Reading Asking For It was the uncanny experience of seeing my own life reflected in someone else’s book – each chapter felt like it could’ve been pulled from my old diary. Somewhere along the way it dawned on me that most women who read it probably feel the same, which speaks to the need for it to exist.
The book names the experiences with sexual assault that have become ritualized as part of womanhood, from the consent-gone-sideways stories we hear about, to the victim blaming when it happens to us, and to the dismissive cops we run into when we decide to report. I don’t need to fill in the blanks for you, because if you’ve lived as any gender in this society, you likely know the drill. Even if you’ve never been a victim of rape, I promise you will recognize rape culture.
Asking For It is great at pulling apart that story and looking at all the ways rape culture is embedded in our everyday lives. This is a well-worn path for feminists, but the book is accessible enough that it would be as useful to someone not ready or willing to identify with the Big F, and for us sworn feminists it is a useful, comprehensive addition to the arsenal. It’s hardly a hot take on the subject, but in my feminist utopia it’s required reading, right after your ABCs.
Kate Harding keeps the book conversational and manages to balance a heavy topic with a light hand. She doesn’t pull punches, but it’s not a depressing read. Harding is a veteran feminist writer, and if you’re a fan of Jezebel, you will probably like this book.
If, however, you ever find yourself critical of those feminist bigshots, you are likely to find the same problems in Asking For It. I scoured the book for any meaningful dissection of race as it relates to rape culture, and came up largely blank – the book largely takes a neoliberal, “rape happens everywhere” approach without fleshing out the more complicated dynamics for more than a half page or so. Forget any mention of queer rape. Most of the stories cited are, like in mainstream media, examples of campus rape, which is to say about women with access to money. We know that the consequences of rape culture intensify with added oppressions, but it still seems white feminism is only interested in one narrative.
I deeply appreciated the book’s discussion of the justice system and rape. Kate Harding does an excellent job of talking about why we don’t treat rape like we do other crimes and why rape victims have less access to the law than others. She blends statistics with stories in a way that confirms what we as women already know: when it comes to sexual assault, you will likely be put on trial more than your rapist.
However, it frustrated me that Harding speaks as though justice is the same thing as locking a criminal up, and as though the prison industrial complex is much more than the same set of beliefs that leads us to rape culture – still, it doesn’t get said enough that police, judge, and jury are all made up of people who live in the same culture we do and are exposed to all the same myths.
If you’re looking for a book to really nail down how rape culture functions and how it looks in your everyday life, this is the one. It’s surprisingly painless to read and you will come away from it feeling more aware, and hopefully, if you’ve ever been a victim, more convinced that it was not your fault. I’m sure my copy will be lent out until it’s falling apart, and there will be space on my book shelf for it after that.