And yet Kate Harding's latest book, Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture-and What We Can Do About It is hard to read. Just like checking the news, Twitter or Facebook these days is hard. This book took me about two months longer to read than most books and it was because it was easier to look at puppy videos or the one with the cat wearing a hat. Fuzzy animals were easier than reading about the man who was accquited of rape by saying he fell into a woman's vagina. While that article might seem mind-boggling, it's not even rare these days. Because rape culture and what it entails is not new to any person, man or woman, black or white, trans or cis, who has suffered through it. Rape culture "condones physical and emotional terrorism against women and presents it as the norm."
The book is broken down into three parts (Slut Shaming, Victim Blaming and Rape Myths; Law and Order; and The Culture of Rape). In the first part, Harding presents the seven rape (American) myths and references them frequently throughout, from "He didn't mean to" to "She lied" to "Rape is a deviant event". The rape myths are pervasive and a very common one is the idea of instructing women on how to dress or enjoy a night out. The author makes clear that policing women's every move is asinine and dangerous.
"This ubiquitous idea that by controlling our behavior, appearance, and whereabouts we can keep ourselves from being raped does nothing to help women (let alone potential victims who aren't women). It merely takes the onus off the rest of society to seriously consider what we can all do to prevent sexual violence....Blaming women's drinking instead of men's decision to rape means throwing up our hands and saying, 'Well, as long as the criminals keep choosing this one sort of victim, there's nothing to be done about the second worst crime there is!' We might as well say outright that it's perfectly legal to rape a drunk person."
Advising women how to stave off rapists does not work. Nor does policing women's lifestyle choices. The idea of putting the problem squarely on women's shoulders rather than the men who rape also didn't sit well with Zerlina Maxwell, who stated in March of 2013, "I think we should be telling men not to rape women and start the conversation there." Many people lost their collective shit over such a statement and when the surrounding culture has given free passes to men regardless of what they do, it's not a big surprise.
The second section, Law and Order, explores how police departments don't routinely trust rape reports ('Women falsely report rape to call attention to themselves.'...17.6 percent [of officers] agreed...with one of the most pernicious rape myths there is."), sexual assault in the military, missing and untested rape kits, of which there is a massive backlog. The rest of the criminal justice system is also explored and is also equally depressing.
The third and final section, The Culture of Rape, gets into the nitty gritty of rape culture. Yes, it is terrorism committed against women, but there are other aspects like, "a women who wants to be sexual on her own terms without being punished for it, who wants the power to say both yes and no as freely as a man can." How many times have we heard "Well, if she didn't want to get pregnant, she should have kept her legs shut?" Women are not permitted to enjoy sex on their own terms. Period.
Another poisonous aspect of rape culture is the fact that "men are taught to see women as passive objects to collect and discard as it suits them....you end up with a lot of men who are really angry at women who speak publicly without asking permission." Not even just speaking publicly, existing, protesting, writing, etc.
Thankfully, Harding ends the book with the small measures of hope that exist today; student activists pushing forward with Title IX accountability for colleges, consent laws being enacted across the United States and even the power of social media as a way to hold people accountable and for victims to share stories and support.
This thoroughly researched book was hard to read. But very very necessary. While the book did focus on the United States, it is a good starting point for anyone trying to learn more about how insidious rape culture is. It is dangerous to women, especially women of color, disabled women, or any woman who doesn't fit into the chaste virgin stereotype. It's dangerous for a man who wants to navigate a healthy relationship but is confronted with harmful stereotypes about women and masculinity. But arming ourselves with the knowledge of how to combat the lies perpetrated by rape culture is a step forward to changing this toxic mindset.
(Photo credit: Amazon.com)