Review: Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture—and What We Can Do About It, by Kate Harding

1035x1553-FinalAFIcover>>Published: June 2015

>>Finally got around to it: February 2016

But there is something very wrong when you’re telling women (and only women) to keep their hair short, only dress in ways that no one could consider “provocative,” only dress in clothing that is difficult to cut off with scissors (so, Kevlar jeans, I guess?), and never use their phones or search through their purses in public.

There’s something wrong with expecting women to remember that they should always go for the groin, or the eyes, or the armpit, or the upper thigh, or the first two fingers (I am not making any of these up), and that it only takes five pounds of pressure to rip off a human ear, and if you hit someone’s nose with the palm of your hand and push up just right, you can drive the bone into their brain and kill them.

There’s something wrong with acting as though it’s perfectly reasonable to tell women never to drink to excess—and, when drinking to non-excess, never to let their drinks out of their sight—and not to walk alone at night and definitely not to travel alone, and not to job with earphones, and not to approach a stoplight without locking the car doors, and not to respond to the sound of a crying baby, and not to get into their cars without checking both the backseat and underneath the car first, and not to get in on the driver’s side if there’s a van parked next to it, and not to pull over for unmarked police cars until they’re in well-lit areas, and, and, and.


The short, to-the-point review: Author, columnist, and all-around awesome person Kate Harding has written a book about rape culture and you should all read it. Especially if you think it doesn’t exist; or if you hear the words “Gamer Gate” or “victim blaming” and roll your eyes like you think it’s all just some joke; or if you use “SJW” or “Social Justice Warrior” as a pejorative to describe people you think are taking all the fun out of life. Because these are all very real issues threatening women, men, LGBTQIA individuals, and their allies, and they need to be addressed.

It’s fitting that I should read this book the same week that professional douche-nozzle and all-around misogynistic, women-hating fuckwit Roosh V. and his trolling, doxxing, “legal rape”-promoting misappropriations of sperm are planning an international meet-up to learn how to be even wider enflamed assholes. (Their mothers must all be so proud.) Because, point of fact, these idiots are either criminals or promoting criminal acts that endorse the taking away of basic rights, liberties, and freedoms of half the world’s population by violent, aggressive, life-endangering means, and all so they can get their rocks off and feel like manly men, subscribing to the most toxic aspects of the stereotype of masculinity that so needs to die in a fire.

This book is a giant reality check for those with the privilege of having their heads in the sand, pretending that such issues don’t exist so long as they remain someone else’s problems. But what Harding does, in a wonderfully detailed-yet-glib manner, is drop hard facts, and lots of them. Each chapter tackles another facet of the culture, of our culture, and its blind spots regarding rape, assault, and the treatment of victims.

She addresses the tone-deafness of certain individuals (mostly white males) in saying “Why don’t women carry weapons to protect themselves? They’d be safer.” Tell that to Marissa Alexander, an African American woman who fired a warning shot into a wall to fend off her attacking husband, and was subsequently sentenced to twenty years in prison. Her conviction was overturned; however, in a new trial, she faced the possibility of an utterly absurd sixty years behind bars, and thus entered a guilty plea in a bargain for just three years. For a fucking warning shot against an attacker. And this is just one awful instance detailed in the book of the ways that race and class play into the public’s and the law’s willingness to believe a victim’s claims.

Harding goes on to tackle obvious necessities like safety tips, and calls for men and allies to be more direct in their support and willingness to confront those who would abuse, ignore, or merely shrug their shoulders at their own aggressive tendencies, or the illegal and violent actions of others. She goes on to suggest the creation of programs for youths to better explore issues of boundaries and consent, and even broaches the topic of what is and isn’t censorship when it comes to using rape in a joke (hint: it’s never censorship to criticize someone’s joke—freedom of speech does not mean freedom from reaction or rebuttal, it just means you’re not going to go to jail for being horrible and insensitive).

The most intense aspects of the book deal with the baffling and destructive culture of victim blaming and/or shaming that exists—that in the wake of a sexual assault, many women won’t report or fear reporting the crime, because by and large belief falls not in the victim’s court but in the perpetrator’s, leading to police and other law enforcement individuals often finding ways of turning said crime on the victim, spinning it as their fault, as something they were in some way asking for. Or simply disregarding the claims of rape or assault altogether. And in a world with Daniel Holtzclaw—the ex-Oklahoma police officer recently, rightfully, sentenced to 263 years in prison on eighteen counts of rape and assault—it’s not hard to see why so many have such apprehension or mistrust of the law, an issue compounded if the victim in question happens to be of a class or race other than wealthy and white.

And if you’re still not totally convinced as to the ramifications and fucking horribleness of victim blaming, look up the story of Seemona Sumasar, which Harding details quite well. The author uses the phrase “miscarriage of justice” to in part describe what happened to Sumasar upon reporting her assault, but really it’s an understatement akin to saying Tea Partiers aren’t terribly fond of Obama.

When all is said and done, though, the simple take-away from society’s tendency to victim-blame is this: treat the victim like a goddamn human being. It doesn’t seem like much to ask, until you learn that we have a system where two-thirds of all rape and assault cases are dismissed, with more than 80% of said dismissals happening against the victim’s continuing desire to prosecute.

Harding wraps up her crash course in rape culture by turning the spotlight to the media and pop culture—continual presences throughout, but needing their own, more detailed analysis. On the media side of things, she discusses how, as has been previously mentioned, the press is only truly interested in such a story if the victim and perpetrator match what is deemed ratings friendly (i.e., if the victim happens to be wealthy and white, and the attacker poor and of a visible minority). Similarly, film and television often do a disservice to victims and rapists by painting them with broad strokes—as perfect angels and vicious monsters respectively, when the reality for so many, especially when the attacker is known to the victim, is much harder to quantify in such simplistic terms. This is of course compounded when having to report an individual’s actions when others—possibly friends and family—also know and love, and trust, the suspect in question.

Lastly, we come to online trolls, gamergaters, and other similar Internet shit stains like those mentioned at the start of this review. These are “the new misogynists”—Men’s Rights Activists (MRA’s) and Pick Up Artists (PUA’s) who see the dismantling of the world in the increasing platforms for women and LGBTQIA individuals. They have embraced the worst elements of masculinity as their guiding ethos, treating women who have the temerity to exist online and speak without a man’s permission and, god forbid, demand equality and equal rights and the ability to walk down a street or exist in their own homes without fear of being forcibly taken, as if they are poor role models for other women, and evidence of the upsetting of the natural order of things. Harding sheds a stomach-turning light on the corner of the world, online and off, occupied by these individuals, and the very real threat their existence entails.

Don’t believe me? Take a moment and search for the Return of Kings website—also knows as the Internet’s unwashed scrotal sack. I apologize in advance for the horrible, hate-filled excrement you’re about to read: page after page, article after article written by sad, angry men who’ve convinced themselves that all their misfortune is the fault of the world’s women—especially those they find unattractive.

It’s absolutely worth noting that this book is not remotely anti-men. In fact, Harding is a champion of men, and though the numbers of incidents are quite a bit lower than with women, she does touch on sexual assault and abuse faced by men in North America. She merely expects, and not in any way unfairly, for men to be better than our worst stereotypes and cultural expectations often allow—that of the oversexed aggressor only giving in to his natural impulses. It’s like in that episode of The Simpsons when Homer starts biting the air, and if the pie on the stove happens to get in the way of his mouth then so be it—it was asking to be eaten. We’re better than that, though. Harding knows it, and we know it too:

Our daughters deserve better, and our sons are better than that. 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.

That’s what I mean when I say, “We should teach boys not to rape.” We should teach them they’re worth more and capable of more than this narrowly defined caricature of sexuality that favors dominance and aggression over genuine human connection.


*Some useful resources mentioned throughout—share and share widely.

National Sexual Assault Online Hotline