One of my favorite Youtubers, Hannah Witton, alongside Leena Norms and Lucy Moon, started an online book club this year, one that focuses on books about sex that they have suitably named the Banging Book Club (https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/179796-banging-book-club). For each month of 2016 they have nominated a different book to read, and I decided to join simply because I love learning about, reading about and talking about sex within our culture.
There are spoilers in this post and references to rape, sexual violence, abuse and exploitation so please do not read on if this is going to effect you.
They kicked the year off with a book that is very relevant to the issues I deal with on a day to day basis at the charity I work for. Asking For It by Louise O’Neill is a novel that talks about rape culture and the reality that many survivors of rape and sexual violence experience every day. It centers around the main character of Emma, a teenage girl living in Ireland, and the traumatic events leading up to, during and after her violation. Within the story, O’Neill highlights many issues that we face today in society when talking about rape, and as a result, has created a very real story to be read.
The very first thing that struck me when reading Asking For It was how disturbingly relatable Emma is as a main character. I’m not sure if everyone would agree, but the way she thinks is very similar to how I remember thinking as a teenager. It’s probably not great to admit, as she is not a particularly nice character, but it struck a chord with me because I could relate to her, I had felt some of the things she felt, and understood many of her actions. This may not be the same for everyone, but I feel positive that if you did not see similarities in yourself, you would have seen similarities between her and another female in your life, be that friend or enemy.
I think Emma is made to be a slightly unlikeable character early on because it presents the question that is the title of the book – if someone isn’t a nice person, if someone is flirty and ‘promiscuous’, then do they deserve to be raped? Are they asking for it? Victim blaming is something that is massive in rape culture, and a big problem that we need to deal with. After Emma is abused we are presented with different reactions, from her friends and school mates turning their backs on her and the town rejecting her as a slut, to her brother and strangers online believing her and wanting her to fight back. Emma as a victim is overwhelmed with differing opinions when all she wants is for people to like her, for them to believe her, but also for her not to have to hurt anyone else. This story points out something that I think everyone needs to hear – not every survivor of sexual violence wants to or has the strength to report their abuse. It is a long, grueling process that often does more harm to the mental health of a survivor than help, mostly because rape survivors are the only victims of a crime who are treated like criminals themselves.
The idea that I felt was repeated a lot in Emma’s mind was the idea that she has known the boys who raped and abused her since she was a small child. They had grown up together, went to school together, and their families know each other well. This makes their actions all the more shocking, and her reaction more understandable – why would she want to ruin the lives of the boys she had grown up with, who she considered her friends? If they had not been her friends, the story also suggests, then she would not have felt comfortable with them in such an inebriated state. No one expects your friends to put you in danger. This again points out a very realistic fact – many rapists and abusers are people that the victim knows and often trusts to a certain extent.
Reading this book, I so wanted Emma to fight back. I wanted her to gain confidence, to tell her story about what happened, and for the boys who violated her to be punished for their actions. But that isn’t what happens, because in real life, that isn’t always what happens. When the story ends and we leave Emma, she has decided not to continue with the court case, and she feels relieved about it. It is easier for her to retreat into herself, to think about killing herself every day, rather than to watch justice tear her family apart. Emma has been made to feel, in the end, that it is still her fault, and no one can change her mind about that.
I wouldn’t say I enjoyed this book, because it isn’t a happy subject, does not end the way you would want it to, and is not pleasant to read. But it is well written, engaging, relatable, and most importantly, it shows a side of the issues survivors face that is not often seen. The messages within this book are ones that I want everyone I know to understand, and it’s taken all of my self control not to ramble on about it all the time. It’s not very long, I read it in a couple of days, but it is thought provoking and, I think, a very important book at the moment.
The next book is not so much about sexual violence and so hopefully will be easier to talk about. As it is, the charity I work for supports survivors of rape and sexual violence, and so it is a subject that I am passionate about, and do not find difficult to discuss.
I hope you will join the Banging Book Club and read along with me!! It’s giving me more excuses to buy books.