I recently read Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture—and What We Can Do About It, by Kate Harding. Harding pulls no punches in her assault on rape culture. She gives examples that will surely disgust any thinking person. “If we all abhor rape,” she says, “how did people working on Belvedere Vodka’s social media accounts in 2012 come to agree on the tagline ‘Unlike some people, Belvedere always goes down smoothly,’ superimposed over an image of a frightened-looking woman trying to escape a man’s clutches?”
I heard about Harding’s book from a friend whose daughter is a freshman at Tulane University. This past summer, Tulane’s incoming freshman class was assigned Harding’s book. Excerpts from the Tulane Web site:
Since its inception in 2002, the Tulane Reading Project has created a shared intellectual experience for the entering first-year class through the reading and discussion of a selected book.
Nationally, awareness regarding campus sexual violence has been growing, and at Tulane we are proactively addressing this issue. In Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture—and What We Can Do About It, Kate Harding combines in-depth research with an engaging voice to make the case that twenty-first-century America supports rapists more effectively than it supports victims. Drawing on real-world examples of what has become known as “rape culture”—from politicos’ revealing gaffes to institutional failures in higher education and the military—Harding offers ideas and suggestions for how we, as a society, can take sexual violence much more seriously without compromising the rights of the accused. She also demonstrates that rape culture has a negative impact on everyone—not just victims of sexual assault, and not just women.
We recognize that this material may be difficult for some of our students, especially for those who are survivors themselves. Yet, as Harding points out, maintaining a culture of silence surrounding sexual assault is even more damaging…
Harding’s writing is hard-hitting, with a touch of sarcasm, reminding me a bit of Sam Bee, the host of (in my opinion) the best and most important show on late-night TV, Full Frontal. Harding explains very early in the book one way the treatment of accused rapists differs from that of other criminals. Prosecutors will often not pursue a case because they don’t want to lose. In the case of rape, they might think, she was dressed provocatively, and the jury might think she was asking for it. Yet, “…prosecutors won’t say it’s too risky to charge a mugger because the jury will hear the victim carried her purse in plain sight, and thus vote for acquittal.”
To be clear, you can be holding a wad of dollars, walking down a dark street late at night, and if you are mugged and the mugger is caught, the mugger doesn’t get a pass because their victim was “asking for it”.
Harding explains that in an important section where she busts several myths:
The myth: “She asked for it.” It is literally impossible to ask for rape. Rape, by definition, is sex you did not ask for. So either you mean that a woman who dresses a certain way, or flirts, or otherwise expresses her sexuality on her own terms somehow deserves to be raped—which would make you a monster—or you are wrong, and she was not asking for it.
She also busts the myth that a huge percent of rape allegations are false: Somewhere between two and 8% of reports of rape or estimated to be false. Of course we don’t want anyone wrongly accused of rape, but her important point: false reports are not a rampant problem.
Recently, just before the release of the highly anticipated movie Birth of a Nation, a story came out about the movie’s writer/director/star, Nate Parker, having been acquitted of rape charges when he was in college. Many people debated whether they should boycott the movie. As I listened to one of those debates on a podcast, I heard someone say Parker was not found guilty. But there is a difference between legally not guilty and innocent. Nate Parker may have been found not guilty, but that doesn’t mean he was innocent. And his case is exactly the kind written about in Asking for It (as well as in Missoula, which I wrote about previously.)
Every young man should read Harding’s important book. Parents must explain to their sons, in no uncertain terms, no means no. Boys need to be “scared straight,” though I fear they won’t be scared enough until more boys are found guilty and punished severely (unlike in this year’s Brock Turner case). And as Harding writes, the suggestion that “you don’t want to go to prison” is not the best rationale for not raping. The best rationale for not raping is, “you don’t want to be a horrible fucking human being who rapes people.”
She explains, “Educating our young people about consent—especially our boys, who wield the responsibility that comes with both cultural and physical power—might just prevent some of them from becoming criminals…(and) sends a message that illuminating sexual violence is important to us, as a society.”
I’m grateful to Harding for writing this important book, and to schools like Tulane for addressing this critical issue.
Have you read Asking for It? What did you think? Please join the conversation with your comments…
p.s. Just as I was finishing writing this, the NY Times published a related article. If you want to read more on this subject, here is a link: http://nyti.ms/2gdi89X.