5 starts for Louise O’Neill’s ‘Asking for It”. Available now from Quercus publishers, ask in your local booksellers under fiction. RRP 12.99.
Emma O’Donovan doesn’t know who she is. We do: She’s a bitch. Being the epitome of the beautiful dreamgirl of her year, she has literally no idea who she is besides the ‘praise’ lavished on her looks which underscores the lack of attention given to her well-above-average grades. Even Emma’s friends kind of hate her. I know Emma, I went to school with Emma, I wanted to be Emma. Sadly lacking the looks, the “great ass” and “small tits” it wasn’t to be. Of course, the literal mountain of male privilege is what really helped me avoid being Emma.
Emma wasn’t asking for it.
She was preyed on by men who should know better, and let down by a society claiming to support her. She definitely was that word.
Cleverly folding the story into the small-town drama O’Neill captures so exquisitely the internalised sexism of everyday life. We see, through Emma’s eyes, the way the village seemed to conspire to force decisions upon her, to hold her down and ensnare her in her own (historical) bad choices. From the first crack of the spine, O’Neill does the same to us, leaving us no choice but to say yes to turning the page, and the one after, and the one after that, because saying no now means we’re not cool enough to go through with it.
(Trigger warning after the jump)
Louise O’Neill took me right back to secondary school with this novel, ‘Asking for It’. The “it” being asked for is of course sexual assault. The above mentioned Emma is the main character in what was for me one of the most shocking reads of the year. As a man it made me feel sick to be male. Sorry for the sins and trespasses of the others of my sex. And uncomfortable in the knowledge that we are all guilty.
Guilty of what? Guilty of standing by while the girls were scolded and disciplined for a showing bra strap, inappropriate footwear, or God above forbid, an offensive haircut. “It’s distracting your classmates” was the mantra of the teachers, yet the guys in basketball shorts clearly clinging to their manhood and exposing more leg than any girl would dare to show at school were left in their seats. We may as well have said “Girls, they’re looking at you already, don’t make this worse for yourself, it’s your fault”. The whole institution accepted that girls were there to be seen, but not to see. Not to see the writing on the board, not to see the point of education, not to see themselves as equal to the boys. And boys learn to exploit this inequality, we learnt fast.
Does that mean all men are that word-ists? No. The men who take the above to it’s extreme, taking what they want from whoever they want because “No” isn’t in their vocabulary. Or else their victims can’t find “No” in their vocabularies. These men are that word-ists. They ARE rapists. Doesn’t that feel better to finally use the word? (If you answered no, read the book.) “But they’re such good lads”, “They wouldn’t do that”. They would. They are rapists. We need not be afraid to say it.
I could be blue in the face, or fingers, or whatever turns blue when waxing lyrical online, about parallels between the case of The People VS. Brock Turner and that presented so masterfully by O’Neill in ‘Asking for It’, but instead I’ll let you read the book yourself.
That’s what I’m asking for. I want every single man reading this post to go over to Amazon, the local bookshop, the library, whatever, and buy or loan this book right now. Teachers, campaign to get it on the syllabus. Professors put it on reading lists.
TL;DR: A truly touching, evocative novel with just enough of a bite. A must read for 2016.