Thursday, 13 August 2015

Asking For It: A Review







CONTENT NOTE: Contains discussion of sexual assault and victim blaming.


What does the length of that skirt pictured above say about me? Barely covering my bum, the leather pleats skim the top of my thighs and leave nearly all my flesh on show. In some quarters there are various words that might be used to describe it, especially when combined with heels and a skimpy top (and perhaps even more so if I was on a night out): indecent, provocative, suggestive. In fact, could wearing it somehow make me more liable to any misfortune that befell me? Is it a skirt that’s somehow short enough to imply that I’m ‘asking for it’?

Bollocks it is. It’s just a skirt. A pretty teeny-tiny mini as they go, for sure, but still just a length of fabric cut in a particular style with a particular set of dimensions. You can read lots of different messages from it (not least that I quite like letting my legs roam free) but there’s one very distinct thing it categorically does not and never will indicate – consent. There is not a single thing stitched into the seams or cut into the shape that says, “yes, I am seeking out trouble – it is my fault if anything bad happens to me. I should know better than to incite other people’s appalling assumptions or actions.”

Rather terrifyingly though, all sorts of people do seem to assume that a skirt like this might say just that – and, by following such a line of logic, some people also believe that in the case of sexual assault it's appropriate to ask questions about the outfit worn by a survivor. So many other questions too, especially when we’re talking about women… Not just was she wearing a short skirt or showing her cleavage, but how many people had she slept with before? Was she 'easy'? Was she by herself? Had she not taken the precaution of X, Y or Z? Had she been flirting? Was she drunk or high? Did she make a stupid decision? Could she be lying? Is she looking for attention? Isn’t she just ruining the lives of some young, promising guys?

Louise O’Neill’s book Asking for It challenges all of those acidic assumptions head on. It’s one of the most harrowing - yet entirely brilliant and utterly thought-provoking - books for young adults/teenagers that I’ve read in a very long time. I stayed up until 2am, racing through page after page. O’Neill has form. Her first book Only Ever Yours skewered and sharply satirized our modern obsession with appearance and skinniness (see my review for All Walks Beyond the Catwalk). But the world painted here is no dystopia, but current day Ireland – set in a small town full of classrooms and friendship politics and parties and smartphones. A world where Emma O’Donovan wakes up one morning with no memory of the previous night, only to find that the awful events have been plastered across social media. In fact, it is a kind of dystopia - but one that is all too horribly recognisable and current. This is a book that is as lyrical as it is disturbing – especially in the second half, charting the shattering impact of this incident on Emma, and the ripple effect beyond her. 

Emma is not the kind of character you immediately fall in love with. She is continually preoccupied with her own status, her beauty, her ability to attract the boys around her. Descriptions of her outfits are also rife throughout the book, as is Emma’s obsession with her appearance. On the night of the party, she gives details of her new dress: ‘It’s black, cut down the naval, and very, very short.’ All but one of her friends’ dresses are too. It’s standard, almost expected – a constant visual vying with each other. But although that dress may be calculated to draw attention, it does not make Emma accountable. Nothing could do that. Nothing whatsoever. And yet nearly everyone else around her seems to think that it's not just acceptable, but funny, to label her as a ‘slut’ – that she was 'asking for it', that she had it coming, that she deserves revulsion and mockery rather than empathy.

What's both fantastic and scary is how powerfully O’Neill's book echoes and embodies many of the conversations currently happening about rape culture. It reflects and brings to life everything from victim blaming to social media shaming to consent, law, gender, the media, and how narratives are constructed around both attackers and survivor.  There are hints of the Steubenville case, and others of its kind. This is not an easy read, by any means. Yet it is a necessary one. I hope huge numbers of people, especially young people, pick it up and then talk and talk and talk about it. 

Let’s return to clothing for a minute though, and unpack it a little further. This may seem like a heavy topic in general for a fashion blog, but in some ways it’s the perfect forum. I write about clothes constantly: about their messages, their meanings, their possibilities, their multifaceted functions.

But let’s be clear on this. There is no correlation between the particular arrangement of fabric on your skin (and the amount of skin it shows), and any sense of responsibility – whether we’re talking catcalls, lewd comments, groping, or rape. It’s not your fault if you are wearing a bodycon dress, a skirt short as a belt, a translucent shirt that shows your bra or hot-pants and a crop top. It is just as much not your fault as if you were wearing a demure pink twinset with pearls, a drab shapeless dress, a baggy hoodie and jogging bottoms, or jeans and the biggest, bobbly jumper. Doesn’t matter if you’re covered head to toe or just in a g-string (although I’d argue against the latter on the grounds of comfort, if nothing else).

How you choose to clothe yourself can be many, many things, but it is not an invitation, not an advance, not a request – and never, ever a justification.


Everything I’m wearing here is second hand, and you know what? I felt bloody fabulous in it.

Asking for It comes out with Quercus on September 3rd. It was a privilege to read it ahead of publication, and I have a feeling it’s going to be absolutely huge – and generate lots of much-needed conversations. I'd also suggest Sanne's video and Rosianna's too for very insightful observations on the book and on rape culture. 

12 comments:

AVY said...

The world is a fucked up place, I'm not sure it gets better either. It makes me sad that someone could think a girl was asking for it. You look fab btw.

/Avy

http://mymotherfuckedmickjagger.blogspot.com

Elkster said...

Yours is one of the only fashion blogs I keep coming back to - not in the least because of the subjects you breach and your clear writing. You bring a level of contemplation to the blogging game that I have yet to see paralleled elsewhere. Well done. Long may your legs roam free!

The Heba Blog said...

You look fabulous! I will have to keep an eye out for this book! You made it sound so interesting!


Heba xx || The HebaBloglovinInstagram

Ivana Split said...

I'm afraid that people still don't realize what rape is. Rapist is not a person who seeks sex. There are many options from people who seek sex, from internet sites to dating bars. Rape is not sex, it is not intercourse, it is an act of violence and an assault. Rapist is someone who is twisted enough to be turned on by somebody's pain. There is no reasoning behind a rapist actions and there is no justification. I really can't understand how people fail to see that...and why it would even occur to them to blame the victim in what ever way is beyond me. In case of a rape, there is no such thing as a shared blame. Rapists are sadists and sociopaths and can't be considered normal human beings because they're just not. Sadly, people still don't realize that. They blame the victim. There were many cases when even elderly ladies in their 80ties were raped. Were they asking for it? The victims of rape are usually woman and children....what is next? Will they say the children are to blame? For men who were raped, there is also this ugly social stigma and if they were the victims of it, they are often considered gay.

There are double standards when it comes to female and masculine nudity, that much is clear. Females are always judged more severe and unfairly and that is really unfair and sad. Why is it considered cute and empowering when a woman is wearing men's clothes but when a man is wearing women's clothes it is considered twisted and weird? Clothes are after all just clothes...they have no meaning but those that society give them...and that is why we can use clothes to talk about important issues and to warn one another of bad practices that exist in our societies.

I would repeat once again that I think one of the great problems that rape victims face is not just the double standards that we as woman face, but the lack of understand and the empathy. When a person is robbed and beaten, everyone feels sorry for them. Nobody asks what they were wearing or has their clothes provoked the robber...but when a person is raped (no matter the gender), it becomes something shameful and that is really incredibly sad. I also don't like all this name calling that has became usual in the case of female stars (or starlets). I think at least us women should not judge one another in that way and we should understand the challenges we as woman face. I personally would never say that anything what another person is wearing is immodest or wrong....I may or may not like it but it is a free world. I do occasionally mention when I talk about Summer nudity that if you're walking around in a g-string or a tiny bikini and sitting yourself on public surfaces such as bus stops etc...(as some tourists do in Croatia), at least put a towel or a scarf where you are sitting because of hygiene....but I say that because of themselves, not because it bothers me. I really think one can transfer and catch diseases that way...so that would be my only advice that has anything remotely to do with nudity.

Ivana Split said...

I almost forgot to comment on your outfit...I always get inspired to write whenever I visit your blog and often the theme of your post is so interesting it distracts me from your wonderful outfits.

I do really like that skirt...your legs look a mile long! such a fabulous combo altogether.

Lola Byatt said...

Victim blaming makes me so incredibly sad. I do like to focus on positives, like the footballer Ched Evans case, that was a case of consent and it was encouraging to see that there were lots of people who supported the woman that was raped. It wasn't a 100%, there was plenty of abuse being flung online and lots of casual comments directed towards the victim. It is a case of talking about these topics and educating people/reeducating peoples so minds don't jump to those conclusions like for example when women are showing flesh. It can be done, I am a 100% behind and believe that. I take the horrific example of the young female raped in India that received a lot of attention worldwide. It was the story of the woman who was raped on public transport. sadly, I know a lot of Indian people who would make very ignorant comments like "oh but she shouldn't have been out at that time, what kind of girl is out and about at 9pm?!" similar sort of correlations you've mentioned above. In no way does it make it alright to say these sort of things but the main people I heard making these comments are of a certain generation. People who brought up seeing women in homes and doing the very traditional roles of being a woman. I make this point because in this country, if a woman was attacked in this way, like the case in India. I am confident that everyone would be absolutely aghast and there would be hardly anyone making comments like the ones that were directed towards the incident in India because being out alone after 9pm in this country is quite the norm (whether you’re female or not). In the same way, we can change the attitudes people have towards women showing flesh, just accept it for what it is. A woman wanting to wear a skirt. That's all.

Carlota Antolin Vallespin said...

Oh so sexy! Oh so medieval"!!!

Today I don't feel like reading, I hope that is not an offence hehehe
Anyhow you always make me enjoy the visual part so much. I am pleased :)

Kisses and love Rosalind!

Carlota Antolin Vallespin said...

Yeah, sexual assault.....I cannot put my brain into that know....im way to sensible in the last days.

Melanie said...

Lots of complex issues here. Ironically, I find that swimsuits create a much more sexually-charged environment than nudity because they are intended to enhance or detract from certain features that media promote as "sexy." Haaate that word! If nudity were sexy in that way, everyone at nudist colonies would be in orgies constantly. It's a confusing situation.

FASHION TALES said...

Yes, no matter what a woman is wearing it doesn't justify rape, or personal violation by any means. We live in a world where judgement of others seems to be as casual and easy for people to do as blinking their eyes--so sad.
As for your outfit, I like the geometric shaping with the styling of the halter peplum vest and added rope belt ... a very confident look!

Vix said...

...and you look bloody fabulous in it, too.
Like Ivana says rape is an act of violence, not one of lust. Years ago I was attacked on my walk to work wearing a shapeless long overcoat, a woolly hat and Doc Marten boots whereas many a time I'd taken the bus to a club wearing little else than leather hot pants and a bra.
We're all guilty of judging people by appearance but most of us keep those opinions to ourselves, thank goodness. xxx

Insomnia said...

Such a powerful post!

I can't wait to get my hands on the book!