BOOK REVIEW – Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture and What We Can Do about It by Kate Harding

BOOK REVIEW – Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture and What We Can Do about It by Kate HardingAsking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture and What We Can Do about It by Kate Harding
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Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest. Congressman Todd Akin’s “legitimate” gaffe. The alleged rape crew of Steubenville, Ohio. Sexual violence has been so prominent in recent years that the feminist term “rape culture” has finally entered the mainstream. But what, exactly, is it? And how do we change it?

In Asking for It, Kate Harding answers those questions in the same blunt, bullshit-free voice that’s made her a powerhouse feminist blogger. Combining in-depth research with practical knowledge, Asking for It makes the case that twenty-first century America—where it’s estimated that out of every 100 rapes only 5 result in felony convictions—supports rapists more effectively than victims. Harding offers ideas and suggestions for addressing how we as a culture can take rape much more seriously without compromising the rights of the accused.

“For as much as feminists are painted as “man-haters”, we’re not the ones suggesting that boys and men lack the ability to think rationally, control their own behavior, or act kindly toward other human beings – even with a boner. We’re the ones who want all of our children to know about meaningful consent, healthy sexuality, and honoring each other’s bodies and boundaries, instead of teaching them that one gender is responsible for managing the other’s helpless animal lust.”

Upon reading Asking for It, I was primarily faced with this question : Is it the right time to read this, when the news are already so fucking bleak every day? And then I realized that maybe there was no such thing as a “right time”. I’m not gonna lie, all this hateful climate in the news affects me, and friends often tell me – with good intentions – that I shouldn’t let offensive, idiotic (either political or ethical) decisions or statements hurt me. But the thing is, I hope I will never say, hey, that sucks, but that’s how things are.

I welcome my anger and sadness because no, they’re not sterile.

They mean that I, as an individual, do not agree with the bullshit I hear or read.

They mean that I, as an individual, do not accept the permanence or even pertinence of such statements.

They mean that even though I look pessimistic as hell, there must be some part of me who’s optimistic enough to say that no, it’s not okay and yes, we can change it.

While I may go through pessimistic stages, I don’t want these stages to help spread bullshit. Take teachers, for example (I am one, so no, I’m not choosing a category of people to blame – I merely talk about what is more familiar to me) : before meeting your new class for the year, you’ll often find a teacher* to tell you that,

” You know, you can’t do anything more for X. Don’t bother trying.”

X being that kid, in the back raw, who often faces several learning disorders that either are a)not diagnosed or b)blatantly ignored when they’re not c)mocked, or even d)dismissed as laziness or provocation (because not being able to spell would look like a provocation for a child. REALLY)

I wish I was generalizing.

So, let’s come back to this statement : You can’t do anything more for this kid. This 9 YEARS OLD kid (or even younger – often younger, actually).

Appalling, right? We can agree on that, right?

The thing is : for me, when it comes to rape culture, people’s reaction often follows the same pattern, as if traditions (more like myths) were set in tables of stone and that our society would never ever change because we can’t change it. Well. On that I’ll give the same answer than I do when people argue that we should wait for industrials to take full responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions** before considering making adjustments in our personal lives :

1) Do you live on Earth?
2) Can you change something in your lifestyle – even a detail – that would reduce your ecological footprint?

Yeah? So WHY DON’T YOU. As with rape culture, it also revolves around a vicious circle that gives industrials and politics the opportunity they need to say – SEE! PEOPLE DON’T CARE! WHY SHOULD WE?***

When we refuse to acknowledge the existence of these issues, we’re basically telling people who break the law a billion times that they can go on because we really do not care. Of course, as I said, everybody can participate in its own way and I’m not saying that everybody should read that book or follow that blog or watch that documentary because that would be annoying. I’m not saying that I’m perfect either, and that I know everything, because it would make me a liar (and also, a lousy human being).

“Rape is a thing that happens, sure, but it’s not really something people do. Certainly, not that nice boy, that star quarterback, that beloved priest, that trusted babysitter, that troop leader, that teacher, that dear family friend.
It’s as though none of us ever learned about “passive voice” in freshman comp. She was raped. Local woman raped. Girl, 11, raped in an abandoned trailer. Who’s doing all the raping here? Incubi? If nobody’s actually committing rape, how are we supposed to address it as a public health and safety issue?
Oh, right, by giving women endless lists of acceptable behaviors and warnings about personal responsibility, for as long as it takes until those dummies get it together and quit becoming victims.”

– I love her sarcastic voice.

It can be telling that asshole over there that nope, groping women’s breasts is not remotely funny. Neither it is normal, or inherent to male genetics (how can ANY man agree with that without feeling denigrated is beyond me). We need decent bystanders. Male AND female.

“In the meantime, though, it’s worth remembering that in every one of the gang rapes I wrote about earlier in the chapter, there were not just people who participated and people who watched : there were also people who walked away, not wanting to be a part of it yet somehow not feeling empowered to stop it.”

It can be answering a parent who tells you that his daughter sucks at Maths (or his son sucks at creative writing) because “you know, girls and Maths” that no, you really do not know.

It can be refusing slut-shaming as a rule including in a work of fiction because we can never separate reality and fiction entirely. Bullshit sure doesn’t fear boundaries.

It can be teaching your kids that education is important because no, neither vaginas nor ovulation can “shut down” in case of rape.

It can be calling people on their shit when they propagate a Rape Myth like, “she asked for it” or “she is lying” (or he, in the case of a man being raped) or “sleep means consent” or “a victim must behave in a certain way” etc.

“Imagine if every pedestrian who reported being hit by a car were thoroughly investigated for evidence of suicidality, while the driver’s claim of “I didn’t see him there” would be reason enough to drop any charges.”

It can be so many things.

What I’m merely saying is : admittedly, Asking for It won’t be ground-breaking for you if you read a few books about rape culture before, because most of the facts and studies here have already been discussed elsewhere. Sometimes, though, this is not what matters to me. Sometimes what matters to me is that somebody cares – somebody tries.

And you know what? Things ARE changing. At a snail pace, sure, but they are. My little sister is way more informed on rape culture than I was at her age (and it’s an understatement, really). It’s not much, but it’s SOMETHING, and if we dismiss these little progressions we are basically saying that it’s a lost cause.

I am not remotely okay with saying that fighting rape culture is a lost cause.

“But if you’ve been alive longer than a few years on planet Earth, you have some ability to recognize bullshit. You should feel free to use it.”

* You’ll also find many teachers who will not buy that bullshit, fortunately.

** Granted, if you think that global warming is a scam created by the vile scientists around the world because of REASONS (??!!?), then my argument won’t speak to you.

*** This rhetoric is often presented as “blaming individuals”. Again, it’s not the point. It doesn’t mean industrials and governments don’t have anything to do, or that individual responsibility is greater – it only means that if we’re going to argue that we’re sensible adults, we should well start acting like ones.

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  1. Fantastic review. I want to read this one. It sounds like such an important read.
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  2. I adore how impassioned you are to this topic. I haven’t read any books on rape culture yet, but I feel like I am fairly well informed (thanks, internet). Is this a good book for me to start with? Or would you recommend another rape culture book to begin with first?

    • Anna

      September 1, 2016 at 2:04 pm

      Thank you so much! That’s indeed an issue for which I’m really passionate about 🙂 Hmm this one is amazing (and would be great to start with), but maybe for a first book I would recommend Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates. Really, really good.

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