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  • Niamh

'Sure, She Was Asking For It, Wasn't She?' Victim Blaming Is Still Rife

‘We cannot ignore the problem or pretend that it isn’t happening we all have responsibility to play our part in the fight to make Ireland one of the safest countries in the world for women.’

I sat in the Abbey Theatre last night sipping a class of wine reading through the message written by Louise O’Neill about the stage adaptation of her hit book Asking For It.

I first read the book back in 2016, when I was pregnant with my little dude. I was on holiday in Kerry; one last really relaxing luxurious break to sit around and eat nice food, go for leisurely walks, go to spas and read lots of books, before our lives changed forever. I’d heard just a little about the book Asking For It, when I plucked if off the shelves in Dubray and earnestly began it sitting in an armchair in a hotel in Kerry.

I simply could not put it down. I devoured it in about two days.

Every page held a relatable scenario for me. It started to bring back memories of my teenage years, situations I’d found myself in, fronts I’d put on, behaviour I’d put up with, things I’d done or gone along with without really wanting to, not having the courage to speak up; feeling scared inside, despite an exterior bravado.

I saw so much of myself in the main character Emma. And it struck me that a large number of other women would read the book and feel the same way.

I remember sitting on the bed after reading it, crying, stunned, angry. I remember thinking this book should be on the syllabus for every secondary student in the county. It should be mandatory reading. Teenage boys and girls needed to read this.

But I remember feeling scared about the prospect of raising a son in this environment. I remember wishing he didn’t have to grow up in a social media fuelled world. I remember thinking that I had to do something to protect him from this infectious notion of ‘toxic masculinity.’ I had to show him that real men respect women. And that despite scenarios like the ones depicted this in the book, there are so many good men out there and that he could be one two.

And so as I took my seat in the Abbey last night to watch the powerful words of the book be brought to life in front of me on the stage, I felt a little apprehensive. I knew it would stir up feelings and memories for me, but I was unprepared for just how powerful it would be.

I just cannot get across how impactful it was. The talented cast of young actors peeled back the layers of society and showed us a glimpse of what it’s like to be a teenager in Ireland today. The age old themes of the pressure they put on themselves, the pressure we put on them, the gender roles they fall into, the victim blaming and the rape culture all of it bubbling away like a tinder-box ready to explode. And explode it did, all of it through the prism of the most disturbing aspects of social media.

You could hear a pin drop in the theatre.

It was visceral, it was uncomfortable, it was real and it was raw.

I wish every young person in the country could have the chance to come and see the show.

When the stage went to black for the final time and the house lights went up, the audience stayed on their feet for what seemed like hours. Emotion etched on all the performers faces. How they are able to bring such feelings to life with vivid reality every evening is astounding.

I left, feeling quiet and subdued, processing everything I’d seen; pensive, but also happy that the show had gotten such a great response and so many people had come to see it. Maybe things really are changing. Maybe the fallout from the Belfast Rape Trial and the recent Cork Rape Trial where the complainants’ underwear was passed around the court, were going to be watersheds. Maybe things were turning, maybe at last attitudes were changing for the better.

I slipped into a cab outside the theatre and told the driver my destination.

‘Depressing play eh?’ He commented.

‘It was a fantastic performance. It’s a tough subject matter, but I’d read the book, so I knew the story.’ I replied as I looked out the window.

‘Well, she won’t go on the rip again will she?’ He laughed casually as he drove on.

I sat stunned, my usual spark of bluster at such a comment unexpectedly silenced by the shock of it.

Did he really just say that? Did I imagine it? Please tell me I imagined it?

Maybe it was an ill-conceived joke that I didn't get. But to me it just showed that victim blaming is still rife….

Sure she was asking for it, wasn’t she?

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