Asking for It is an Irish young adult literature written by Louise O’Neill in 2015. Honestly, I’ve never read an Irish literature before, and this book blew my mind.
Review below may contain spoiler.
Asking for It (2015) tells a story of Emma O’Donovan, an ordinary eighteen-year old girl who lives in a small city of Ballinatoom where everyone knows each other. Emma is the “it” girl; she is slender, pretty, and a strong magnet for opposite sex.
However, Emma is vain. Judgmental. Self-absorbed. Selfish. Right after you know her behavior, you will definitely loathe her. She is the least person you want to be friends with. And the mean girl you want to avoid until graduation.
One night at a party, an incident happens. Emma is drugged by one of her friends from the football team. She wakes up the next morning in her front porch, not remembering a thing. She doesn’t know what has happened, but everybody does. Photos circulated through the Internet and social media with explicit details, showing Emma’s worst nightmare. After that, she’s not Emma anymore. I am a thing to be used.
Women, the role of women and women’s body. Since little, girls are used to learn how they should speak, act, behave, and dress in public. But unfortunately, many of us are taught that being a woman means being invisible and silent. Women are tied to public norms that most of the times are patriarchal and discriminating because of their gender identity. Women giving their opinions? Loud. Women defending their rights? Angry. Women misbehaving? Whore. Women wearing a revealing dress? Slut.
And that happens to Emma. Just because Emma is a “mean” girl doesn’t mean she deserves to be raped. Just because Emma is gang-raped while she is wearing a short dress doesn’t mean she’s asking for it. Just because Emma doesn’t say ‘no’ doesn’t mean she says ‘yes’ either. We are too accustomed to blame the victim/survivor of rape and the woman’s body as the source of the problem. Blaming the victim because she’s wearing a revealing dress instead of blaming the rapist’s uncontrollable behavior is not the right way to solve the core problem. Blaming the woman’s body means justification of rape; that it is understandable for men to rape if the woman dress like a slut. Sadly, we have the terminology for this kind of situation: rape culture. It saddens me because blaming the victim/survivor of rape has become culture within our society. It doesn’t mean that our society supports sexual violence, no. It’s just that our reaction toward these cases, subconsciously, put the blame into the victim’s side.
Like it or not, it is still happening.
I can’t help but feeling angry and sad. Even if the story is fictional, the situation is inevitably real.
As predicted, Emma’s life has turned upside down. Right after the ‘incident’, Emma stops going to school, bullied at school and social media, terrorized through her email inbox, as well as public blaming and slut-shaming in the local and national news. She is called as ‘Ballinatoom girl’. Her identity has become obscure, and her sexuality and body are interpreted by the society. She’s not owning her body anymore. On the other hand, the four boys who raped her live their lives as the way they were and, unfortunately, off the hook.
Like other survivors, Emma doesn’t want to speak up. She has been through depression and has twice attempted suicide. She believes she has broken her family; her father cannot see her in the eyes anymore, and her mother is as depressed as her. The only support for Emma is her brother Bryan, who insists to bring the case into the court. However, after a year, the case couldn’t be proceeded into trials. Her attorney seems to always have reasons to postpone the case, like she doesn’t have enough evidence for her accusation.
They are all innocent until proven guilty. But not me. I am a liar until I am proven honest.
Emma is tired.
Until one day, she decides to revoke the indictment. School is coming toward an end. One of the boys who raped Emma nearly loses his football scholarship because Emma charges him. Emma doesn’t want to crush her friends’ dreams even though her life herself falls apart. But she knows that revoking the case will make everything goes back to normal.
I get dressed, covering that body up.
I stare at my reflection. I look normal.
I look like a good girl.
At first, I was disappointed with such a bleak, hazy ending. I want to know more about Emma’s life after. But after reading the afterword from the author, I know why she decided to put it that way. It was ironic, but once again, it’s really, really true.
Some people who have read Asking for It found it frustrating that, ultimately, Emma capitulated. They wanted to see her fight, to demand justice for what had been done to her. I would have preferred to see that happen as well but, sadly, it just didn’t feel truthful.
As a closing, I would like to give some contexts. In Indonesia, since 1998 to 2011, there were 400.939 reported cases on violence against women, 93.960 among them were sexual violence, and 4.845 were rape cases (Report from Indonesian National Commission for Women). A 14-year-old rape victim in Montana, USA, committed suicide in 2010 because her rapist, who happened to be her teacher, only got 1-month imprisonment and the judge referred her seemed “older than her age”.
That is why we need to talk about rape culture.
I rate the book ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Asking for It
Author: Louise O’Neill
Pages: 346 pages
Publisher: Quercus UK
Featured image from here.