Title: Asking For It
Author: Louise O’Neill
Genre/Themes/Content Warning: Young Adult Contemporary, Rape, Rape Culture, Victim Blaming
Blurb from Goodreads
It’s the beginning of the summer in a small town in Ireland. Emma O’Donovan is eighteen years old, beautiful, happy, confident. One night, there’s a party. Everyone is there. All eyes are on Emma.
The next morning, she wakes on the front porch of her house. She can’t remember what happened, she doesn’t know how she got there. She doesn’t know why she’s in pain. But everyone else does.
Photographs taken at the party show, in explicit detail, what happened to Emma that night. But sometimes people don’t want to believe what is right in front of them, especially when the truth concerns the town’s heroes…
I have read this book twice and on both occasions it was an utterly devastating read.
The main character, Emma, is written in a manner as to be construed as unlikeable which forces the reader to challenge any preconceived ideas about her. Makes us question her choices.
But why is it that women are expected to be likeable????
Are we all supposed to be vanilla snowflakes incapable of being fallible???
The demure maiden character who doesn’t voice her opinion and stays subservient her whole life???
That doesn’t sound very realistic to me!!!
We rave about male anti-heroes who can act as douchebaggy as they like but god forbid a woman does something deemed shady…
I am so freaking tired of gender stereotyping. SO TIRED!!!!!
And how it’s resulted in these ever so deeply entrenched opinions regarding women that we as communities have. And all due to the propensity of views and attitudes of what has been traditionally a patriarchal led society.
So yes, I give major props to O’Neill for writing characters that don’t give a fiddlers about your precious feelings and whether or not you as a reader will like them. Screw that. I’m here for the characters that live their on-page lives however they choose to!!
So then in the novel when the most heinous of acts is carried out against Emma, when she has passed out at a party she is horrifically gang raped while being photographed by a group of sporting jocks from her local school but no one believes her, no one takes her side; she had to have been “asking for it”.
And because this book is so exceptionally well plotted that you do almost catch yourself thinking well why did she do that? Why did she dress that way?
“They’re good boys really. This all just got out of hand”
But that is this book’s main theme / agenda / talking point.
No one is EVER asking for it.
Not because of what they wear, how they act, anything.
There is no reason at all why victims of sexual crimes should be considered culpable.
The novel challenges all sorts of preconceived ideas we have about rape, rape victims, and rapists.
- A girl dresses in what is termed a provocative manner:
But why is her body immediately sexualised? Why can’t she dress in fashion-forward feminine clothing because she likes the way she looks??? Why is it always assumed that a short skirt or a top that enhances a woman’s cleavage is for your sexual gratification and not for her self-body confidence?
- A girl drinks alcohol on a night out with friends:
Why should she expect that someone will take advantage of her if she gets inebriated Why is she not allowed to let her hair down and believe that she will be safe from harm?
- A girl flirts with a boy:
She goes somewhere quiet with him. Kisses him maybe? Why is she considered a tease if she doesn’t want to engage in any other intimate relations with him?
- A guy pushes too far sexually:
Her body panics. Freezes. She goes into shock. Into self preservation mode. Why is she expected to scream out and shout for help? Why is she expected to cry no as loudly as she can? Why is consent assumed?
- Why if someone attacks a woman on the street and demands she hand over her phone/bag/money it is deemed okay to just go along with it?
She should hand over her possessions and try to be as subservient as she can for fear of the consequences. And then later have people tell her she did the right thing for staying quiet, for not aggravating the criminal. She is believed.
- Why is it different for rape? Why is a woman not believed?
I believe in the assumption of innocence until proven guilty as a cornerstone of our justice system. But victims need more support. Things have to change. Society has to change.
It should not be expected that as women we can’t do some things or behave as we wish for fear of being assaulted either sexually or otherwise. We need to change that mindset in society.
Nobody is ever asking for it. Nobody. No matter what you think about their moral values and how they differ to yours. Each person on this planet is entitled to live their life as they wish as long as they do not bring harm to others.
And when in the novel O’Neill allows you into the world of Emma and the aftermath of what happened to her….you experience her pain, despair, guilt, shame, self loathing….and you will feel everything with her…everything… and you will hurt like you have never hurt before.
And the ending….will just floor you with a bone crushing sadness and despair at how victims are treated.
“They are all innocent until proven guilty. Not me, I am a liar until I am proven honest.”
It’s a brilliant book purely for the light it shines on the pervasiveness of rape culture in our society. On how it reveals the unconscious male bias that is rampant due to traditional patriarchal views. The book really gets into the nitty gritty of the insidiousness of rape culture in a small community and challenges the boys will be boys excuse.
But from a prose and narrative structure standpoint it is not without its foibles.
It reads sloppily in the first quarter with a confusing array of characters coming and going but this does contrast nicely with the sudden quietness of Emma’s world once her life changes. Her thoughts about herself are so painful to read. The views of her family, her friends, her community…. Just… If this doesn’t move you to think about real life situations like this then I… I just don’t understand.
This isn’t a perfect book. It’s not brilliantly written and it’s heavy handed with how it’s teaching the reader about rape culture. But honestly, I don’t think that matters. This book has had a profound impact here in Ireland. Schools use it to discuss rape culture and matters of consent with teens, it’s about to be staged as a play in Cork this summer before coming to Dublin in the autumn…
So it’s flawed.
But even in those flaws it’s still gut wrenching and a must read.
A final question for us to ponder as a society. Which of these four things causes rape:
- (a) Short skirts?
- (b) Flirting?
- (c) Alcohol?
- (d) Rapists?
I know my answer.