For fuck’s sake, Caitlin Moran

Trigger warning: this post quotes some pretty strong rape apologism

Once upon a time, we could pretend that despite the fact she’s rubbish on literally everything else, Caitlin Moran was at least on the side of (some) women. Can you hear the record scratch coming? Well, it turns out that she isn’t. In an interview with a blogger, Moran made some utterly terrible comments about rape. In an interview, she said:

Yes. It’s on that basis that I don’t wear high heels – other than I can’t walk in them – because when I’m lying in bed at night with my husband, I know there’s a woman coming who I could rape and murder, because I can hear her coming up the street in high heels, clack-clack -clack. And I can hear she’s on her own, I can hear what speed she’s coming at, I could plan where to stand to grab her or an ambush. And every time I hear her I think, “Fuck, you’re just alerting every fucking nutter to where you are now. And [that it’s a concern] that’s not right.

Society should be different. But while we’re waiting for society to change, there’s just certain things you have to do. But again the thing is, so many things you could do instead are predicated on having money. She could come out of a nightclub and get into a taxi, that would be the right thing to do.

No billionaire heiresses are ever abducted and raped and murdered, because they are just being put into a taxi or have their driver waiting around a corner for them. Again, it’s not just a feminist thing, it’s a class thing. It’s a money thing. It’s a problem of capitalist society. That’s why I think often feminism links to Marxism and socialism, I don’t just want to help one bunch of people, I want to help everyone.

Far from being the sort of comment from someone whose general feminism-lite attitude can at least be viewed as some sort of primer to feminism for the privileged, these remarks are a simple rehashing of that tired old rape myth: that what a woman wears can get her rape.

According to Moran, high heels function as some sort of rapist cowbell, advertising that there is a lone woman wandering abroad, ripe for the picking. I’ve never lain awake listening to the sound of heels and thinking about how easily I could rape that person, and I’m pretty sure vast swathes of the population share this nocturnal activity because we don’t believe the problem is what a woman wears.

Perhaps Caitlin Moran has been listening to some of the criticism levelled at her, though, by her attempt at a dimly intersectional analysis, over which the wail of a sad trombone sounds. Rape culture, unfortunately, will not be solved by Moran’s clever manifesto of All Women Shall Have Taxis. What if the taxi driver is a rapist? It’s not unheard of: recall, for example, the Black Cab Rapist who earned his moniker after raping women who had got into his taxi.

Moran’s comments ultimately do not resemble a feminist talking about rape at all. It’s the same old tired societal tripe, blaming the victim of rape. All Caitlin Moran has done is reheat it and feign concern for these women without offering any solutions other than “so be careful out there, or you’ll get yourselves raped.” This is not what needs to happen, and it is not what the young women new to feminism–Moran’s apparent target demographic–need to hear.

The problem is, of course, that society isn’t doing anything to change these beliefs which allow rape to happen. Rather than attack this, Moran contributes to it, repeating these beliefs and adding an air of legitimacy to them through the means of her status as a feminist role model. This is a dangerous path, and one which will ultimately prove to be an obstacle in the journey towards genuine social change.

I cannot believe that, as the year 2012 draws to a close, we are still having to fight on this front. I would have thought–almost certainly wishfully–that perhaps we would have won this by now, and that we would have laid down our floggers and interred the corpse of the “short skirt” horse. Perhaps it’s due to a desire to feel in control: it’s not nice to believe that there’s nothing we can do that will stop us getting raped, so the pervasive belief in wearing sensible shoes and getting a taxi home functions as a placebo button. Perhaps it’s so intrinsically linked with other rape apologistic beliefs that we cannot just throw that one on the fire by itself. In either case, this is no excuse for the repetition of these myths.

They’re just that. Myths. Stories. Everywhere we see the myths and lies about rape, we must attack them if we are to have any hope of success.

In her own way, perhaps Caitlin Moran is doing her bit for improving the state of feminism by being so consistently crap. It makes us think, it teaches us where we need to build and where we need to improve our thinking by the nigh-on perpetual onslaught of thought that’s ostensibly from our side but wrong, wrong, wrong.

Further reading:

It’s Just A Hobby– further unpacking Moran’s words
Sian and crooked rib– a robust fact check
Perestroika– unbridled, glorious ire

25 thoughts on “For fuck’s sake, Caitlin Moran”

  1. I sort of agree with her. Whilst I accept that a rapist is to blame for rape we can’t ensure that they’re not around. I don’t walk alone at night, not because if I was attacked I would be to blame but that I cannot control others only myself. It’s the same reason that EVEN when crossing a road on a zebra crossing or at traffic lights that I still look left and right and/or ensure my children aren’t playing out of sight. It wouldn’t be my fault if I were hit by a car but I would rather not be hit. You can’t help arseholes blaming women for being raped, hell most women are raped by someone they know and so taxi or no taxi won’t help them. Attitudes have to change to even discussing rape and what it most likely means, but until that happens are you advising us to walk blindly at 3am in an area where an attacker has already been? Honestly I fear mugging more than rape walking at night alone… is that an anti feminist position too?

    I think you can both advise people about the elements of personal safety that they can control as well as acknowledging that rapists and attackers are solely responsible for any attack which occurs. Employment law exists, yet I would still advise workers to get familiar with employment law.

    1. Firstly, there’s a vast gulf of difference between a mugging and a rape–any anti-mugging advice would be gender-neutral. It’s notable that there aren’t anti-mugging campaigns on the scale of this “anti-rape” advice at all.

      And secondly, more importantly, the risk of getting raped under these circumstances is minimal compared to the risk of getting raped by having a male partner, male friends, or male acquaintances: these are the circumstances under which the vast majority of rapes happen. So why are we not taught to fear men? The answer is, obviously, because that would be as ludicrous as a suggestion that what one wears is a risk factor in rape.

    2. Respectfully (speaking as a man, so from a position of some privilege in this respect) I disagree that Moran is contributing anything useful here. It should be possible for women to wear high heels without fear of attack, and without being blamed for the attack if that happens – clearly there are areas of any city where, as R Kinghorn says, dressing flashily would be unwise, but this is not solely a gender issue (and Moran wasn’t talking about that). As you say, walking alone at night can be scary and risky, particularly in an area where there have been attacks previously and women are more vulnerable in this respect than men, but you, like R Kinghorn, are taking this discourse to an area Moran wasn’t talking about. She wasn’t talking about women being vulnerable in dangerous parts of town, she was talking about someone she hears coming home at night (in a fairly comfortable part of town presumably). Basically all she is saying is, women should be afraid everywhere, and as a result take full responsibility for the possible actions of others; they should take care not to draw attention to themselves, they should be dressed ready to flee at all times. Taking into account her desire to “help everyone”, I think she should consider more carefully what she says; I don’t think this is an empowering or positive message (or even that well thought-out, as Stavvers says taking a taxi can have its risks too) and I think Stavvers is fully justified in her response.

  2. Moran has never claimed to be a clever campaigner for equality, so it always disapoints me when she’s expected to be the ultimate feminist. As mentioned previously, it’s not that she’s blaming the women for rape, but rather advising ways to lessen risk. If you wore flashy expensive clothes while walking through a scary neighbourhood and got mugged then people would tell you how foolish that was. Which is not enabling/apologising for the mugger.

    Rape is serious shit. If there’s a danger, let’s try to minimise it?

        1. I was trying to be clever, sorry. If someone is comparing rape to mugging, and saying they are foolish for wearing “flashy expensive” clothes in a “scary” neighbourhood, then they are trying to say there are places or situations where women will know they will be raped. Which is obviously not true. If R Kinghorn and others believe this then, they should also be able to point out areas and situations where it’s ‘safe’ to wear high heels. Which is obviously ridiculous.

  3. ”Moran’s comments ultimately do not resemble a feminist talking about rape at all”

    Yes they do. Moran is a feminist, and she is talking about rape. I hate the notion that all feminists have to share a single voice/opinion.

    It is possible that feminists believe women would be safer not wearing high heels. I choose not to wear high heels, and the noise I make is one of the reasons (although not the only one). I am a feminist. I don’t wear high heels.

  4. Wearing sensible shoes doesn’t go far enough. I see women out on the street all the time, just walking around like they think they are regular people! Don’t they know that outside is where the bad men live? Women shouldn’t be out there wandering about, they should be indoors with the safe men.

    1. I *know!!* What’s wrong with us, right?! Here we are walking around like normal people!! I better go lock myself up again.

  5. It is immensely frustrating that anyone is still talking about women changing their behaviour / what they wear as an antidote to rape, least of all someone who, whether she wants it or not, is regarded as a feminist spokesperson.

    I also find her comments about class disappointing. Wealth does not prevent abuse, ever. It prevents poverty, which prevents one being in certain situations which may be deemed dangerous, but rape does not just happen in so-called dangerous places.

    And this is what I find most upsetting, the idea that rape occurs in dangerous places and situations (like wearing high heels on a lonely street). Rape occurs in 101 different places but only ever for 1 reason: abuse of power, usually male on female.

    I rarely wear heels, but when I do I am no more asking to be raped than I am in my untidy converse and baggy sweater. And you know what, it’s not about me anyway, it’s about the abuser. Which is why any talk of how women behave perpetuates damaging myths at best and encourages violence at worse.

    Thanks for posting.

  6. So she lies awake in bed in her home and can hear women in high heels walking past? Either she’s got some damn good ears or her street must be an acoustical nightmare (I mean, I’d go mad if I could hear people walking past my house while I was inside).

    Seriously, does she engage her brain before she opens her mouth? Where does she get the idea that rapists only attack women in high heels? Why does she think women who regularly wear high heels can’t run in them? Why does she think women only get raped by strangers late at night who hide in the bushes ticking off passers-by until he gets one who’s wearing high heels and so “vulnerable”? (If I were a rapist I’d be more wary of the girl in heels whose shoes could do damage to soft man-parts — instead I’d go for the girl wearing nice, soft Keds.)

    And so on. Caitlin Moran is only considered a “feminist spokesperson” because she wrote stuff about how it’s okay for nice white girls to enjoy sex. Sadly, that’s what “feminism” means in the eyes of too many other women who uphold her as some sort of goddess. She’s not, she’s just another man’s woman.

  7. I’m afraid we are going to be fighting this battle for a long time to come. It very much is a placebo button – as long as Moran can tell herself that women who wear high heels are raped by strangers walking home at night, she can convince herself that she is safe.

    But it goes further than that, because even recognizing that part of the placebo is still focusing on the victim. Here’s the real placebo that almost everyone I know who has not dealt with rape personally buys into on some level: Someone you know and love is a rapist or sexual abuser. Someone in your family or friends has forced themselves on another person and hurt them. But you (generic you) can’t deal with looking at the faces of your loved ones of Christmas dinner (or seder, or Monday night football) and knowing that one of these people you love and trust could do such a thing. So two things happen to protect your own sanity: in this short term you ‘other’ rapists – come up with an internal definition that makes it impossible for anyone you know to be a rapist.

    Moran reassuring herself that she can’t be raped because she is smart and doesn’t do X, Y and Z is the obvious part of this set up. The subtle part is that she is also reassuring herself that the man lying next to her, the friend at work, etc, cannot possibly be rapists, because they don’t hang out in dark alleys waiting for women in high heels to walk by.

  8. Advocating for women a behavior that lessens risk is in no way incompatible with other ways of preventing rape. So many people and institutions have blamed victims to avoid doing anything to prevent assaults, that it became a reflexe to criticize anybody offering advices to potential victims.

    I don’t think that C. Moran’s advice will be very useful, but from what you quote, you seem to attack her for a position from which she tries to distance herself. (“Society should be different. But while we’re waiting for society to change, there’s just certain things you have to do.”)

  9. Some female feminists I know are concerned about walking around alone at night. By “concerned” I mean, “significantly more concerned than I am about doing it myself”. For that matter some men I know might be more concerned than I am, but they’d be mocked if they wrote about their concerns. Oh, hang on, so is Caitlin Moran mocked.

    Anyway, regardless of the fact that statistically their partners are more likely to assault or rape them than is a stranger, these friends of mine choose not to ignore the risk that does exist of rape or assault by a stranger. I don’t think they’re not-feminists if they speculate about things they do (or do not do) that affect this risk of being attacked while walking around at night.

    I don’t think it makes them not-feminists if they observe that if they didn’t ever walk around alone at night, they would never be attacked *while walking around alone at night*, because they would have done something else instead. Of course, they might instead be attacked in a taxi, and one might look at statistics to determine whether or not they were correct in their belief that a taxi is a safer place to be than the street. If they were somehow mistaken on that point I would feel that’s an issue of their research and not of their convictions. None of their weighing up of risk ever suggests to be that they believe that they share a measure of blame if they are assaulted, or that the risk they’re thinking about at any given moment is the only risk or even the most important risk in the world.

    So, I do not get on my high horse and accuse them of ignoring the real issues, and I do not accuse my friends of victim-blaming if they choose to make a phone call while walking through a dark alley, so that somebody knows where they are. This high heel thing isn’t a suggestion I’ve encountered before, but I would not accuse them of victim-blaming if they chose not to loudly advertise themselves while walking alone at night. I might question how quiet they really are in flat shoes, mind. I would not, unless very certain that they could appreciate the joke, accuse them of “flogging the short skirt horse”, because that would not be what they were doing.

    Moran was invited by a question in that interview to consider abduction rape and murder by a stranger. She *could* have chosen to say, “oh, I don’t worry about that, I’m far more concerned about domestic abuse”. But I don’t think it’s a pre-requisite of calling herself a feminist that she must.

    Standards are applied to Caitlin Moran that are not applied to my friends or to your everyday run-of-the-mill feminist. Could this be because it has already been determined that Caitlin Moran is not-a-feminist, and the goal is to crow over that conclusion?

    This seems like (a) rubbish, and (b) pointless piling-on. Maybe find something Catilin Moran says that’s actually inconsistent with feminism and criticise that instead?


    “there are certain things you have to do” seems problematic. Maybe she meant “there are certain things that one feels one has to do”, which is fine (I mean, fine to feel that, not fine that the world is arranged such that it is true). Maybe she meant “if I were on a jury, I would acquit any man who raped a woman wearing high heels, because one of the things she *has* to do if she doesn’t want to be raped is to not wear high heels”. I know which I think is the more plausible interpretation.

    The observation that “No billionaire heiresses are ever abducted and raped and murdered” seems spurious. Firstly even if it’s true it’s based on a very small sample consisting of a handful of celebrities. Secondly what about Patty Hearst? OK so she wasn’t abducted *and* raped *and* murdered, but it was one or two of three and it’s not the fact that she was an heiress that prevented her being murdered. Anyway I’m pretty sure the observation is not intended as a clinching argument in favour of taxis, rather as an (unwisely exaggerated) example of wealth privilege.

    Beyond that, ffs, she’s describing one of the concerns *she* has about a particular risk, of some hypothetical attacker hearing her coming a mile off. I’ve heard people discuss particular risks a lot, some of them feminists. This is not inconsistent with believing that there are other risks, or that the very existence of the risk is unjust.

    Don’t hate people for being afraid, even if you would prefer that they not be afraid and even if they happen to be women and even if they talk about it on the record.

    1. “Some female feminists I know are concerned about walking around alone at night.”
      Yes, but I’ve always been WAY more concerned with getting robbed because I’m assumed to be (and am) smaller and weaker than a lone man walking around at night. But that should really be applied to EVERYONE. When I was in college (in a major city, surrounded by some really crappy areas of town), they stressed that NO ONE should walk around alone at night, offered shuttles around campus, and if you were really desperate and the shuttles weren’t running, the campus PD would give you a ride (although I realize this isn’t true for a regular PD or even on many campuses). This had no gender bias, in the ability to get help or in how they stressed the importance. Two of my male friends, walking together, were robbed at gunpoint. As a single female, if that guy had seen me, I would have been an even more attractive target.

      By emphasizing rape to get this sort of point across, it not only disguises the importance of men not being idiots in the same way, but also detracts from the importance of realizing that you are WAY more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone you know. When this is discussed and emphasized without any mention of what you shouldn’t accept from friends and acquaintances and significant others, you get girls and women who are too ashamed to come forward, think they deserved it, think no one will believe it (after all, what they hear says that if you don’t ask for it by wearing certain things or behaving in certain ways, you don’t get raped, right? They don’t get the other side of the story), or put up with things in relationships that they shouldn’t, because you can’t rape a girlfriend/wife, right? I mean, by being in a relationship, you owe him sex. And when he follows you everywhere and drives off your friends, it’s because he loves you SO MUCH.

      Yes, anyone should be aware of their surroundings and their attractiveness as a target, but that message doesn’t need to be connected to women or rape. Feminists may know the balance of the risk of rape from a stranger vs someone they know, but every time this message of “don’t dress like a slut” is addressed directly at the general public, you get multitudes of women who are only getting that side of the message. And plenty of men who figure that if a woman dresses in something they perceive as provocative (whether or not it is, or was intended to be), they’re asking for it and even if they protest, they don’t REALLY mean it. And THAT is the big problem.

  10. Either you’ve missed the point or I have. She’s saying it’s NOT RIGHT that a woman shouldn’t be able to wear heels and become a ‘rape cowbell’. She’s defending our right to wear whatever we want….I think

  11. Bring up your son’s to be feminist/humanist men.
    Men who are respectful of other women or men.
    Men who don’t rape,fight or bully.
    Men who are good partners to their partners,male or female.

    Bring up all your children to be kind,good people.

    Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.(and yours)

    Not that difficult.

  12. Did you read the same article as me? I didn’t hear her blaming the victim. I heard her saying ‘look after yourself’. I also heard her saying looking after yourself can depend on the capacity to pay for a taxi. I agree. My nightclubbing years are behind me but I always wore my Docs because a) I looked bloody cool and b) because if I ever needed to I could run and kick in them. I always had enough money for a taxi if I found myself returning home alone. At the end of the day lets not make it a political point about who is the most feminist- let’s just make sure our daughters keep safe.


  14. Point A: Most rapists are cold-blooded calculating types rather than “nutters.”

    Point B: High heels make terrifying, potentially deadly weapons of self-defense when taken off and held in the hand. They call them “stilettos” for a reason. What initially resembles a weakness may turn out to be an unexpected strength.

    Point C: Billionaire heiress Nancy Eaton did not die of old age.

    Point D: Taking pride in not being “traditionally feminine” does not automatically make you a good person.

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