Mad Girl Reads: Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

Asking For It
– Graphic: Ash and Chess
‘Have you seen the photos?’
‘Bitch, please… everyone has seen those photos.’
‘What a whore.’
‘I know. It’s actually disgusting, like. Who does that? Who actually does shit like that? And then lets them video it?’
‘Well, those photos are sort of weird, aren’t they? Emma looked completely out of it. Was she asleep?’
‘Come on. No one forced the drink down her throat, or made her take shit. And what guy was going to say no if it was handed to him on a plate?’ She laughs. ‘She was fucking asking for it.’ 
Asking For It, Louise O’Neill

Asking For It

Louise O’Neill unflinchingly displays the very worst of Emma O’Donovan.
She offers no justification for Emma’s flaws, and there is no well-meaning, heart of gold buried beneath it all. There is no apology. There is only Emma.
Emma is attention seeking, manipulative, and cruel. Her friendships are volatile, and she proves herself to be opportunistic and venomous at every turn. Emma O’Donovan is every bit the ring-leading mean girl from your high school whose friendship you would have (hopefully) happily severed like a poisoned limb given half the chance.

Emma’s Story

It’s a Saturday night when Emma goes to a party in a dress, “cut down to the navel, and very, very short”. She flirts too much. Drinks too much. She takes pills. Smokes. She’s got her eyes on a boy who is most certainly taken, but Emma doesn’t care. In fact, it makes her want him all the more. She takes more pills.

Now fast forward to the next day.

Emma is barely conscious when her parents find her on the front porch of their picture perfect home. She is bruised, sunburnt, covered in vomit and piss, and with no memory of how she got home or what happened to her at the party.

But Emma doesn’t have to remember. There are pictures, a video, and a Facebook page, “Easy Emma”, with hundreds of likes and comments.

“My body is not my own any more. They have their names stamped all over it.” – Asking For It, Louise O’Neill

Emma’s rape isn’t glorified across the pages of Asking For It, and it doesn’t have to be. Rather than focusing on her assault, O’Neill points us towards the aftermath – putting a microscope on our ridiculous, ongoing, ever prevalent problem with sexual consent, and the horrific ways victims of rape/sexual assault are treated (even re-victimized) once they come forward. O’Neill forces us to face the monstrous voice that asks, “Wasn’t she just asking for it?”

O’Neill has given us the perfect character to explore these issues because Emma is not the “perfect victim”. Emma is decidedly and purposefully unlikeable. Her morals, her actions, choices, and thoughts are not easy for us to understand. O’Neill wants to trip you up. Maybe, as you read Emma’s story, you find yourself victim-blaming. Now consider – why?

Louise O’Neill | Graphic: Ash and Chess

WTF Is Our Problem With Sexual Consent And Victim Blaming?

Unfortunately, sex education within our school systems are seriously lacking, and often prove counterproductive re: consent and victim-blaming.

Rather than discuss and teach the meaning of consent, which is obviously an at large issue (see: any rape case or talk to idk, any number of the women in your life), most schools sex education promotes abstinence, shame and well, the very basic mechanics of reproduction.

Abstinence-only education is damaging. It teaches us at a young age that sex is something that dirties us. This is specifically damning to women, who are often held to a higher moral standard than men. We are taught that it is okay for men to have these urges, whereas in women these same desires are considered shameful.

The boys-will-be-boys sentiment feeds into the school of thought that women are responsible for inviting unwanted sexual advances if they wear clothing deemed immodest, or flirt too much, or drink too much, or walk home alone or, or or….

For those that are still seeing blurred lines (FU Robin Thicke) – Consent is never given, nor are sexual advances invited by, a low cut dress or a tight skirt, yet there are still dress codes in schools forcing little girls to cover their shoulders, arms and legs so that they don’t distract boys, reinforcing the idea that men simply don’t know how to control themselves. We are taught as children that it is the responsibility of women not to invite lustful thoughts, otherwise they may be asking for it, and this victim-blaming thought process follows us well into adulthood.

Rape is a violent crime and the fault is never with the victim. It is wrong in every circumstance, and Louise O’Neill’s, Asking For It, is here to drive that point home.

As you read Emma’s story ask yourself what judgements you pass on her. Do you feel like they are justified? If you decide that they are, do you also find yourself wondering if the rape was ever, at any point, her fault? Was Emma asking for it?

When you ask yourself these questions, I hope you find that it isn’t Emma’s questionable morals and unlikeable character that are the problem, because the problem is us – the awful way we treat victims of rape/sexual assault once they come forward against their abusers, our ridiculous problem with consent, and the ways we harm our children and ourselves when we don’t offer comprehensive sex education – and O’Neill doesn’t give you any room to hide from that truth.

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