The concept of rape culture is something that was probably first highlighted to me around the time of the furore around that “Blurred Lines” song – it’s not that my life had been in a massive bubble from it, but rather it had never been pointed out in such a way that it had a name, that it was a thing, not just a part of normal life. Things previously seen as “banter” or “just being lads” began to be framed in a whole new, less rose tinted, light. I consider myself extremely lucky in this regard, that it isn’t something that had hit me personally, that it wasn’t something on my radar. I remember being horrified hearing the details of the Steubenville case, the victim blaming, where society didn’t look at the horrific acts suffered by the victim but rather the damage to the reputations of these “promising young men” and the ruination of their futures, as if their “indiscretion” shouldn’t be something they needed to face up to, and one girl shouldn’t get to ruin their lives. This wasn’t the first case in the US in recent years where this was the premise; Savannah Dietrich from Kentucky, was assaulted and recorded in 2011, and faced her “justice” as her attackers having their records expunged by the age of 19 and a half, despite her having to live with their actions for the rest of her life, then faced potential incarceration herself for breaking a gag order by naming them online as her attackers. As a long term fan of shows such as Law and Order SVU, I’d seen time and time again the “ripped from the headlines” stories where girls and women who had been violated were unable to win a case against their attacker as much of the time, it came down to a “he said, she said”, and often, she wasn’t believed. It wasn’t until the Slane Girl debacle, almost a year after the Steubenville case that we got to see it hit our shores here, the difference in attitudes and the ruination of reputation and impact of social media in how we perceive sexual conduct in society. There were no Slane Boys, there was no shaming of them for their actions which were equal to that of the young woman involved. Instead we saw a public “slut-shaming”, photos going viral over social media, a drunken mistake displayed to the world and in an instant ruining a reputation and a life. It is with these cases, and others like them in mind, that Louise O Neill wrote the powerful “Asking for It”.
I came across this book through seeing reviews describing it as a must-read, even before it hit shelves I was looking forward to getting stuck in. And stuck in I did get. I read it within 24 hours, finding it difficult to put down (not so handy when you’ve got a toddler), downloaded to my kindle app so I could read it on the go on my phone. It goes without saying, for sure, that this book definitely comes with a Trigger Warning.Honest. Shameful. Thought provoking. All words I would use to describe this latest novel from the promising young Irish author who is making her way up the bestseller lists with her two books already on our shelves, “Asking For It” and “Only Ever Yours”.
Emma is a teenage girl living in Cork, in fifth year and isn’t someone I could see myself being friends with at that age. Honestly, she’s a bit of a bitch. That said, I knew (and know) a certain few people that share similar traits, so she’s a realistic character, she isn’t the traditional “victim” that society would imagine, she has a past, she has a sexual history, she does things she likely shouldn’t which one can somewhat blame age and naivety, and just lack of caring of consequence on. She’s a teenager; I’m not sure any one of us can look back at our teenage years and like every personality trait we ever had all of the time (I was certainly a door slamming, loud music playing, huffing nightmare for a time – sorry Mam).She’s pretty and she knows it, has just turned 18 and is out to have a good time. Until one morning after a party, she wakes up not knowing how she got to where she is, unable to remember very much from the night before – but can tell quite quickly that all is certainly not as simple as “Had too much to drink, can’t remember” from the reactions of others around her. The power of social media is shown quite scarily accurately as images from an event she can’t remember circulate and become viral – and despite her being the victim, social circles around her are quite quick to blame her based on things they’d heard about her blood alcohol levels, drug usage and previous sexual partners.
The book takes place over two years, with gaps in between that are filled in with memories. It differs from anything else I’ve seen on the topic, something I’ve seen criticised elsewhere, but I find it quite honest to the reality – our legal system in this country certainly does not make life easy for the victim, regardless of what the crime is, it isn’t as easy as some portrayals in literature and film make it look, all tied up nicely in a timely manner where justice always prevails. The book shows an honest portrayal of the process which victims must go through, and the impact that it has not just on them but on everyone around them, and the choices they must make in order to choose which path they want to lead their life down.
This is a conversation we have to have in our society. When I was in college, one of the “lads” used the analogy that “A key that can open any lock is a master key, a lock that will open with any key is a shitty lock” to describe their logic for why men are heroes for inflating their numbers of “conquests” and girls are expected to remain pure and virginal. It horrified me at the time, and it disgusts me now to know that this wasn’t just one of the lads, this wasn’t just banter, this is something that has been widely noted across our society. If you are a victim of sexual violence, of unwanted sexual activity, an unconsenting party, it does not matter what you wore, or if you changed your mind after initially saying yes, or if you were intoxicated, or if there had been a history with the person. Many women (and male victims) are made to feel like they are the ones in the wrong when it comes to such encounters; things they should have done to not get themselves into that position. Our society teaches Don’t Get Raped, not Do Not Rape, which is an inherent flaw that needs to be addressed. The subject of consent is an important element often ignored in our sincerely lacking sexual education system in this country. There is a whole other post which I could go on (and probably will do) about this in future; but as to not get off on a tangent, for now I’ll leave it at our current state of being is not good enough, and will continue to not be good enough as long as the sexual education being received in our secondary schools remains at the inconsistent levels which it is at.
I am lucky enough to have gotten the chance to ask Louise some questions regarding her experiences in writing and promoting the book thus far, and am very appreciative of her taking time out of her very busy schedule at the moment to give a bit of further insight into just what it was that sparked the initial idea, and how it has been perceived thus far.
What was the eureka moment which started you writing Asking For It, was it a personal experience or was it reading about/hearing about stories elsewhere?
It really was an accumulation of incidents. Todd Aiken’s remarks in August 2012 about ‘legitimate rape’, the Steubenville case and the Maryville case in the US, and then, here in Ireland, the furore over Slane Girl. That last one wasn’t a rape case but was so indicative of the disparity between how we view male and female sexuality in this country that it made me determined to write a book that would challenge those beliefs.
In your research for the book, what was the overwhelming feeling of the people you interviewed? Was it a largely varied group or were there any main groups you looked at?
If you were put in charge of sex education for young people in this country, what changes would you make?
Thank you Louise for taking the time out of your schedule to complete this mini-interview. You can purchase a copy of “Asking For It” from any good bookshops (and you definitely should), or if like me, you prefer to read on the go, you can download it for your Kindlehere. To see more of what Louise O Neill is up to, check out herwebsite, herTwitteror herFacebook– if her first two books are anything to go by, she is definitely one to watch.
Let me know in the comments what you’ve thought of the book if you’ve read it – and what others you would recommend for people who loved this one! This is definitely a conversation Ireland needs to be having, so get talking, make your opinions known!