Reading a book about rape culture isn’t fun, but Kate Harding’s blunt, no-more-bullshit voice in “Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture — and What We Can Do About It” makes the task easier. She pulls apart common myths and misbeliefs about sexual violence, demonstrates how our society leans towards defense of rapists, skewers some politicians and media personalities for their ignorant remarks and deconstructs dangerous depictions of lack of consent in pop culture. Perhaps most importantly, she follows through on her promise to suggest solutions to the problems she points out; while we’ve heard some of these solutions before, Harding offers evidence to show why they would actually work.
Harding is writing this not just as another weapon in the arsenal for people determined to combat sexual violence, but as an accessible textbook for skeptics — those who suggest things aren’t really as bad as they seem, the phrase “rape culture” is hyperbolic, that we as a society are too quick to send innocent guys to jail for a simple misunderstanding or miscommunication. (Meaning: if you found yourself nodding while reading the previous sentence, then this book is definitely for you.) This is one of the best books out there about this topic: Provocative and poignant, it is straightforward, written with a firm but funny tone, and by the end of it you can’t help but agree that she’s right.
Two of the most important topics Harding covers are the truth surrounding false rape accusations and the idea of a gray area of consent. She constructs airtight arguments for how and why these are some of the most dangerous aspects of rape culture. The belief that false accusations of rape are more prevalent than they actually are is one of the most dangerous myths, as it makes it that much more difficult for real survivors to be taken seriously — and that belief is widespread and aired unabashedly even in courtrooms. One of the most pernicious aspects of rape culture, Harding argues, is that it makes people identify with the accused rather than with the person reporting a crime.
Harding’s emphatic use of the word crime is notable, as it reminds us of what we sometimes forget: Our visceral reactions to rape as a sickening, traumatic event feel enough of a reason to prosecute and punish. But in cases where the truth isn’t clear to everyone involved — especially in cases that involve intoxication on one or more sides — people seem to forget rape’s definition as a crime. Harding notes how politicians and media personalities have been known to complain that we don’t treat young, drunk college women and young, drunk college men equally in terms of what degree of responsibility is given to them — they suggest that drunk women get off scot-free, and drunk guys have to bear all the responsibility. But Harding reminds them that being intoxicated isn’t an excuse for committing a crime, nor does it absolve you of any responsibility. In case this is unclear, here is a handy example:
“If you steal a car when you are drunk, you are still going to be punished for stealing a car.
This goes for men and women and anyone else.
If you rape someone when you are drunk, you are still going to be punished for raping someone.
This goes for men and women and anyone else.”
Harding also points out that young women are bombarded with warnings to watch out for people that want to get them drunk. But what is more chilling is that rapists don’t just try to get potential victims drunk to render them more vulnerable; they will automatically go after women who are already intoxicated because they know that people will have a much harder time believing someone who was drunk.
She also renews focus on bystanders, who we can and should be encouraging to trust their gut instincts. In every gang rape case that Harding analyzes, she points out that there aren’t just those who participate and those who watch. There are also those who refuse to participate but feel too powerless to intervene.
Rape culture is a tough topic, and Harding handles it with sensitivity and grace. Though throughout the entire book, you can feel Harding’s frustration through the sarcastic tone she often adopts to drive her points home, and it’s incredibly relatable. One of the most sobering sentences to read in this book hits you before you’ve even begun: The dedication reads, “For every Jane Doe.” It’s a simple yet powerful reminder that sexual violence has been brushed off or tolerated for too long. We are surrounded by victims and survivors of sexual assault, and many of them bear their stories in silence.
It’s time not just to hear their stories; that’s no longer enough (as if it ever was). It’s time, Harding says, to acknowledge the truth behind rape culture, and address it in every aspect of our society. It’s time, she says, to make sure those stories are no longer our daughters’, wives’, sisters’, mothers’, brothers’, friends’ stories.