Every January 1st my best friend and I calmly walk into the frigid Columbia river, turn around, hold hands, and dunk. Then we run the fuck out of the water as fast as our frozen legs will allow. Some years it's just the two of us, and some years a few crazy friends take the plunge too. At some point we began taking a video each year and posting it to social media.
It started 16 years ago when we were training at the same dojo and the whole school went for the polar plunge. That first dip was way outside my comfort zone and it was also how we first became friends. We've kept it going ever since because it's good to start the year with something scary. After that, everything else seems a little less daunting. This year it felt doubly right for the beginning of a year that is more unknown than known.
I have had many challenges in my life. Some I volunteer for - like the New Years dunk - and others are thrust upon me by circumstance. Fortunately, I also have a great deal of privilege. I am a white, femm-presenting human in modern society. I am college educated. I have a well-respected job. Recognizing my privilege doesn't mean I need to get rid of it and suffer in solidarity with those less fortunate than I. It means I need to go first when it's time to do a difficult or scary thing because I am in a good position to do that thing with less drastic consequences than others in a more vulnerable position.
So that's what I did this week when I decided to finally address a long-standing issue of one person's problematic behavior in my social community. Many people have been whispering about this person and their unhealthy and damaging actions for years. I was one of the whisperers. But I didn't do anything about it because nobody else was doing anything about it. I realized this week that someone needs to go first. So I did.
It's too soon to tell what the fallout will be, but I hope whatever drama unfolds will culminate in the community addressing the problem. I addressed the individual directly and the group as a whole to be transparent in my efforts. I don't want to secretly ostracize this person and play social chess in the background to avoid them, or to convince other people to avoid them. The problem has persisted (with this person and others) because any efforts to deal with it in the past have been quiet, behind closed-doors, and without broader community back-up.
As a well-respected member of the community, known for my level head and even disposition, I was the perfect person to go first on this one. I will likely face fewer detrimental social ramifications than someone without as much social capital. And I will surely deal with far fewer emotional consequences than the people who were direct victims of the problematic person's bullying.
Unfortunately this is not a new phenomenon. And it is not particular to my or any small community. There are many systems in place that allow abuse of all kinds to flourish in our society. The current kerfuffle over the lawsuit by Virginia Giuffre against Prince Andrew is a perfect example. Here's the gist: in 2001 a teenager was sex-trafficked. Some years later, she sued the Chief Trafficker (Jeffrey Epstein), and in 2009 she settled for a paltry pile of money in exchange for her silence.
The other thing Virginia Giuffre signed away was her future ability to sue anyone who might have been a defendant in the case that settled. Fast forward to now, when that teenager (now grown-up human) sues Prince Andrew for sexually assaulting her, and Prince Andrew tries to have the case dismissed. And what is the heart of Prince Andrew's current argument to dismiss this case? That he could have been a defendant in that other case so now he can't be sued.
Just let that sink in a moment.
Prince Andrew is saying he could have been a defendant, along with Jeffrey Epstein, in a sex-trafficking-of-a-teenager case. So therefore he can't be sued by his victim now. Yuck. And the legal system supports this method of an abuser avoiding consequences for their actions. Just as abusers have long used their power and influence to insulate themselves from atonement.
It seemed like that tide was turning when Harvey Weinstein was convicted and sentenced to 23 years in prison for at least some of his crimes. Although he just appealed that decision, so who knows what will ultimately transpire. I hope more and more people will continue to come forward and confront their abusers. And I hope society will support them more and more completely.
What disturbs me the most about these abusers is their unshakable conviction that they have done nothing wrong. Just like the entirety of the 45th presidency. That guy still insists he didn't lose the election, Harvey Weinstein is confused by the "me too" movement, and Prince Andrew doesn't even remember meeting Virginia Giuffre. This is how we ended up with a bro-ey rapist named Brett Kavanaugh on the supreme court.
Fortunately, some folks continue to stand up and disrupt what's happening around them. Karen Karbo's book In Praise of Difficult Women includes 29 such examples. Unfortunately, the first one is J.K. Rowling, a notorious transphobe who uses her public platform in ways that hurt trans people and the cause of justice for women everywhere. This book was published before Twitter revealed the truth about J.K. Rowling, so I can't fault Karbo for failing to acknowledge what was unknown at the time. If it came out today, maybe she would include Amy Schneider instead. Now you know you can skip chapter one if you read it.
Despite it's disappointing start, there are 28 other well-known women who made their mark in their own way, including RBG, Margaret Cho, and Frida Kahlo. The thing Karbo doesn't come out and say directly is that every one of the women she features had some flavor of power or privilege that afforded them the opportunity to be difficult. Plenty of people are born into wealth or notoriety, or come by it later in life, but these people are noteworthy because they used their positioning to great effect.
One of my all-time favorite movies is Clue. There is a scene about half-way through when Colonel Mustard and Ms. Scarlet are paired-up and in-search of the mysterious murderer. They happen upon a secret passage, which could either lead them to the truth or right into danger. Colonel Mustard grabs a flashlight and says "What the hell, I'll go first, I've had a good life." So whoever you are, wherever you are, stand-up when you can. It might be your turn.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.