By Soffi James
Rape culture is probably a term you’ve come across. It’s probably also a term that you’re not sure what to make of. You are not alone; author Kate Harding (pictured above) cringed when she first came across the term 10 years ago. In her seminal book Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture and What We Can Do About It, Harding testifies, “it sounds so extreme at first that I confess even I, a proud feminist, initially balked at the term. Rape culture? Isn’t that overstating things just a smidge?”
But as she researched the subject more, she realised that rape culture was the only way to describe what she discovered. Kate Harding decided to create a guidebook of sorts, to explain the phrase, depict potent examples and offer up some solutions. And Harding has managed to deliver one of the most comprehensive, accessible and surprisingly funny feminist texts of the decade with wit and empathy.
‘Asking for it’
Much of Harding’s book is focused on victim blaming, a term that comes hand in hand with rape culture. She describes rape as the ‘perpetratorless crime’ with blame shifted to the victim; be that because of their clothing, attitude, or blood-alcohol levels, ultimately removing responsibility from the perpetrator.
Harding deconstructs the myths surrounding blame culture into seven different categories:
1. She asked for it.
2. It wasn’t really rape.
3. He didn’t mean to.
4. She wanted it.
5. She lied.
6. Rape is a trivial event.
7. Rape is a deviant event.
This book highlights how irresponsible and dangerous these myths are. Our cultural inability to accept that the action of rape is at the hands of a rapist, means that sexual assault has shifted into an “abstract threat for women, the way climate change is a threat to earth.”
Extending that metaphor; blaming the victim of rape is the same as blaming earth for the harm we have caused it. Puts it into perspective, right?
The alarming rise of rape culture
Between 2013/14 there were 64,205 reported cases of sexual assault in the UK. These numbers were the highest recorded by the police in 11 years. Whether rapes are happening more often or whether victims are becoming more open to reporting it is hard to say.
Harding explores the role of the media, popular culture and the internet in the facilitation of rape culture and the provocation of sexual assault. Her discussion of #GamerGate, pick-up artists like Neil Strauss and men’s rights activist groups (MRAs) combine to paint a persuasive picture of how the internet has played its role in rape incitement.
What we can do about it
Encouragingly, Harding admits that the internet is also providing a platform for open discussion about sexual assault. The explosion of online feminist discourse, as well as the growth in anti-rape activism on ad-spaces and computer screens, has created a continuous public dialogue.
In the section ‘What We Can Do About it’, Harding offers ideas and suggestions on how we, as a society, can take steps to eradicate rape culture. This is where Harding comes into her own. What is refreshing about this book is that she offers real solutions, including education campaigns, challenging it on social media and confronting rape culture within your own social circles.
The fact Harding’s no-nonsense break-down on rape culture is being noticed, is good news. The downside is that we continue to have a major problem with rape and until we don’t need cultural critics like Kate Harding to unpack the swirling mixture of cultural influences that affect that way we think about assault, Harding has proven herself to be the best person for the job.