Monday, November 09, 2015

asking for it

"But did you see what she was wearing? She was asking for it."
It's phrases like this, judgements that are passed carelessly and frequently in our society, that Louise O'Neill based her book on. Inspired by the trivialising of sexual assault and victim blaming Louise created Emma O' Donovan, the protagonist of the novel, an eighteen year old girl from County Cork. While the beginning of Asking For It focuses on Emma's daily routine, which isn't very different to that of the average teenager in Ireland, it also establishes an important character trait: her vanity. Emma is completely unlikeable. Constantly concerned over how she looks and making bitchy, passive aggressive comments to her friends she is definitely not your typical shy, easy-going YA central character. I've often found that when authors try to create 'mean' characters they can over-exaggerate their words and actions, making them ridiculous. But Louise (I know it is a bit unprofessional/odd to name authors by their first name but I feel weird using O'Neill for some reason?) manages to make Emma a character you can almost relate to. Or at least understand. So often we see flat, two-dimensional female characters in literature but Emma O' Donovan certainly isn't. Even her narcissism is a flaw that you have to question - is it a fault of her own or society's?

The fact that the reader isn't completely sure on what to make of Emma and whether to root for her or not makes what happens during the middle of the novel, the party scene, so much more powerful. After a house party she wakes up the next morning bruised, outside her house, with absolutely no memory of what happened the night before. Then, revealing photos are uploaded on social media, capturing her in an unresponsive state being sexually assaulted. What follows is a court case and the community shunning Emma and her family, privately judging them for reporting the assault. Sure, she wasn't the nicest person and she did previously have casual sex and she did drink and take drugs and she was wearing a short, low-cut dress. But the point of this book? None of that matters. We may not particularly like Emma but that doesn't make her any less of a victim and it doesn't mean that we can't see the injustice. Emma couldn't consent to sex so therefore she was raped. Of course, not everyone sees it like this and when Emma's case becomes a national news story so many people respond by saying 'what was she expecting?' and 'she should have known better'. So many people blame the victim.

The reason this book is so powerful? It happens. This happens. It is reality. It is based on very real cases of sexual assault and how people have reacted. It's definitely not an easy read because even when I put it down my mind was still thinking about Emma and her family and HOW THIS STILL HAPPENS. WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN? It really does leave you angry and frustrated but it is such an important topic that needed to be introduced to YA fiction. I really would recommend Asking For It to anyone and everyone because it will leave you desperate for a change in how our society views rape and sexual assault, hoping that one day we will grant it the seriousness and importance it deserves.

"They are all innocent until proven guilty. But not me. I am a liar until I am proven honest"
- Emma O' Donovan,  Asking For It

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P.S My first blog post in four months!!! Hey hey hey. This is all very weird. I think I've forgotten how to blog. And I've also missed it a lot. Which doesn't really make sense - if I missed it so much why did I not just do it? Probably a combination of lack of ideas, lack of time and lack of motivation. I  will try not to leave it this long next time!