Kate Harding wrote Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture–and What We Can Do about It before the #MeToo movement began. Since it was published many more high profile sexual harassment and assault accusations and consequences have occurred. I figured this was the perfect time to listen to the audiobook, especially after listening to Delusions of Gender recently.
The epigraph Harding chose for the book is a perfect summary and introduction. “From time immemorial the rule has been not to punish the male offender, but to get the victim out of his way. Susan B. Anthony, 1896” Here we are 122 years later, still dealing with the same b.s. And there lies the premise of Kate Harding’s book.
The book is divided into three parts, all of which explore and explode rape culture both today and in the recent past. Harding starts with the practice of victim blaming. If a woman says she was raped, she must also prove it wasn’t her fault. Her testimony isn’t considered a piece of evidence, as testimony is in other criminal proceedings. Harding explains how rape becomes “he said, she said” unless of course there is a video. Which sadly is not uncommon.
Our culture makes it incumbent upon women to prevent rape by their behavior. For example, lists of “how not to get raped” go viral in social media. If society was not focused on rape culture, we would instead take the opposite approach. We would teach boys and tell men that rape, harassment, and violence against women was absolutely wrong. While we give lip service to that concept, rape culture excuses men in multiple ways. Harding lays this all out with passion as well as logic.
In the second part, Harding discusses how law enforcement and the court system reinforce rape culture. Police and prosecutors generally protect the accused more than the victim in rape cases. Harding exposes the fallacy of presuming innocence as it relates to rape cases. And she takes the concept into cases that were current during the time she wrote her book—Ben Roethlisberger and Bill Cosby. Ironically, Harding says one of Cosby’s biggest supporters was Harvey Weinstein. This sure isn’t surprising given what we know now.
Harding takes on the popular Law and Order: SVU to task for its mixed messages. On one hand, it brings topics to the forefront with its story lines. On the other, it reinforces myths about rape. The show owes its public more clarity.
In the third part of Asking for It, one topic Harding examines is the culture of rape. Having read Lindy West’s Shrill last year, I appreciated the continued conversation about trolls on the Internet. Unlike West, Harding takes a journalistic approach and delves into the details of where and how the trolls exist and how they encourage each other. It’s positively chilling to understand the organization that goes into these groups.
Most of Asking for It made me feel both angry and pessimistic. Rape culture is so embedded in our society that it seems almost immovable in Harding’s account. But in the last part of her book, she covers the strength that victims are finding to force potent change.
Kate Harding talks about how hard it was to keep her book current in the months leading up to its 2015 release. It’s definitely ready for another update to accommodate the #MeToo movement which began in 2017.
The chronicle is also informative for activists of any type, because it discusses how to take a small movement into a much bigger cause. It talks about how student activists on college campuses made their administrations take responsibility for addressing and punishing rapists.
I listened to this audiobook in a few short days. It’s taken me longer to write the review than to listen to the book, because I want to get it right. Once you start listening, I’ll wager you can’t stop. It’s heartbreaking and hopeful. It’s depressing and inspiring. Harding clearly did her research, but she also has a stake in the story. We all do. Rape culture isn’t the world we want to leave for our daughters and granddaughters. And awareness is the first place to start. If you’re looking for the backstory to #MeToo, this is the place to start.