local law enforcement to put an end to the harassment. A court subpoena soon revealed it was a fellow female engineer who doxed Xyla. She saw Xyla’s achievements as a threat to her own success, and rather than encourage and uplift, she acted out of insecurity, hurting Xyla and other women in STEM in the process. Hate comes from places you might least suspect, and it’s important to find the right group of people to support and encourage you.
"The truth is that we all rise or we all fall together; infighting will only make us lose sight of what’s important."
Empowering femininity in STEM.
Rather than let social media hinder her success, Xyla uses it as a platform to empower women around the globe through her non-profit organization, Beauty and the Bolt. Stemming from a need for accessible STEM education and Xyla’s personal love for Disney princesses, Beauty and the Bolt creates a place for girls to feel like they don’t have to sacrifice their femininity for the sake of a STEM career.
Giving girls this confidence at a young age is instrumental in building a stronger female workforce of the future. Women who didn’t have the support pillars like the ones that Beauty and the Bolt provide often feel like femininity in STEM is wearing a target into the workplace, asking to be harassed and discriminated against.
You are not alone. You have value.
It’s easy to feel alone in these situations, especially regarding sexual harassment and assault. Xyla recommends several resources for women struggling with these issues.
- Join a private Facebook group. Xyla is part of a Facebook group for female pilots, another for female students in tech, another for female founders, etc; and they have been a tremendous source of solidarity and support through the years. Facebook groups are an easy way to find people going through the same things you are (STEM Girls Education & Empowerment, Women Building Women, Black Women in Science and Engineering).
- Find a trusted adult/mentor. If like Xyla was, you are around high school age and struggling with sexual harassment, find a trusted adult, and talk to them about it. Whether that’s a coach, a teacher, a principal, or even your parents, someone in a position of control should know the situation and be able to do something about it. There are also online resources for students who may not feel like they can talk to someone in their life.
- Consider your city’s rape crisis center. The rape crisis centers offer support and legal help for people going through any type of sexual assault and harassment. Find the one closest to you and know that you will never face judgment within their walls.
If you are experiencing sexual harassment, it’s important to remember that you are not alone, and you have value. Alongside millions of other women, Xyla is fighting every day to make sure girls across the world hear that message. She knows the moment you let negativity change your perception of yourself, you let it win. But with a crown on her head and a power tool in hand, Xyla silences that negativity bit by bit every day.
You may have guessed that our Xena team loves what Xyla Foxlin is doing. Her talents are unreal, her optimism is infectious, and her mission is beyond inspiring. We didn't even mention that Xyla is a gifted content creator and her YouTube channel is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. Please, please, please check out her brilliant work, share it, and consider supporting Xyla's mission!