In EJ’s world, being robbed is like being raped and having to stay a couple of extra days in Dubai is like being in Mexican prison.
A few days ago, when the story first broke about “EJ” and the ransacking of the apartment she rented out on Airbnb, I wrote about how inadequate I found the reporting. One of the points I raised was the lack of questions about “EJ’s” identity.
Now, I never said I believed that “EJ” was a fiction, though knowing how easy it is to invent a fake identity and backdate blog entries, I certainly entertained the possibility. And even if she was a real person, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that everything she stated should be taken at face value.
One of my core beliefs is that we all want to believe in ourselves, maybe not as a heroes (because what’s a hero?) but at least to put our actions in the best possible, most sympathetic light. Much of the time I think we do this by being selective with the stories we tell about ourselves, both to ourselves and to others. With regard to her Airbnb experience, the story “EJ” tells about herself is that of a victim:
if we are going to turn the blame on me, then a woman who gets raped may as well blame herself for wearing a short skirt and heels. Victims don’t ask to be victims, and pointing fingers back at them is less than helpful. (source)
This raised a red flag for me, having been told by people who have lived that experience that nothing is like rape except rape. But looking through some of “EJ’s” previous blog entries reveals a pattern of a very privileged person seeking sympathy through the appropriation of other peoples’ oppression any time she’s as much as inconvenienced.
For example, though she refers to herself as homeless several times, “EJ” is a world traveller who doesn’t really seem to care much about people who are actually homeless, viewing them instead as something of an inconvenience:
But when a homeless man on the street approaches me and asks for money – something, I might add, which seems to occur on an hourly basis – I stumble over myself and can’t think of a proper response in his language. Instead, silence prevails and I just smile apologetically, as I am quite certain that telling him to fold into downward dog and press his heels toward the floor is not the answer he is looking for. (source)
And when the Iceland volcano ash cloud delayed her flight back to Paris, she wrote of being “imprisoned” in Dubai for five days:
I would make a really bad prisoner [...] The hot story on the news is about a young French national named Florence Cassez. The 35-year-old has been held in a Mexican prison for the past five years on questionable kidnapping charges; today the effort was renewed to fight for her release. I was in Dubai for 5 days longer than planned, with access to all the creature comforts I could possibly need: a bed, a hot shower, a treadmill, lip balm, peanut butter… All this, and I couldn’t handle it. After only 5 days, I snapped.(source)
She has also written of enduring “a week of Luxury Imprisonment behind the concrete walls of The Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall in Montego Bay”. And when her purse was snatched in Havana, she again summoned up the spectre of imprisonment to describe the behavior of the police whose assistance she sought:
I recounted my plight, and next thing I knew I was thrown into the back of a police car, bars on all windows blocking my view of the world outside. My mind started to reel with thoughts of Cuban prison cells and torture chambers…(source)
I’m not questioning “EJ”‘s right to feel uncomfortable and frightened at times, regardless of the degree to which the situations she’s found herself in were of her own creation. But what I do find troubling is her inability to recognize her own privilege and how much better off she is than the people whose legitimate experiences she’s appropriating in order to garner sympathy.
Her narrative continues to be one of herself as a victim, as in her latest post:
I was at one time a victim of an awful crime, doing my best to cope. Today, in addition to that, I have unwittingly and unexpectedly become the target of an onslaught, being called a liar and much, much worse by both public and anonymous figures who have no first-hand knowledge whatsoever of the very decent person I am, nor any knowledge of what has transpired in the past several weeks. (source)
Responses on her website and around the internet seem to be running overwhelmingly in her favor; I’d hardly call that an “onslaught.”
And as for the “anonymous figures” who don’t know what a decent person she is, all I can say is Brian Chesky has as much right to that territory as you do, attacked as he and his company have been in public by someone who also prefers to remain anonymous.