Content warning: rape
I just finished Asking for it by Louise O’Neill and I’m broken. I’m shattered in a million pieces and I don’t know if this is the right time to try to write something relevant, but I’ll try.
Asking for it is the story of Emma O’Donovan, a teenager who finds herself on her porch, in a big mess, after a huge party. She can’t remember a significant part of the night before, but she finds graphic, explicit photos plastered all over Facebook, showing the world everything that’s happened at the party. This is the main premise and if you think it’s not plausible, then take a look at the Steubenville case.
This is such a compelling story and the quote on the cover describes it best. It’s written with a scalpel. It cuts deep and it physically hurts to read. It’s so honest and blunt and shattering that it made me despise it. I hate this still happens today and the scale of it.
It’s the story of our rape culture, victim blaming and the horrific way women are treated in when it comes to sexual abuse and assault.
I don’t want to talk about the story itself, I’m too emotional for that. What I do want to say is that the criticism the book’s received (in small amounts) is that the main character is not likeable. And I found that to be even more powerful. It doesn’t matter how awful a person is, how awful a woman is. No one deserves to have their choice over their own body taken away from them. Another is around the ending, but that’s a spoiler, so I’ll just say that it made sense to me. It made me even angrier, but that’s what happens when you stay true to yourself and when you’re a realistic writer. Things don’t always end in a pretty red bow.
Now this book talks about a girl and what happens to her after she’s raped by 4 boys who then proudly publish what they’ve done on social media. Everyone’s reaction to what happens is sickening and despicable. It makes me want to crawl into a ball under my covers and never come out again.
I empathised to much with what Emma was feeling. Shame, whore, slut. I’ve been there myself, it’s not what women think only in extreme situations when they’re under the scrutiny of an entire town. On a night out, dancing and drinking and forgetting about responsibilities. In the back of my mind, every single time when I find myself in that situation, I feel judged and I have a voice in the back of my mind that says: be careful, watch out, look around and see if there are any possible threats. If I get carried away and have too much fun and do something that can be judged as immoral whore, slut, shame shame, then the next day I’m a mess. The shame covers everything else. Why did you do that? Did you want attention? Did you want them staring at you, why did you drink so much, why did you wear that short skirt, why did you have a cleavage?
Shame. Again and again. I swear to myself never to drink again, never to be vulnerable again…because think of what could have happened.
How can we live in a society that teaches women to be ashamed, to always be on guard because we can’t know when any man around us might go apeshit and rape us? How can we live in a world where our friends, our boyfriends, our husbands are not to be trusted and we always have to see them as a possible animal?
I don’t want to live in a rape culture. I don’t want to be ashamed and afraid all the time. I don’t want girls like Emma to have all the responsibility of not getting raped.
When it does happen, we are placid. We are so used to the system that doesn’t work and won’t work for us if we don’t struggle. I don’t know how politically correct I’m going to be now, but I can’t help but be afraid. I wish I wasn’t, but I am. I don’t think we’re at a point where the victim is protected by the justice system enough, so they don’t go through trauma after trauma if they do report their assault. When a woman is raped in any other way than a stranger on an alley way, then she’s going to be questioned, stripped off her dignity, scrutinised and put under a microscope. I don’t know if I would advise a friend to go to the police straight away, even though my instinct is to say: fight! You need to fight, this is wrong and it shouldn’t have happened to you, it’s not your fault and they need to pay for what they’ve done. However, because the system is not right yet and doesn’t work for the victim, who am I to say: get broken in a million more pieces, remember this for every person who’s going to ask you about it, relive it a million times again and go through pain again and again until you’re no longer a human being? I can’t.
There are people who help and there are those who want to change things. But in the meantime, what do we do? We raise our girls to be scared and our boys to be feared?
We need to talk about this. To have a serious conversation about all the implications of our rape culture and what it’s doing to our girls and boys, women and men. How it’s harming our relationships, our values as humans and our mental health.