Not Asking For It: A Creative Women’s Rights Campaign
by Julia Travers
“Not asking for it:” it seems like a pretty basic, simple idea. Who asks to be injured, raped, or killed? Whose behavior “asks” for this response? While the answer seems to be, obviously: no one’s, unfortunately, there are many people who do not agree. We saw this in the sad story of the murder of a young woman, Asami Nagakiya, and the response of the mayor who found her somehow implicit in her own attack. The Not Asking For It creative campaign was born in response to these events.
Asami Nagakiya, a Japanese national and steel pan player, who had played for years with the PCS Nitrogen Silver Stars Steel Orchestra in Trinidad, was killed during the 2016 Carnival Season. Port of Spain Mayor Tim Kee, who has since resigned in response to public outrage, made a series of comments about her costume, behavior, and whether or not alcohol was involved, including, as reported by The Washington Post:
“The woman has the responsibility to ensure that [she is] not abused.”
Like many, photographer Fiona Compton, who creates hand-painted bespoke fashion, found this response unacceptable. She decided to begin a creative response, called Not Asking For It, which the site explains is a campaign that:
“through a series of varied media - from videos, music pieces, photo diaries and more - aims to break the culture of victim blaming - to clarify the lines with being responsible for one's self and being at fault if you are attacked.”
Compton also clarifies in a video that while this movement arose in the Caribbean, it has an inclusive and worldwide mindset. Please enjoy the video below, through which Fiona Compton and her creative compatriots establish that all women are inherently Not Asking For It.
I appreciate that these videos celebrate the joys of fashion, dance, and freedom, and also recognize women’s complex, layered personalities and selves. The Not Asking For It campaign also shares male voices, as in this piece with the band Kes:
And utilizes striking images:
Not Asking For It is not alone in their important work; for example, No Means No Worldwide is a campaign that focuses on comprehensive sexual assault prevention. Another related program is Still Not Asking For It, which focuses on the necessity of consent in all situations, including those involving nudity. As model, actress, and designer Amber Rose said so clearly in February 2016:
“If I’m laying down with a man — butt-naked — and his condom is on, and I say, ‘You know what? No. I don’t want to do this. I changed my mind,’ that means no. That means f-ing no. That’s it... It doesn’t matter how far I take it or what I have on, when I say no, it means no.”
In another tragic and violent incident in February 2016, two women, María Coni and Marina Menegazzo, were killed while traveling in Ecuador. One of the two men who confessed to the murders said that he hit Coni after she wouldn’t let him touch her. Huffington Post shares that “many online commenters asked why Coni and Menegazzo were traveling alone, suggesting that the choice to ‘travel alone’ (but still with each other) resulted in their murder.” Paraguayan student Guadalupe Acosta wrote a letter on social media in the voice of the victims, which drew attention to the victim blaming phenomenon with powerful phrases such as, “Let's fight, I’ll be next to you in spirit.” You can read the full letter here.
These responses to the idea that a women, or anyone, should be blamed for being hurt shed light on the international issue of the abuse of women, and further, it’s acceptance as normal or deserved. Women and men’s voices and artistic expressions are powerful and necessary forces in the struggle to maintain human rights for women, girls and anyone who is marginalized, abused, and then blamed for the abuse. We had the privilege of asking Not Asking For It’s founder, Fiona Compton, to share one of her favorite parts of the project. Here is her response:
“One of my favorite parts of Not Asking For It is the enthusiasm of all the women and men who have participated so far. People have given up their free time and opened their hearts and shared their stories with me. From people I have known for years to strangers, people have shared with me their accounts of abuse. It has been incredible to see how many people believe in the movement--so many people have emailed asking how they can help make the campaign stronger. This has been the best part.”