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Charlotte Allen Missed The Memo

November 1, 2011

The title is wrong, here.  Since Allen is (In Amanda Marcotte’s words) a “professional concern troll,” she has no interest in the “memo,” as it were.  She’s not interested in accuracy or research.  She’s interested in insulting feminism for fun and profit, which is a whole career for some writers.

There have been lots of responses to Allen’s curt, scolding missive in the LA Times.  Jill Filipovic responded, and Lindsay Beyerstein, and Hugo Schwyzer. [Editors' Note: Link to Hugo deleted. Since the revelation that Hugo Schwyzer tried to kill a woman who was his intimate partner, and his subsequent responses to calls for accountability about this and other abuses, it has been this blog's policy not to link Hugo Schwyzer.]   They’re all worth reading and I won’t repeat what they have to say.

What I have to add is this:  Allen’s idea is that rape is merely a sexual urge men cannot control.  Leaving aside all the other evidence, this ignores the recent research into who the rapists are: they are not out of control.  They are very much in control.  Allen’s puritanical finger-wagging cannot hold up to the actual evidence.

 I’ve written on this.  I’ve written on this a great deal, in fact.  The work of David Lisak from University of Massachusetts, and Stephanie McWhorter, whose independent work confirms his results, tell us a great deal that previously was only the subject of speculation from non-representative samples.  I covered the major papers (Lisak’s is here) at length in Meet The Predators, and their implications in Predator Redux, and then the National Public Radio follow-up, with the story of a real college rapist, in Predators Again: NPR Cites Lisak.  Then I summarized all of it more concisely in Predator Theory.  I’ve done all I can to popularize this work and make it part of the conversation about rape, because it’s really important.  It changes what we know and how we should look at rape and rapists.  It’s groundbreaking and foundational.

So what do we know?  Here’s the elevator pitch:

Most rapes are committed by a single-digit portion of the population.  They use the methods that produce the least evidence and are least likely to get them prosecuted: they use alcohol and fear rather than overt force, they target acquaintances rather than strangers, and they employ careful methods to test boundaries and select victims who are least likely to be able or willing to resist or seek redress.  Each such serial rapist has an average of six victims.

 What does that mean for Allen?  Well, her theory is totally at odd with that.  Careful, planning predators are not overcome with urges they can’t control.  They don’t test and see, plot to isolate and intoxicate.  That takes hours, or even days.  That is the work of a cold, calculating predator.  It means rapists are not just the average guy, and the average guy is not a rapist.  It means that rape is not the result of miscommunications, and since it’s not the result of miscommunications, sending “mixed signals” isn’t the problem.

What is the problem?  Well, in the first instance, the rapists are the problem.  They need to stop raping people.  But they’re not doing it by accident, so no program of education will make them stop.  Instead, we as a culture need to clear the underbrush they hide in:  the tangle of sexist crap and conventional wisdom that results in a practical inability to enforce laws against rape except in cases that fit a very narrow paradigm.  Make no mistake, the culture is the problem. 

And that means that Allen is the problem, or a part of it anyway.  Her evidence-free spewings are that underbrush.  She may or may not think she’s on the rapists’ side (she’s so hateful that in her heart of hearts she probably is).  But that is the effect.  Even though there’s no evidence to link, say, wearing revealing clothing with rape, Allen is telling the whole world that there’s a link.  She can’t really prove it, but she’s sure.  She’s exactly the person I was talking about in How To Be Part Of The Problem when I wrote:

It never fails. They never fail. Somehow, some way, whether talking about the specific circumstances or in the aggregate, the “yes but” apologist always posits some magical risk-reduction maneuver. If only she had X, they insists, it wouldn’t have happened. Like X is easy. The list gets longer every year…  the goal of putting the focus on the woman’s conduct is to make sure that when it happens again, the excuse is in place. “She didn’t X!” they can say. She did it wrong, they can say. And then, they always say, “I’m not saying she deserved to be raped, BUT …”

Charlotte Allen isn’t saying that women who dress in ways she disapproves of deserve to be raped the same way the Republican candidates are not saying that people without health insurance deserve to die: she’s not saying it outright, but it’s no accident that readers come away with that.  She’s not saying it, the way that contraception opponents are not saying that unwanted pregnancy and infection are god’s chosen punishment for sluts:  she’s not coming out and saying it, but that’s the subtext that is clearly conveyed.

It is the Charlotte Allens of the world who determine what happens when a woman gets raped in the way it usually happens:  without visible injuries, by a man she knows.  The voice that asks, “well, what were you wearing?” is Charlotte Allen’s, coming from the LA Times, though the mouth of someone whose support the survivor needs.  “What was he supposed to think?” Allen asks, through the surrogates who read her words.  These are the voices that chill and shut down survivors until they sit on their beds, not eating or eating constantly and wearing every piece of clothing they can get on and telling their friends that they don’t want to talk about it when what they mean is they need more than anything to talk about it but can’t trust anyone to listen without judgment.  Charlotte Allen is the reason they sometimes track me down and email me or PM me and tell me they’ve never told anyone, not even their mom, and it’s been two years, or ten. 

Charlotte Allen is the problem.  Charlotte Allen personifies the rapists’ social license to operate.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 1, 2011 11:34 am

    The article by Allen is horribly flawed in several ways.

    She plays the “blame the victim card” for saying that women should watch what they wear.

    She tries to equate a night of costuming a fun with a slut walk protest meant to make a serious point.

    However, I do not see where she is saying anything like “rape is merely a sexual urge men cannot control”.

    I also cannot fully agree with your assertion that people who take actions to prevent them from getting caught are not likely to be “in control”. People can have a desire that they cannot control while taking steps to make sure people do not catch them in doing what they do.

    • Jessica permalink
      November 1, 2011 2:19 pm

      - “People can have a desire that they cannot control while taking steps to make sure people do not catch them in doing what they do.”

      I think this sentence is inherently contradictory. Consciously choosing how to act on one’s desires = controlling one’s desires. The existence of those desires can be out of one’s conscious control (coming from the subconscious), but that is not what we are discussing here. The question of control or not pertains to one’s ACTIONS – i.e. whether someone has conscious control over how they act upon their desires (such as choosing the methods, the target, etc). And as any examination of reality shows, rapists definitely do.

      • November 1, 2011 3:01 pm

        It is absolutely not contradictory. There are many people who are addicted to drugs who violate the law every single time they make a purchase, yet they are very careful to make sure they are not caught.

        Are there people who could choose not to rape but do so anyway? Absolutely.

        But to suggest that someone cannot have a compulsion to rape because that person is meticulous in making sure they are not caught is absurd.

  2. Drea permalink
    November 1, 2011 12:55 pm

    I think she’s failing to draw the point of SlutWalk. The whole point is that we should be able to dress like sluts if we damn well please, and not run the risk of being raped.

    She implies that men can’t control their desires, but doesn’t outright say it. Much in the same way that she implies that women who dress sexily deserve to be raped.

    What she fails to realize is that a woman should be able to be butt naked and not run the risk of her body being violated.

    I participated in the Naked Bike Ride this last year, and had my ass slapped without my permission as I was crossing the street. He just giggled and gave me a look like “hey, you’re the one who’s naked.” I saw red.

  3. Jessica permalink
    November 1, 2011 1:59 pm

    Thank you so much for this. Very clear analysis, explaining how the problem – aside from the rapists’ mindset and behavior itself – is the cultural context the rapists operate in, that supports their mindset and allows their behavior. The primary responsibility of stopping rape falls on the perpetrators, of course, but assuming that they won’t magically stop themselves (aggressors rarely ever do), understanding the cultural aspect helps us to arm ourselves, to wield the power that we have, so that we can stop them.

  4. lalouve permalink
    November 3, 2011 2:40 pm

    Part of the problem is also that many women are tempted to do the ‘if only she hadn’t/had X’ because it offers security. They don’t do X, so it won’t happen to them – or happen to them again, if they never do X again. It’s still not constructive, but I see where it comes from.

  5. Lori permalink
    November 6, 2011 6:54 pm

    Reality check: Rape happens no matter what the victim is wearing and doing, no matter how much responsibility the victim takes to “prevent” it. Blaming and shaming help no one … they set movements backwards when they can only move forward in order to prevail and change society. There is no such thing as “asking for it.” What enrages me is that we live in a justice system that lets the perpetrators get away with their crimes and the victims of them being treated like sh*t, even by those they trust most. No crime at all is “preventable.” I applaud greatly projects such as Yes, Means Yes for courageously speaking truth to power on this social ill that is seriously destroying the health of our society. I live for the day when our livelihoods are more like “Yes Means Yes,” and less of dangerous criminals permanently scarring and ruining lives. ALL of us are victims, and it’s time we rise above the victimhood the status quo continually, unapologeticaly, make us out to be.

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