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How Notts Photographer Lucie Nechanická’s Book I Didn’t Ask For It Is Breaking Stereotypes Around Sexual Harassment

14 March 22 words: Lizzy O'Riordan
photos: Lucie Nechanická

Tired of the victim blaming narrative around sexual harrasment, photography student Lucie Nechanická created I Didn’t Ask For It - the photobook chronicling sexual harrasment in Nottingham. We chat to the budding photographer about breaking stereotypes, better sex education, and her process behind making the book…

You might remember a controversial Irish court case from 2018, in which defence lawyer Elizabeth O’Connell used a teenager’s underwear as evidence in a rape trial. Citing a ‘thong with a lace front’ as evidence of consent, O’Connell was met with a barrage of public outrage, the incident sparking a prominent online debate and a #ThisIsNotConsent social media campaign. Hardly an isolated incident, the conversation about clothing and consent has been ongoing for as long as many of us remember, without much apparent avail. 

Within the context of our fashion issue, we decided to talk to Nottingham’s Lucie Nechanická about her new photobook I Didn’t Ask for It, the stirring project standing up against rape culture. First conceptualised in her photography degree, I Didn’t Ask for It chronicles the stories of ten women (including the author) and their experiences with sexual harrasment in the city of Nottingham. Pairing an interview with a set of pictures, the book captures each woman in the clothes they were harassed in at the time. 

The purpose was to demonstrate that experiencing harassment can happen anytime, anywhere and to anybody, and that the clothes or appearance of the women is irrelevant,” Lucie tells me. “I photographed and interviewed women who experienced sexual harassment in the area of Nottingham. I asked them to wear the same clothes they had worn on the day of the incident and photographed them at the location where it had taken place. By doing so I wanted them to reclaim that space.”

Let’s become more critical about the media around us. Let’s stop supporting stuff that disrespects women and normalises violence against them

Equally, this project is a way for Lucie to examine her own experiences with sexual harrasment, the first of which took place when she was fourteen and touched inappropriately by a stranger. “I was already conditioned to believe that such incidents were a normal part of women’s lives and to get used to it because it would likely happen again - and it did,” Lucie says, recalling the event. “Harassment I experienced later in my life ranged from catcalling and sex offers to groping. They usually resulted in the same outcome: I would quietly accept them and never discuss them with anyone. It was very similar with the women I interviewed. In a few cases I was the first person they shared their story with.”

Through the photobook, the young photographer aims to carve out a space for herself and other women to tell their stories, outwardly rejecting the unspoken rule of silence. In doing so, I Didn’t Ask For It aims to break stereotypes around sexual harrasment. “The photographs demonstrate that anyone can be a victim of sexual harassment, regardless of age, appearance, race, religion, lifestyle,” Lucie says. “I wanted to emphasise the plainness and ordinariness of the clothes. They are clothes any of us would wear without suspecting that we might draw attention. This is not to say that women who wear more revealing clothes deserve unwanted attention. This is to break the stereotype that only women who dress ‘provocatively’ draw attention.” 

There is a sense of intimacy to Lucie’s photography. For an artist that previously focused on the female nude, it’s telling that this is some of her most vulnerable work. With the camera capturing a scruffy pair of trainers, a favourite ring, a warm winter coat, you as the reader recognise yourself in these photographs, and in turn recognise the humanity of these women, who are telling a story about the objectification that stripped them of that. 

I wanted to emphasise the plainness and ordinariness of the clothes. They are clothes any of us would wear without suspecting that we might draw attention

While it’s impossible to pin down one singular cause of sexual harrasment, Lucie does point a finger at the contridictory messages around female sexuality. “There has always been this pressure on women to look attractive. As John Berger said in 1972: ‘Men look at women, women watch themselves being looked at.’ However, the same culture shames and victim blames women who looked sexy when they were assaulted. There is this strange virgin and slut paradox going on.”

I ask Lucie what she wants the photobook to achieve. “I would like people to start questioning the assumption that when women dress well, they do it to attract men. This is not to say that there is something wrong about wanting to look attractive and appeal to others, it is natural. But the presumption suggests that attracting men is the sole reason for women when they dress up. In my opinion, this is why men feel entitled to comment on women, because there is this assumption that her existence and her looks exist to please him.”

In the book, Lucie asks all her interviewees the same question - what would help resolve this? I echo the question back to her, asking her opinion on how we can move forward. “The women I interviewed mostly mentioned a better education in schools. In my opinion we need a better education in general, not just in schools. Our ideas, opinions and desires are mostly influenced and shaped by the culture and media. Let’s become more critical about the media around us. Let’s stop supporting stuff that disrespects women and normalises violence against them. Let’s teach kids (but adults as well) to treat each other with respect. Let’s teach them about sex and consent. We need to normalise having a conversation about normal sex, not what we see in porn.”

On a finishing note, Lucie comments that “one of the most positive side effects of the project is that it made me more confident to speak up about this issue and discuss it.” Urging others to do the same, Lucie adds, “Read my book, share it with others and have a conversation with your friends and family on this topic. We need to talk more about why sexual harassment shouldn’t be tolerated.”

I Didn’t Ask For It is free to read online

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