You Should Be Reading: ASKING FOR IT, by Kate Harding

April 20, 2017

—Review-Essay by UntitledTown Blogger Ami Irmen

[trigger warning: sexual assault]

Kate Harding’s Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture – and What We Can Do About It was brought to my attention by a former colleague. From my previous work with Take Back the Night and campus programming on sexual assault (when I was an undergrad at UWGB), they thought I would appreciate the book. My colleague had purchased it the day it came out – and devoured it in one sitting.

About a week later, I was perusing my favorite bookstore trying to decide which from the stack of books that I was “taking for a walk” was going to come home with me when I remembered the recommendation for Harding’s book. I located it, purchased it, and set it on one of my overloaded bookshelves back home.

And there it sat.

For almost a year, whenever I went into my office to pick out my next book to read, I picked up Harding’s book, turned it over in my hands a few times, before ultimately putting it back. It wasn’t that I didn’t think it was an important book (because it is). It wasn’t that I didn’t think it would be worth my time (because it absolutely is). It was because I knew that I, a survivor of sexual assault, absolutely had to be in the right frame of mind to commit to reading such a book.

Once I did, though, I couldn’t put it down. I found myself nodding in agreement so often my neck started to ache. I found myself bookmarking almost every other page for things I wanted to return to – for things I knew I had to share with other folks. Harding does an incredible job of breaking down just how pervasive and intricately woven rape culture really is. As she notes in her introduction, this is a book that could have easily never been finished because of how quickly news moves compared to writing a book – more and more examples kept coming to light, but Harding finally had to drawn the line somewhere. Thus, this book allows for a screenshot of rape culture at the time it was written, and it continues to be a necessary background and opener on the conversation of rape culture today.

A few things to know about Kate Harding’s Asking for It:

  1. This is a VERY well researched book. However, it is not an academic text. This book is accessible. On the flip side, Harding enjoys a well-placed curse word, understanding the power language can have. However, this does not detract from the very serious topic she is discussing. Harding manages to find a balance between the two, which allows readers to understand the content of the book and to connect with its author.
  2. If you have ever found yourself in a conversation where someone throws out one of the many myths pertaining to rape culture (such as “she was asking for it” or “she wanted it” or “he didn’t mean to”) and found yourself at a loss for what to say, Harding has you covered. If you have ever wondered how best to explain the fact that people throw the word “raped” around too casually (such as a response to a poor grade on a paper or when losing at a video game) and why this is so problematic, Harding has you covered. Not entirely sure how to talk about the politics of rape in our current climate? Yeah, she has you covered there, too.
  3. Harding ends on a high note with her chapter “Reasons for Hope.” At a time when dismantling rape culture can still feel like such an insurmountable task, there is indeed hope. As Harding points out, the internet, while aiding in the spread of rape culture, is also aiding it the dismantling of it by connecting people, by providing access to resources (such as RAINN and Safe Horizon and Not Alone and Men Can Stop Rape and 1in6 and Victim Connect and…I think you get the point), and by allowing a platform for people to raise their voices (people such as Rory Banwell and the Still Not Asking for It photograph project). We have a long way to go, yes – but, as Harding points out, we’ve come a long way, too.
  4. This is an important book. And chances are, you probably already knew that – even if you have not yet read the book. And I know telling you this is sort of like pushing at an already open door. And I do sincerely hope you, dear reader, are not one of the 20.48 million people that have reported being raped since 1998 (or one of the countless who chose not to report).

But chances are, you know someone who has been or will be sexually assaulted – and they need you to read this. I need you to read this.

And once you are finished with it, I need you to share it – pass it on to someone who you think needs to hear what is being said.

“It’s a maddening catch-22. If we get assaulted while walking alone in the dark, we’re told we should have used our heads and anticipated the danger. But if we’re honest about the amount of mental real estate we devote to anticipating danger, then we’re told we’re acting like crazy man-haters, jumping at shadows and tarring an entire gender with the brush that rightly belongs to a relatively small number of criminals. No one will ever specify exactly how much worry is the right amount, the amount that will allow women to enjoy all of the freedoms typically afforded to North American adults in the 21st century, while reassuring judgmental strangers that we aren’t stupid and weren’t asking to be raped.” ~ Kate Harding, Asking for It

Kate Harding will be reading her work and signing books on Saturday, April 29, at 3:30 p.m. in the Brown County Library’s auditorium.