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by Jaclyn Friedman

You know what I’m asking for? An end to “she was asking for it.” You know how you can tell? Because I am telling you that with my words. Maybe I’m butt-naked on my knees while I’m writing this, or maybe I’m stalking around in a hot little dress and shiny red heels, or maybe I’m cross-legged and wearing a burlap sack. And yet, whatever my choice of outfit or my body language, it would be easy to know what it is that I want. Because I know how to use $#&!^% words.

The fact that “she was asking for it” seems, to so many people, a legitimate defense against allegations of sexual harassment or abuse, defies logic. I mean that literally, as in, it makes no logical sense. Because what “she was asking for it” is saying, if taken to its logical conclusion is this: if a (person who is perceived as a) woman or girl dresses (in a way that can be interpreted as) explicitly “sexy” or “slutty,” she’s consenting to literally anything that any person who finds her “slutty” wants to do to her. Not even just consenting, actually, but inviting. Actively asking for “it.” “It” being literally whatever any human being feels inspired to do to her.

Maybe she’s a sports reporter trying to cover the Jets. Wearing what many consider sexy clothing. To me, her clothes say,  “I am a woman trying to succeed in a field that only values women if they’re conventionally sexy.” No matter, though – some people thought her clothes were sexy, so she got treated like a toy, rather than like a woman trying to do a job. Her words immediately following the harassment were not, strangely, asking for more. Instead, she said, “I’m dying of embarassment.”

Maybe she’s a 16-year-old with the nerve to be out enjoying herself at a rave when she was drugged and gang raped, and then the video of that gang rape went viral across facebook. Seriously. As we saw earlier this year in the case of the woman who wound up in a Girls Gone Wild video against her clearly articulated objection, being a woman at a party is enough for some people to decide you’re asking for it – and this case is a sobering reminder that “it” means literally anything anyone at all wants to do to you, whether you’re saying no, or drugged without your consent or knowledge to a point where you cannot say anything at all.

Maybe she’s a fictional woman in a fictional cartoon about how funny it is to arrange for some other guy to rape your sex partner. Who has, we at least hope, asked to have sex with you. That’s a non-transferrable request, even if she is naked and on her knees.

Maybe she’s a 10-year-old girl. Because once we allow “asking for it” to be possible for one woman, none of us are safe.

The idea that breathing while female = asking for anything from anyone should offend all people with brains. Or even just souls. As long as “asking for it” exists, we have sentenced half the population to a life of unearned terror. As long as “asking for it” exists, there is no hope of equality. As long as “asking for it” exists, there is no possibility of freedom.

I set out to write this column a few days ago just intending to talk about the Jets’ harassment of a sports reporter. But every time I sat down to work on it, there was a new woman being blamed for her own violation. I am a woman, and I am on my knees, and I am begging for it to stop.

(Got a question for Jaclyn, or a topic suggestion for this column? Email her at yesmeansyes@jaclynfriedman.com, or contact her anonymously via Formspring.)

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