I was listening to yet another creepy episode of the podcast “Let’s Not Meet,” which is basically the host and sometimes guests reading out stories from a subreddit where people share accounts of their terrifying encounters with stalkers, pedophiles, angry exes, and lots more. I can’t look away, yet am frankly depressed by the collected evidence of how much depravity is in the world. The kids’ experiences make me especially angry. For girls, it’s such a cruel initiation into the ways in which we are not free because of how disgusting male entitlement is.
One story I heard recently, though, was rather disingenuous. It was called “I’m convinced she tried to drown me,” and was submitted by a user who goes by Pohjoiset_Revontulet. In it, PR, as I shall call her, is swimming with a group of other girls. One girl seems afraid of the cold water, and PR makes a mocking remark, not to her, but to PR’s own friend. She claims her intent is harmless. The girl overhears, becomes angry, and proceeds to dunk PR underwater and hold her there. It takes intense effort on the part of all the other girls to put a stop to the crisis. The story ends with PR saying that the incident has turned her into a reserved person who doesn’t trust easily, and she ends with “…girl who is willing to murder children over some harmless teasing, let’s never meet again. Please.”
I know you can spot how easy it is for the narrator to downplay her own meanness, and push the idea that she is the sole victim. Hold onto that thought; I have another example for you.
R and I recently watched the documentary called “LuLaRich” on Prime Video. It is about that company LuLaRoe and its baffling rise to success, how the owners and their employees coaxed and dazzled all these moms around the country into buying into their multi level marketing scheme, and how there were and are all these lawsuits against them. I would never wear anything they sell, and am too hermit-y and careworn to be around that many people that I would want to sell stuff and recruit people, but I recall what a phenom it was when my kids were younger.
But what I want to arrow in on is how the story is told by the film makers. If you watch on one level, you can feel a lot of sadness for the women who spent money they didn’t have to buy into LuLaRoe, and proceeded to be manipulated, bullied, and trapped. As with any MLM, you can’t retreat without losing a ton of money, which is why so many people stay put. Some of the women featured lost their homes and cars, and their marriages ended too. They are left to grapple with their past gullibility amidst the wreckage of their present lives.
But R and I are people of color with a political consciousness. So we watched it on another level, namely that of how shocked and disbelieving these mostly white women are that a system failed them. Viewed through this lens, we kept side-eyeing each other. As R said with his characteristically dry wit, it was a white on white crime drama. Only one woman in the show expressed a sense of awareness of how she had acted as a predatory agent in the lives of the women who had joined under her. The rest all talked of their sense of victimization, and how unjust the indifference of the LuLaRoe owners was. They simply cannot fathom a world where they are not cherished and protected from how awful this country can be if you don’t have a leg up on people who you think should have less than you.
And the documentary shows how hard states and attorneys have worked to deliver justice to these women. People are so moved by their tale of ruin, and want to help. There is a parting of the clouds after all, at least for some of the victims.
We are so invested in narratives like this too. In women like this, we (general “we”) see ourselves, and tremble for our collective vulnerability.
BUT here is the thing: these women knew LuLaRoe was about multi level marketing. That fact was not concealed from them. So they bought in with this knowledge.
And that’s why my sympathy has a strict limit. This is actually how harmful it is when people who have privilege but think of themselves as helpless can cause damage. Please be thinking of how abled society often behaves as you read, because I sure am. These women proceeded with the very tediously common assumption that it was fine for them to pursue their life goals this way, while believing that the larger organization would prioritize their well being. When the latter turned out to be a lie, they knew they could rely on others to view them with compassion and overlook the harm they had done. How can white housewives in suburbia be part of something bad? They are the delicate goddesses whom law enforcement, mainstream media, and pulpit holders of various sorts seek to shield from the rest of us beasts. So it is incredibly easy to gather and disseminate their stories, watch them fall apart tearfully (so many wet fake lashes), and feel indignant for how cruelly used they have been, while worrying that, if they, who are always placed above us, are not safe from ill intent, what recourse do the rest of us have, who do not easily garner public empathy? Where is the justice league, or the league of justices, to care if we lose our own safety nets? They are non existent.
So in both stories, we see people who need not have been in these situations basically demanding our attention and understanding. Of course you know I don’t think PR should have been drowned, or that LuLaRoe should get away with being a bunch of grifters who tell people that weird ass clothing is the path to financial liberation.
Enough about them, and back to disability issues. Besides the obvious ways in which abled people so often take up oxygen, and get activated and harmful when disability is centered, one parallel occurred to me at the end of the documentary. Someone who was interviewed said that the rulings in the various cases are a kind of theater. No government entity will order the company to disband. I thought immediately of the “autism” organization that shall be unnamed, the one which displays that insulting puzzle piece. Why does it even exist? So you can all walk for a cause? After it ran with “vaccine injury” anti-science rhetoric, its reign should have ended. Anything it has to say now is irrelevant to my family. Yet people keep making offerings at its altar, defending its presence as if disbanding would somehow harm families like mine. I am not even talking about this one organization alone, but about how easy it is to buy into harmful endeavors, then refuse to shift.
Let me tell you that when you give such a burnished status to problematic ideas and entities, you have lost your way. When you don’t want to listen because you think it’s too complicated, or that we are being unkind by dissenting, yet you participate in the problematic stuff by donating, expecting parents like us to be saintly, and kids like ours to be inspiring, you have planted your identity somewhere polluted. Even now, you could accept your mistakes and losses, retreat with some humility, and prepare to unlearn the bad.