Did The Stalker Have A Point?
Today the Los Angeles Times ran a review of a book by a professor named Grace Lasdun. Lasdun describes her terrifying ordeal of being stalked by a madman. "Imagine," the review bids us, that a stalker "seemed affectionate, then convinced of a deep connection, then became furious and set upon destroying your life." The book — and review — tells the tale of how a stalker became convinced of a relationship with Grace Lasdun, then went on campaign of deranged hate, deluging Ms. Lasdun with dozens of anti-Semitic emails and an internet campaign of untruths, accusations of plagiarism, and vile communications with Lasdun's employers and colleagues. Her life was changed.
But this review asks something that is too rarely asked. What responsibility does Lasdun bear for a deranged stalker pursuing her, imagining a relationship that she did not want? Did she lead him on? Did she give the wrong signals? Does her language in describing the stalking suggest an unbecoming entitlement? "This lack of perspective," as reviewer Carolyn Kellogg calls it, calls into question the entire way Grace Lasdun describes her stalking. Kellogg explains how Lasdun's description of the stalker suggests a preoccupation with appearance and a lack of awareness of power differentials that might have contributed to the stalking — "Lasdun reveals actions that may have contributed to her problems without seeing the connections. She likes their flirtatious emails but at one point realizes they have become too much and suggests breaking off contact."
Reviewer Carolyn Kellogg also shows an admirable sense of empathy for the stalker, asking us to question "could Lasdun have managed his growing affections differently"?
OK. I lied.
The stalked professor — the author of the book is not Grace Lasdun. It's James Lasdun. The stalker was not a man. It was a woman. Patterico discussed the story as a compelling tale of what it is like to be stalked by a crazed person. Speaking as another subject of deranged stalkers, I admit it resonates.
You were seriously creeped out by the start of this post, weren't you? The seeming apologia for a stalker — and the victim-blaming regarding "Grace Lasdun" — made your skin crawl. The themes I noted, the words I quoted, touched on every vile what-did-she-do-to-ask-for-it trope you've ever heard about erotomania or stalking or rape or pervasive harassment. "Look at this terrible stalking — what kind of role did she have in encouraging it? What wrong signals did she send?"
It is inconceivable that the Los Angeles Times would have run this book review if, in fact, the stalking victim had been "Grace Lasdun" rather than "James Lasdun." It is nearly inconceivable that the Los Angeles Times would have run such a victim-blaming piece about a man stalking a woman — at least, not without widespread denunciation and outrage.
So — why is it so easy for Carolyn Kellogg to write a "what did the victim do to encourage this" when the stalkee is a guy, and the stalker a woman? Is it a mere double-standard? Does the answer lie with the vapid doctrinaire views seeping out from academia hinted at by Kellogg's reference to "obliviousness . . . to power relationships"?
You could write the Los Angeles times or Carolyn Kellogg to ask them yourself. But be polite. After all, nobody deserves abuse from a deranged stalker, and it would be twisted to ask what they might have done to invite it.
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