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Friday 23 February 2018
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Asking for It? O’Neill’s new book a gripping insight on rape culture

by Justina Hurley

Book Review

rape culture

Relentlessly truthful, there are no pretty pictures here of the wonders of therapy or the ability to heal.

asking for itLousie O’Neill is a young Irish writer that burst into the literary world in 2014 with the very brilliant Only Ever Yours, a chilling dystopian story of a future where girls are produced to order as nothing more than utensils destined for use and abuse in a male dominated society. The talent of O’Neill is that she manages to create a story that runs so close to what society is almost becoming that her writing fills you with dread, unease and at the same time a passion to grab the world by the shoulder and shout “Wake up!! Look at world we are creating!”

In her newest novel, Asking For It, released on September 2nd, she has come back with an even harder hitting take on society and this one doesn’t describe a dystopian future, this one is pointing straight at life in the here and now.

Social media adds disturbing twist

The story is of an 18 year old teen girl who gets high and drunk at a party, has consensual sex with one guy but then passes out. While unconscious she is gang raped by four older boys who, not content with just having sex with her unconscious body, proceed to degrade her and carry out various acts on her body and photograph it for fun. She doesn’t remember what happened, but the next day the images are on facebook, instagram and tweeted everywhere and so the nightmare begins.

Emma, the protagonist is not a very likeable girl. She is beautiful, but can be mean, bitchy and self obsessed. She dresses provocatively, flirts and is fairly promiscuous. It’s a genius move to make her so flawed as the reader is drawn straight in to the central premise, namely, was she asking for it?

As the issue of rape emerges, even Emma is not sure if she was raped as she can’t remember what happened. The boys are local sports stars, the community is small and as the story grows so too the backlash against Emma grows and the impact on her, her family; her friends is all told through Emma’s voice.

An uncomfortable read

The book is a harrowing read. Relentlessly truthful, there are no pretty pictures here of the wonders of therapy and the ability to heal. The impact of the assault deepens with time and even as Emma doubts her right to feel violated, the depth of the violation is made so real to the reader that this book is a must-read, especially for teen/young adult girls and boys who more and more find themselves in similar situations.

O’Neill says she drew inspiration from the Steubenville rape case and other like stories. Recently Chrissie Hynde spoke about a very similar incident that happened to her when she was younger. She sparked intense debate when she claimed that it was her own fault as she was drunk and high and naive, when went off with a gang of Hells Angels who subsequently raped her. In short she felt she was asking for it. To add fuel to the fire in a Daily Mail piece she went on to comment on girls today saying:

“If I’m walking around in my underwear and I’m drunk . . . who else’s fault can it be?’ she said. ‘Come on! That’s just common sense.”

No it’s not common sense. It’s false logic. A+B does not equal C. It’s a sign that you are admitting that society, no actually not society, rather that men are feral and the sight of flesh coupled with the inability to fight back, run or even remain conscious means that they lose control and the girl becomes fair game, to be used as they see fit.

While no one will argue that it’s not necessarily the wisest thing to get so drunk or high that you lose awareness of your surroundings, the very valid issue that O’Neill is raising in this book is where the ‘Asking for it’ attitude leads and what it is saying about society and men in particular.

A conversation needs to begin

As O’Neill rightly says: “We need to talk about rape. We need to talk about victim blaming, slut-shaming and the double standards we place on our young men and women.”

Most of all we need to talk about the world we want to live in. And men and boys are vital to this dialogue, as if Hynde’s logic is the one society wants to adopt then what does this say about men?

Do men really want to be viewed as some sort of lower order species, incapable of self-regulation?

In a kind and healthy world, where people are decent a young girl (or boy – boys get raped too) who makes a mistake, gets too drunk or high, or falls unconscious would receive protection and help. Not just from the boys present, but from their female friends, other girls and from any passerby who comes along.

And if you read this last line and say to yourself Ha! Way too idealistic! Then that just shows how much work we have to do and how right O’Neill is that this conversation must begin.

Asking For It on Amazon.co.uk

 

Read more:

The Irish Times:  O’Neill on writing Asking For It: Unblurring the lines about rape

The Daily Mail: Why did Chrissie Hynde date one of the Hells Angels who raped her? She enraged feminists by blaming herself for the attack. But the full story’s even more shocking

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