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Asking for it - Book Cover - Louise O'Neill

I read ‘ Asking For It ‘ in a few hours and have been haunted by it since.  I come from a small Irish village, I have certainly drank too much and woken up with a hazy memory of the night before.  The horror of the events as they unfold is that under different circumstances they could have happened to me.  Thankfully my world was not influenced by drugs and I was certainly never considered the most stunning girl in the village but in the wrong position with the wrong combination of ‘friends’, we are all vulnerable.

Initially I questioned how cartoon-ish the main character – Emma is portrayed at the start of the book.  I know young girls can be conceited but she is drawn devoid of charm or personality – simply a vain, silly and beautiful girl who was ‘Asking for it’. However, in retrospect it is the masterstroke of the book. Very little about her behaviour before or immediately after the event is defensible which forces us to question how we evaluate right and wrong.  Just because someone is ‘asking for it’, does that give any other person the right to ‘give it to them’ without consent or even their knowledge.

Rural Ireland is the perfect setting for a dramatisation of the near perfect storm young people are experiencing today.  Small town herd mentality, excessive consumption of recreational drugs (most prevalently alcohol) and scandal are all vices as old as time.  However, there are two new variables that make for the perfect storm that this book conjures up – the unfettered proliferation of technology and the pursuit of beauty and popularity at any cost.

The most disturbing realisation from the book is not the act as you would think but the damning judgement of the young girl by her friends and community.  It was a modern day witch hunt in which the silly, beautiful girl is punished – not for a crime but for our perception of a moral misdemeanour.  I read a brilliant quote recently by Lindy West “The sexualization of women is only appealing if it’s nonconsensual. Otherwise it’s ‘sluttiness,’ and sluttiness is agency and agency is threatening and so, therefore, sluttiness must equal disposability.”  (From: Female Purity is Bullshit).  Lindy West should be mandatory reading for young women – you are perfect just as you are, warts and all.

The fact is that we should never see this type of material online without the explicit consent of all involved.  I have to take another quote from that article by Lindy West – “Women’s unhealthy choices are nobody’s fucking business”.  Thankfully there are moves to prosecute those who upload illicit images or material of others without consent in the UK.  However, Ireland is painfully far behind in drafting legislation to deal with with revenge porn.  Legislation will help but will not save any young woman from the mortification or unjustified judgement from her community.   We need to be better and stronger for our young women, speak out against ‘slut shaming’ and resist the temptation to follow the herd when heaping social judgement on women.

‘Asking for it’ is an excellent spark to light the flames of this much needed conversation – provoking our reaction and bias at every turn.

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