The reality of rape culture and the shocking perpetuation of rape myths and victim blaming is by no means a new discussion. While these problems have been explored for decades, Asking For It is precisely so important due to its insistence that these issues need to be universally heard and listened to, not just said. Harding’s book brings a new angle to the discussion by deconstructing why so many people refuse to enter this conversation, why so people believe ‘real’ rape is rare and yet false prosecutions happen all the time.
Harding’s casual but passionate voice is irresistible as she navigates the logic behind sexist rape myths but also misconceptions around the criminal justice system. If false prosecutions are so common then why do so few cases even get reported, let alone get court time? If only monsters can rape, then why are people most at risk from their closest family and partners?
With detailed case studies, Asking For It explores research studies, academic articles and news stories to reveal how even if the police force did not also exist within rape culture, the invasive and traumatic process of reporting a sexual assault creates an atmosphere of fear, intimidation and further trauma. The extent of sexism and archaic belief systems in the justice system is no where near as surprising as the amount of rape kits that go untested in America. A culture that automatically disbelieves survivors because rape is distressing is far less terrifying than a culture that believes that consent is complicated and that survivors are liars who probably ‘wanted it’ anyway.
Kate Harding is even brave enough to share her own story as a survivor and this once again hits the crux of her argument. The act of sharing her traumatic past should be seen as an extremely brave in itself but Harding states how the stigma of public disbelief required so much more bravery as she sought justice. Her realisation of her own absorption of rape culture when she initially doubted her own experience is as tragic as it is enlightening.
Drawing on classic feminist theory, Harding’s analysis of media, music and TV makes Asking For It a valuable piece of feminist cultural theory. Harding’s coverage of internet troll culture on sites such as Twitter and Reddit is especially interesting. While sexism is increasingly unacceptable, the internet harbours a new home for anonymous misogyny to validate itself.
Similarly, TV shows such as Game of Thrones have increasingly come under fire for their depiction of rape scenes with apparently blurry consent. It is no longer the role of the media to reflect cultural attitudes (to encourage rape culture), it is increasingly necessary for TV and the media to represent and educate the public on how consent works and what consensual sex looks like.
Harding consciously struggles with the realities of writing, editing and printing a book on a topic that is constantly updating but is nonetheless all of her arguments are completely relevant. Even after I finished reading Asking For It, Swedish prosecutors dropped allegations against Julian Assange after the charge deadline expired.
Kate Harding’s use of bel hook’s arguments surrounding black masculinity, capitalism and misogyny in hip hop are interesting when combined with newly emerging hip hop genres that are increasingly calling out the power structures behind these stereotypes. While Harding clearly states that her book is focused on the West, I was disappointed by the relatively small amount of coverage regarding trans hate crime, male rape and the complication of race. Of course, to cover any of these issues would require a whole other volume, but these intersections need more support.
While it may seem crude for this book to have a happy ending but Asking For It does end with a message of hope. For Harding, affirmative positive consent as seen in The Mindy Project is the solution. She defines the internet as a space for activism as much as it is a space for hate. Just as Twitter brought the Bill Cosby case back to media attention, the public has control over media coverage more than ever. But, the question remains, how will campus activism spread to less privileged sectors of America?
This conversation won’t end until rape does but Asking For It is essential reading for anyone who cares about feminism, modern culture and how we perceive other people’s bodies and our own.