What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape

£9.99 Buy now Recommend

‘There are brilliant, brilliant bits… I found the book absolutely fascinating. It is important and serious, and people will learn from it. It is exhilarating.’—Jane Garvey, BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour

imageRead an extract

American Library Association Amelia Bloomer List 2018
Arkansas Library Nonfiction Highlights 2018
Book Scrolling
Best Nonfiction Books of 2018
Charis Books Feminist Book List on Sexual Violence, Consent and Masculinity
Five Books Best Books on Gender Politics
Good Reads No2 Top Nonfiction Published in 2019
Libro.fm Bookseller Pick
Outlook Magazine New Release Must-Reads Feb 2019
Publishers Weekly Top 20 Books Readers Won’t Want to Miss
Scroll.In Best Nonfiction to  Understand India and the World 2018
Shethepeople Top 5 Nonfiction Books to Understand the Grim Realities of Rape
The Sydney Morning Herald Best Books of 2018
Turnaround UK Top Manifestos
Vogue India Top 50 Books from 2018

Thoughtful, provocative and intelligent, this game-changing book looks at sexual assault and the global discourse on rape from the viewpoint of a survivor, writer, former counsellor and activist.

When we talk about victims of rape, we say ‘it could be your mother or sister or daughter’. We rarely say ‘the rapist might be your father or brother or son’. Novelist and rape survivor, Sohaila Abdulali calls for franker conversation about rape. At once unblinking and subtle, she tackles the complexities of sexual violence head-on, rightly criticizing simplistic shibboleths and asking insightful questions such as whether the ‘yes means yes and no means no’ model adequately accounts for a woman who ‘chooses’ to be raped over being killed or a woman who ‘gives in’ to a man who holds power in her professional world.

She also calls attention to the ‘institutional scaffolding’ that ‘allows abuse to flourish’ e.g. the family, political and economic arrangements, and workplaces that encourage women to fit into systems that are ultimately disempowering. As the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements blow open the topic of sexual assault and rape, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape is a brilliant and entirely original contribution to our understanding.

Drawing on her own experience (Abdulali was gang-raped as a teenager in Mumbai), her research, her work with hundreds of survivors as the head of a rape crisis center, and three decades of grappling with the issue as a feminist intellectual and writer, Abdulali examines our contemporary discourse about rape. She interviews survivors whose personal stories of hard-won strength, humour, and wisdom collectively tell the larger story of how societies may begin to heal.

Las Chicas de los Libros, Bookstagrammer

29 January 2021

Do que estamos falando quando falamos de estupro

Autora: Sohaila Abdulali
Classificação: 5.5
Editora: Vestígio

Sohaila conta sua experiência depois de sobreviver a um estupro coletivo aos seus 17 anos na Índia. Diante do silêncio que é tratado o estupro, Sohaila decidiu escrever mais sobre o assunto e expor sua experiência no processo de cura após um abuso sexual.

No livro, Sohaila conversa com sobreviventes de estupros ao redor do mundo, narrando tristes e perturbadoras histórias. A autora levanta questões extramamente importantes e delicadas, questões essas que muitas vezes, nem sempre são tratadas da maneira correta, principalmente por temas ‘’morais’’ e culturais.

O livro é extremamente necessário e importante, me emocionei com as histórias narradas. Fiquei chocada com os detalhes de como alguns países lidam com o estupro. Você sabia que na India, em Gana, na Jordânia ou em outros numerosos países, a partir do momento que a mulher é casada com um homem, ela transfere os direitos sobre a própria vagina (e o resto de seu corpo) ao marido. Não deu consentimento? Não tem problema. A lei diz que o casamento significa acesso pleno ao corpo e não é preciso nem perguntar nada.
Ou então, você sabia que no Kuwait, se você estupra uma mulher sem ser casado com ela, basta se casar com a sua vítima e se livrar dos problemas judiciais? Muitas famílias preferem que suas filhas se casem com seus estupradores, do que ter uma filha que não é mais virgem.

‘’Você não perde a inocência quando fica sabendo da existência de atos terríveis, você perde a inocência ao cometê-los. Uma cultura aberta, de tolerância, honestidade e discussão, é a melhor maneira de salvaguardar a inocência, e não de destrui-la.’’.

Precisamos falar sobre o assunto, instruir nossas filhas e filhos (sim, homens também sofrem estupros), lutar pelos nossos direitos.

“ ̂ , ̃ .“ Samantha Bee

View source

St Josephs College Bangalore

29 January 2021

For Review Time today we're bringing you a book that is real and raw. Drawing from personal experience and the author's own research work this book is a rallying cry and required reading for us all!

View source

Srividhya Venkatesan, Bookstagrammer

29 January 2021

How should we look at rape survivors?

The book begins with a profound quote.

“It's the only crime that is so bad that victims are supposed to be destroyed beyond repair by it but simultaneously not so bad that the men who do it should be treated like other criminals. “

This is one of those rarest books I would recommend everyone to read. There are so many lessons and insights that I would not have known otherwise and it has changed my perceptions about gender and rape culture in general.

Rape by any means is horrific and there is no way this can be accepted. However, Why should victims feel as if they’re responsible for an irresponsible act by someone else?

This book addresses rape and it’s after-effects on the victim in the best way possible. It’s not just the physical damage, it is more of the emotional damage and the phobia it creates around everything that the victim has to live with every day for years and in some cases maybe their life time.

It is not a depressing book. I am in awe of the author’s candor and the slight sarcastic charm with which this book is written. The author being a rape survivor herself has put together so much of information which is difficult to keep track of.

The book pays little attention to rape among men (It does exist in case you did not know!). I loved the topic of the sex workers in India and how they’re fighting against violence in their own beautiful way.

“They have even managed something that is all too rare among much more privileged women: having some power and agency around sex.”

This quote changed my perceptions of sex workers forever!

Overall a fantastic book throwing light on an issue that we fail to address in our families.

Should you read it? Hell yes!

View source

Sharyn Potter, Professor of Women's and Gender Studies at the University of New Hampshire

25 January 2021

During the Fall 2020 semester I used Sohaila Abdulali’s What we talk about when we talk about rape as the main text in my University of New Hampshire Women and Gender Studies senior seminar titled, The #MeToo Movement: How we got here. In the class. I wanted my students to understand that the #MeTooMovement that brought attention to the oppression of women and other marginalized groups was a movement that started long before 2017, and to know that Tarana Burke coined the term in 2006 to bring attention to the high prevalence of sexual violence perpetrated against young girls in marginalized communities. While the most recent version of the #MeTooMovement has mobilized people across the world, the movement is built on the bravery, tenacity and advocacy of our grandmothers, mothers, aunts, and others who have fought for future generations to live in a world free of violence with gender equity and equality. Ms. Abdulali’s book was the anchor for our class readings. Each week, students were assigned 3-4 chapters from What we talk about when we talk about rape, as well as articles from newspapers, peer reviewed journals, and chapters from other books that were directly related to the weekly topic. The assigned materials emphasized interdisciplinary inquiry, and critical to the UNH Women’s and Gender Studies Department mission, students used gender as a category of analysis, developing critical perspectives on how mutually constitutive phenomena such as racism, heterosexism, transphobia, able-ism, classism, and ageism work together in a national, global, and historical context. The breadth and depth of the chapters in What we talk about when we talk about rape were the perfect complement to our study of the past and present movements, ideas, policies, and legislation that have brought us to where we are today and added a personal perspective. My students described Ms. Abdulali as a “friend” who guided them through difficult subjects and revelations about their personal experiences. In fact, I have been teaching at the college level since 1996 and have never received the overwhelming positive feedback on an assigned text that I received for What we talk about when we talk about rape.

The quotes below from students were spontaneous and included in notes I received from students at the end of the semester:

“I honestly loved Abdulali’s book. It didn’t even feel like I was reading a book for class, it felt like I was having an informative and educational talk with one of my friends about aa very important issue.” The theme of reading Sohaila’s book and students feeling like they were having a meaningful discussion with a friend was a “note” during our weekly class discussions.

“Overall I loved reading this book and wanted to say thank you for showing it to me and for allowing me to annoy my friends and family with all the information and moving stories a read to make them realize how much of an issue this is.”

“I think that everyone should read What we talk about when we talk about rape, to just debunk and diminish any and all myths that they have been told to stop this cycle and stop any survivors from ever feeling any shame or guilt; as was hold perpetrators more responsible for their actions.”

“This is a wonderful and insightful book to read (yet also so painful). This book has given me ideas about how wed can work to change the discussion around rape.”

“This book was one of my favorite textbooks I’ve ever read in a classroom. Sohaila Abudlali is an incredible writer who truly helped me understand the mindset that it is necessary to understand what survivors or rape and sexual assault deal with every day.”

And finally the students are home on break and sharing Sohaila’s book:
“My family has been passing around Abdulai’s book since returning home for Thanksgiving, everyone has loved it!”

Finally, in the Fall 2021 semester, I will be teaching, a Women’s and Gender Studies entry class titled, Gender, Power and Privilege. I plan to assign Sohaila Abudlali’s What we talk about when we talk about rape. I think it would be difficult to have conversations about gender, power and privilege without discussing how those with power use rape and the threat of rape to prevent those in minority groups (gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation) from attaining their own power and success. I am excited to assign and use Sohaila’s book to illustrate these important points.

Mad Soul 54, Bookstagrammer

7 January 2021

Do we talk about rape? We don’t and that's the problem.

Forget rape, do we talk about sex, about relationships, about interactions with the opposite sex? Of course not. Which is why this book is important, If I had to put into words, this book is the conversation about rape that I wish someone older and more mature had had with me or I could have with someone younger. The good thing is, now we can. Through this memoir/self help manual, Sohaila Abdulali, a rape survivor and head of a rape crisis center, shows us just how frankly we can talk about sexual assault without coming across as brash or insensitive. It doesn't seem like an easy conversation.
This is one of those books where you can just sit at a dinner table with your family or friends and start by saying, "I just read a great book titled What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape & I feel that everyone should read it!"
Talk about an ice breaker.

View source

El Correo Gallego

27 October 2020

What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape is a revolutionary, profound, provocative and intelligent book that analyzes sexual abuse and the global discourse on rape from the point of view of a survivor of a gang rape in Bombay when she was Teen. Sohaila Abdulali is a writer, former survivor advisor and activist. When we talk about rape victims we usually say: “It could have been your mother or your sister or your daughter”, but on very rare occasions we say “the rapist could have been your father or your brother or your son”. Abdulali calls for a more frank conversation about rape. It tackles the complexities of sexual violence openly but subtly and criticizes simplistic taboos.

View source

Angana Narula, co-founder of The JFA Human Rights Journal

27 October 2020

Sohaila Abdulali's book What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape is a heart-wrenching, honest portrayal of what it means to be a survivor of gender-based violence. Drawn from her own personal experience as a survivor, Sohaila takes readers through a journey of highly-researched, nuanced prose and allows us to learn from her conversations with women, men, politicians, sex workers, mansplainers, victims and families. This book challenges dominant narratives which often ignore that sex, facilitated by any form of coercion, is rape.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape is a must-read for anyone who believes in the fundamental, equal rights of women.

5 star review by Bookstagrammer, Sheevs Reads

26 August 2020

If you've ever been raped or sexually assaulted (man, woman, straight, gay, bi, trans, NB...), do yourself a favour and read this book. I've never felt more seen.

If you know someone who has been raped or sexually assaulted (I guarantee you do, especially if you're reading this... Hi 🙋🏻‍♀️), do yourself a favour and read this book. You'll learn something and be a much better ally, friend, family member.

If you're a rapist or sexual abuser (even if you haven't realised), do yourself and all of us a favour and read this book. You might realise the pain you've put one of us through, and you might repent and never do it again.

This is my second time reading this quick-witted, wrily funny, thoughtful book. Part memoir, part well-researched musings on a difficult topic, Abdulali uses her own experience and various interviews she conducted with victims/survivors of sexual violence to construct a narrative for why rape and rape culture exist in our world.

Abdulali also makes sure to make this book relevant no matter your experience, culture or geography. She speaks to Indian sex workers, Egyptian human rights activists, British rape survivors, painting a clear and even humourous picture of what rape does to a person, and how we move forwards.

I know, the title may have already put you off. But I can't understate how much this book is NOT all doom and gloom. Don't get me wrong, I did cry, but it was only because I felt truly heard. I also laughed many, many times - Abdulali just doesn't give a shit about decorum, and it's so refreshing when anything about rape tends to be shrouded in darkness.

If you watched I May Destroy You (if you haven't, and it wasn't because of PTSD triggers, do), this is similar vibes. Brilliantly put together, creative, honest, and hopeful.

As Manassah, one of Abdulali's interviewees, puts it so well: "I was raped, and I'm happy. I'm not happy I was raped, but I am happy. It's important for me to say that." For so long that wasn't true, but now it is.

5 stars: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

View source

What Bonnie Reads, Bookstagrammer

26 August 2020
A few years back during my undergraduate days, I wrote an article on the theme ‘Sex’ for a Wall Magazine competition at my college. Although presently I don’t possess a copy of the same, I remember that the central idea of the article emphasised on love being the basis of copulation. Why I am going back in time and bringing this up is because I was wrong. Not entirely. My younger self put the entire onus of sexual encounters on love which is fairly true but not the only truth. I missed out some very important concepts: pleasure and consent. The strict taboo put on this topic creates an invisible barrier in our minds that restricts us from engaging in organic conversations around it. Hence, the half-baked ideas on sex and sexuality that breeds ignorance and indifference towards the basic concept of sex.⁣

Sex is a two-way street (may be multiple if there is consent) and so is pleasure and so is consent. Otherwise, it is rape. But would that be too limiting a definition? I don’t know. What I know is that I haven’t read more of a paradoxical book as this. Paradoxical because Sohaila Abdulali, the first Indian survivor to speak out about rape (a gang rape survivor), brings to us a discourse on a personal trauma that is so objectively written. Can you believe a book as such can be witty? Because it was, in places and I am full of respect for the author. But it was also bitterly evocative and triggering and harrowingly revealing.⁣

Recounting the narratives of survivors from across the world both on a personal and professional level the author creates a thread of the various dynamics that pertain to rape: honour, entitlement, violence, economic status, caste, patriarchy, consent, pleasure, rape as a war weapon etc. It aligns our perspectives into accepting that rape is universal and not bound to any gender or community or place but nevertheless women, children and transgenders remain more vulnerable to it.⁣

This book is an intelligent discourse on everything that is rape and everything it is not, how we perceive it but also what we fail to focus on. The author calls herself “a brown bisexual middle-aged atheist Muslim survivor immigrant writer without a shame gene”. At that very moment I fell in love with her.⁣⁣
I cannot recommend this book enough. Please read.⁣⁣
View source

The Feminist Nook, Bookstagrammer

26 August 2020
This book is only the beginning of conversations on the big and problematic issue of rape in our society and how it is both perceived and handled. Many of you will have seen the recent reports of the femicides in Turkey, but violence against women and transgender individuals is a problem across the world. The victims of rape are so often put under extra scrutiny when it comes to discussions of consent, sexual history, attire and more. In the UK we are a society that is innocent until proven guilty, so the onus will always be on the victim to prove they had a crime committed against them.
This book is not an easy read by any means and for anybody that has suffered sexual abuse of any kind there are sections that I believe will be particularly triggering to individuals. However this book is an important conversation on the subject of rape. Sohaila Abdulali discusses how rape should not be a subject we ignore. It's an endemic problem that can affect anybody and disproportionately affects black and indigenous women and transgender individuals.
I think the most poignant aspect of this book for me was Sohaila Abdulali's questions about the impact on the future generations our conversations or lack of conversations about rape will have. What do we teach our children in sex education, how do we discuss consent with our children, how is sexual pleasure for women Vs men discussed? What language and words do children have to articulate and understand rape or sexual violence? How will this impact the relationship the children of this world have with each other? How will this enable children to form their own understandings about their sexuality and relationships with sex?
This book raises a lot of questions and whilst I don't think it is perfect as Sohaila Abdulali refers to rape victims as her more frequently than not. Although in some cases she caveats this by saying she uses the term "she" but the situations applies to all, I think it would have been better to just go straight for a non-binary term of they/them.
This would ensure that all people can identify with the points she makes. It should also be mentioned that she does point out that men, transgender people and nonbinary people can all be raped. I just think the clarity of gendered language throughout could have been a bit more nuanced.
Despite this, I feel this book has a lot of value and is an important starting point for difficult conversations. It made me think, it made me sad, it made me angry and more. I also read several, of the many, articles that Abdulali referenced to throughout the book that provided more insight on the subject. Overall I'm glad I finally read it as it's such a relevant and important book.
View source

Humph Reads, Bookstagrammer 5/5 star review

29 July 2020
🌟Review: 5 stars.


I’m not really sure what to call this book. As Abdulali says, “Essays? Not really. Sociology? Not learned or academic enough. Psychology? No, too opinionated. Research? Not comprehensive enough. Memoir? I hope not”. Whatever it is, it’s really bloody good.

Of course, it’s incredibly heavy. If you might be triggered by this book, don’t even think about giving it a go. However, if you feel like you could read this, please please pick it up. It’s so important and incredibly eye opening. It talks about everything we talk about when we talk about rape, but also everything we don’t talk about, including; fear of dentists, triggers in cancer treatment, OCD, identity disorders, and more.

Abdulali provides information on the global scale of this problem; explaining how many societies promote this behaviour. You’re made aware of tragic facts, such as:
In 38 countries rape is legal if you’re married to the rapist.
Following this, in Kuwait to resolve a rape, you get married to your rapist, because then, due to them owning your body, it’s no longer a crime.
Like??? I literally put my head in my hands every time I think about that.

This book was published last year. Although this is irrelevant to its success, I did appreciate the recent topics covered which included the #metoo movement, Trump’s ‘gram em by the pussy’ line and Taylor Swift’s $1 law suit.

The content of this was so incredibly put together and everything was written with such precision. So many lines made me gasp and I feel like I highlighted every word of this. For example; “women should be the subject in sex, not the object” !!!

My only complaint about this book was the length. At ~200 pages, I feel like it could’ve been longer to cover things in more detail. Although, I do appreciate that the nature of this book is chatty and a conversation starter rather than a formal writing including every ounce of detail! I really really recommend this. It was devastatingly memorable, but something I feel like everyone should read.

(Ps- I felt quite uncomfortable making this pic pretty. Upon reflection, this book is here to start conversation and break the taboos of topics like rape, meaning that I should photograph it like any other book. Although, this was interesting to discuss with myself.)

View source

Devanshi (Literary Quidnunc), bookstagrammer

8 July 2020

This book is about what we talk about RAPE and what we do not talk about RAPE. And also what we talk when we talk about RAPE?

This conversation is very important.

Why do we keep quiet?

The easy answer is shame, and often that is the reason. We think it's our fault for being available or vulnerable or clueless. All over the World, we blame ourselves, quite unable to take on board that another human being committed the crime. It's easier to feel ashamed than to accept that someone violated us in the most viciously intimate way and we couldn't do anything about it.

I did not know how violence is felt to the victim until I read what the victim goes through. Forget about healing there is no way to get justice.

There’s no “right” way to heal. If someone violated you and you want to rip him open and feed him to the dogs—I won’t stand in your way. If you want to beat him to a pulp, plaster his picture all over a local telephone pole or internet forum, poison his garden, shit on his front porch, put a really creative curse on him, destroy his reputation, ruin his life … go for it, sister.

Forgiveness just seems like a powerful option to consider.

Rape is not sex. If you hit someone on the head with a rolling pin, it's not cooking.

Sohaila Abdulali wrote a fantastic book about rape survivors. Her data is well researched and every statement she makes here is backed up with plenty of cases. She says, I'd be a total fool if I posited that rape would end if all men were to recognize the importance of consensual sexual pleasure. I'm not saying that at all. But I'm saying that violence and desire are often uncomfortably intimate with each other.

If we don't put it out there, this conversation will always be muted.
Because every girl has a story!

View source

Petite Pinotte, Bookstagrammer, Favourite Reads of 2019

26 January 2020

I finished Sohaila Abdulali’s a few days ago and I needed some time to gather my thoughts about it. ⁣

Let me start by saying I highly recommend this book to everyone; not just to people who are interested in knowing more about gender based violence or rape culture. I believe this book has so much to offer, and no matter your preference and taste: it’s highly informative, and puts forward a critique on the ways in which we raise boys and girls that I think anyone can benefit from. ⁣

SO. Clearly this is a very positive review, despite the content of the book being seriously heavy. I have learned a lot from Abdulali, and have enjoyed (this seems like the wrong word in the context of this book, but it’s true) her writing. It’s witty, funny (really!) and so astute. She covers a lot of ground, going from notions of masculinity and femininity to the interweaving of our understanding of rape and (American) sex education. I appreciate the conversations with other rape survivors she has incorporated, too, as they constitute a very diverse group that once again makes clear: rape can happen to anyone, and everyone responds to it differently. ⁣

I won’t spoil more of this book’s genius, but I encourage you all to read it. I do believe a trigger warning is in place though; she discusses some very explicit material and if the subject of rape and sexual assault may upset you, this might be a difficult read. ⁣
All in all: 4.5 ⭐️ ⁣

View source

Surya Matondkar for Right Now, Human Rights Organisation in Australia

18 July 2019

In 1980, 17-year-old Sohaila Abdulali was just another teenager in Bombay, her eyes trained to a life in the United States. Her family had recently emigrated and she was spending a few final days in her family home in India before taking off to new adventures. It was also the year that she and her male friend were abducted by four men, taken up a mountain, abused, threatened, wounded and almost killed. It was on that seemingly regular summer evening in Bombay that she was raped.

Astonishingly, despite multiple voices rising up and a great deal of headway made in society, rape remains a taboo term. Even in 2019, this is more common than we like to admit. In India, we not only avoid the term “rape” we also take care to shift the blame of the rape to the victim. Indian society is programmed to do this, regardless of the brutality of the assault, and we are not alone.

Many societies around the world share this system, stating that the woman shouldn’t have gone out during the evening, that she shouldn’t have been standing so close to a male friend (since this could be construed by other men as an invitation), that she shouldn’t have worn a particular form of clothing, walked a particular way or down a particular street. Even so, this sort of mentality is more prominent in a country like India where patriarchy is interwoven into the very fabric of the country.

Post the Nirbhaya case of 2012, and more recently the #Metoo movement in 2018, both Indian society and media have evolved to a certain extent. However, in 1980 India when Abdulali’s assault occurred, rape was a non-existent term in India’s vocabulary. Take for example the fact that in 1973, Aruna Shanbaug, an Indian nurse was brutally raped and strangled with a dog chain at work by a colleague, rendering her blind, deaf and paralysed in a vegetative state. Despite the horrific details of the crime the story faded quickly and Indians continued to pretend it was a random occurrence and women were safe within the country. Needless to say, the Indian media rarely took a stance on rape or made an effort to bring the discussion into the forefront.

This was the India that Sohaila Abdulali left behind in 1980. Three years later she came back, having secured a grant to work on her undergraduate thesis on rape in India. Unsurprisingly, she found that few women were willing to come forward to speak about rape, because despite the hard work of a few feminists in the country, rape was still considered a fairly taboo and shameful term. Speaking of that time she says “I don’t know what pushed me over the edge––all the people who kept saying rape didn’t exist for “people like us,” the upper classes; a dirty old man who heard what I was studying and decided it meant he could grope me; or just the growing conviction that I couldn’t possibly be the only one, could I?”

Encouraged to action by the women she interacted with she began by sharing her own story with the only magazine in India which might have published it – a women’s magazine called Manushi. Although it created a small stir in a deeply slumbering nation, it too was quickly pushed out of the news cycle. However, to date, it is remembered as the first official article in the country which speaks openly about a woman’s experience with rape.

In 2012, almost thirty years on, Abdulali had settled into her life abroad and slowly distanced herself from the occurrences of that 1980 evening in Bombay, not because she was ashamed but simply because she had filled her life with too much light to allow the darkness room. And that was when the Delhi-rape case happened. The Delhi-rape case, or rather the “Nirbhaya” case to be more specific, was possibly one of the most detailed rape cases covered by the Indian media. While rape itself is a regular occurrence in the country, so regular that not even all “Delhi-rape cases” make the media, this particular one was horrifying enough to shake the country into action.

On December 16th, a young physiotherapy student called Jyoti Singh was gang-raped in a bus while she was travelling home with a male friend in Delhi. Jyoti’s story was covered extensively by the media who dubbed her “Nirbhaya” or “Fearless”. But, the brutality of her assault left her with extensive internal injuries and she died a few days later. In the aftermath of the Nirbhaya case India finally and fully awoke to the matter of rape.

It was then that Sohaila Abdulali’s story in Manushi resurfaced and began trending on social media as people finally began acknowledging that violence against women didn’t just exist in India, it flourished. Around this time, Abdulali wrote an article for the New York Times detailing her beliefs, ideas and views on rape – pointing out that it wasn’t shameful, it wasn’t the victim’s fault, and it definitely didn’t define them. She emphasised that life after rape did not have to be about surviving, it could be about joyful living. Those same ideas are what What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape is built on.

Written with joy, love and dignity, this book doesn’t just talk about her own story, it talks about the stories of women from all over the world, each of whom have faced the same evil. Because if there is one thing that we have learned from the #Metoo movement it is that sexual assault transcends class, caste and country. She illustrates through real life experiences how we as a society have long supported rape culture by over-scrutinising the victim’s actions, carefully ignoring the fact that that there is “someone else in the picture who also has a choice: a man, who can choose between decency and dominance.”

While this text is a crucial manifesto for a society that is slowly beginning to unlearn, it is also a testament to the bravery and resilience of the stories it tells. Most important of all however, is the fact that this book does not claim to have all the answers. In fact, if anything it is a book designed to help us, as a society, ask questions. In the end, Abdulali simply encourages us to speak out – any way we can. As she puts it, “Breakfast conversation, random tweets, stories in the Metro section—it is all part of the conversation, and it all matters. But the conversation doesn’t include everyone, not yet. Let’s keep talking.”

View source

The Telegraph

29 March 2019

Many will remember Sohaila Abdulali for an article written three decades ago, remarkable for the author’s refusal to be defined by rape as well as the fresh young face accompanying the article in Manushi. Abdulali’s recent book is, in part, a continuation of her earlier efforts from the 1980s to challenge ideas about rape survivors being “the living dead”. The rage that ensued the December 2012 gang rape set the stage for discussions across the nation, many strands of which were relatively new in their understanding of gender, violence, and the onus of sexual violence. Today these debates are more familiar because of the digitally mediated/inspired #MeToo movement. But years ago, Abdulali was possibly one of the first who publicly refused to be “defaced” by her experience, suggesting possibilities of understanding life after rape. The resurrection of her article and the publication of this book indicate the relevance of her ideas today.

The book seeks to blow open the public secret of rape through many anecdotes and to facilitate sensitive, yet pragmatic, discussion. Abdulali attempts to rip apart the pity and shame that inflect much of the talk around rape in connection with “victims”. Through her own experience as well as those recounted by other survivors, she strives to put rape in its place, refusing to grant it the power that can erode identities and undermine people’s sense of being. In the 29 chapters she recounts stories of survivors including male survivors from Maharashtra to Midwestern America to Ubuntu, discussing cases varying from mob sexual assault to rape by a trusted figure and themes from consent to forgiveness. In Chapter 11, for example, she explores how in spite of her earlier dismissal that rape had anything to do with sex, violence and desire are closely linked as reflected in elucidations like little boys bully girls they are sweet on, or in grimmer incidents among adults when the survivor is blamed for not making boundaries evident. A particularly unsettling moment in the book is in Chapter 17 when she recalls the matter of fact reaction of her eleven-year-old daughter when told about her mother’s rape years ago. While she is attracted to how children can have distance from the more grown-up notions of stigma, devastation, shame, there is also a gentle urgency to educate them. The anecdotes are cobbled together cursorily to suggest a sprawling world of rape with many experiences that even Abdulali cannot claim solidarity with, like the forgiveness project between a rape survivor and her rapist. Some chapters are simply an inventory of words as in Chapter 26. The book leaves readers with a sense of incompleteness, abandoning possibilities for contemplation and analysis. But it is also significant and necessary that a book on rape can be unpremeditated and casual, regardless of its intent.

The tone of the book is far more striking. Abdulali employs a cheerful voice that often becomes irreverent when talking about her own rape. She recognizes this narrative style “with intonation but no real emotion” in another rape survivor. The politics to this gaiety is reminiscent of philosopher Susan Brison’s reflection that the “rape narrative” can stop being central to a person’s biography with time. Abdulali, no longer held in thrall to her rape, can be vocal and declare that her daughter’s math progress feels more important at present than her long ago rape. The irreverence is not to belittle the trauma, far from it. She returns to the horrors time and again and in spite of her anguish admits relief that in 2012 she “had nothing to do with any of it because I had done my bit three decades ago”. The anthropologist, Michael Taussig, had argued that knowledge or revelations cannot destroy a public secret. Here too, the public secret of rape remains unaltered, even as Abdulali hews away at its shell. But the chinks that she produces through her sometimes distant, sometimes fraught voice, above all, facilitate conversations that have always been much needed.

View source

The Hindu Business Line

1 March 2019
Sohaila Abdulali’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape is a difficult read. There is no dearth of cold statistics and reportage of rape in the media. But how do we pause, process and then eventually talk about rape? The truth is, none of us know how to grasp rape beyond feelings of denial, disgust, outrage, condemnation, and resignation. It is precisely for these reasons and more that Abdulali’s book must be read by all, especially men, irrespective of how progressive they think their politics are.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape Sohaila Abdulali Non-fiction Penguin499

Abdulali’s book starts where the newspapers finish their coverage of rape. She asks some very pertinent questions: Is rape a fundamentally life-defining event? Is it only about power or can it also be about sex? We talk about the stigmas attached to rape but never about its after-effects, in the form of phobias and triggers. Where is the space that we accord to rebuilding trust and boundaries for rape survivors? In a nutshell, Abdulali takes the discussion on sexual assault and rape from being merely a violent event to examining the very nature of violence and how it is perpetrated. This is a book not just about rape survivors, their family and friends, but very much also about rape culture and rapists.

A US-based journalist, writer and activist, Abdulali spends a considerable amount of time discussing rape culture, which is a totality of big and small things that we do, say and believe, leading to the notion that it is okay to rape. She tells us that making fun of women drivers or indulging your son more than your daughter does not mean you condone rape. But what this does is to chip away women’s and girls’ self-respect, giving the boys a free pass to demand and “maraud through the world and take without thinking”. It is this brazen sense of male self-entitlement which makes men unable to take a ‘no’ or a ‘maybe’; or understand that a ‘yes’ once uttered is not an eternally binding contract.

This is also one of the reasons why the #MeToo movement made all men uncomfortable, for their sense of self-entitlement may have explicitly or implicitly perpetrated rape culture.

This is a book that cannot be read continuously. It demands a certain kind of pause-absorb-reflect-read mode from its readers. Through 29 short chapters, Abdulali dissects rape. Starting with her own story of being gang-raped at 17 in 1980 and later writing about it in the feminist magazine Manushi, she talks about coping strategies, the importance of an unconditionally supportive family, and a very insightful list of guidelines to saving a rape survivor’s life. As survivors recount their stories, Abdulali articulates every possible audience reaction ranging from denial, horror, discomfort, trauma and, appallingly, even awe. She shares how the act of telling is a huge commitment of time, energy and emotion because you can never predict the response. Most unfairly, survivors often have to protect their audience by narrating a sanitised version of the events. This is done either to make the incident more palatable or to avoid being labelled ‘hysterical’ or ‘dramatic’.

Survivors do not owe it to the audience to be their educator. When it comes to how to behave with a person who has been raped, Abdulali states that it is a straightforward formula of listening, giving unstinting control, acceptance and support. She further elaborates this as a set of guidelines that include: Be horrified but not so much that the survivor has to take care of you; do not try to understand and analyse but just be there. This effectively speaks to well-intentioned mansplainers and other well-wishers who hasten to theorise and explain. The focus must always be the survivor and what they want.

This is a book that moves beyond rape and urges us to relook how we understand sex. The bar of consent cannot be as low as a transactional affair of merely saying yes or no. On the contrary, sex should be seen as an alluring adventure of mutual pleasure and joy. Abdulali also addresses the more tricky conversation around bad sex that has divided many people. Bad sex is awful but is it necessarily rape? It is a complicated but all-too-familiar conversation around so-called good-natured entitled men not caring for their partners’ choices. Thus, bad sex is a part of rape culture.

Just like the aftermath of any sexual assault, the book doesn’t follow a linear narrative. The chapters encapsulate grim incidents of assault, the apathy of the state, moments of lucidity, rage and heartbreaking confusion coupled with coping strategies and the choice that entitled men make to assault and rape. What makes this book eminently a compelling read is its rawness. It is almost like Abdulali is talking to us without mincing words or resorting to theoretical terms that at once sterilise realities and alienate people. The chapterisation is cleverly done, enabling the reader to start with whichever title that intrigues them the most.

More than women, it is the men who need this book; they are not the problem but their entitlement is.

View source

Blank Gold Coast

14 February 2019

Rarely does a book’s title so perfectly encapsulate its contents, as it does in the case of Sohaila Abdulali’s ‘What We Talk About When We talk About Rape,’ a modern treatise on rape and rape culture, and the global discourse that both describes and determines it.

Sohaila Abdulali was the first Indian rape survivor to speak out publicly about her experience. Gang-raped as a teenager in Mumbai and indignant at the deafening silence on the issue of rape in India, she wrote an article for a women’s magazine questioning how we perceive rape and rape victims that disappeared (she thought) into the ether. Thirty years later, happy and successful, Abdulali saw her story go viral in the wake of the fatal 2012 Delhi rape of Jyoti Singh and the global outcry that followed.

While unsentimental in tone – even in the passages where she recollects her ordeal – the book and its wide-ranging look at the broad spectrum of global sexual violence nevertheless inspire a full gamut of (negative) emotions in the reader, ranging from the purest boiling rage to quiet despair. Meticulously researched and referenced, the book holds a mirror up to the frighteningly large numbers of sexual assault victims, and their ongoing victimisation by a society which at times seems set up to excuse perpetrators. However it also offers hope – particularly via the story of its author – that it is possible to achieve a happy life after surviving sexual assault. It is a book to be read over several sittings; one to pick up again once you’ve cooled down or perked up, but absolutely to be picked up again.

Abdulali’s offering demonstrates great insight but provides little in the way of solutions, although some solace for victims will almost certainly be found amongst its pages, even if just from the realisation that they are not alone. It is not unlike other treatments of this subject, in that sense.

‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape’ explores not just what we say when we talk about rape but also what we don’t say, and asks pertinent questions about consent and desire, redemption and revenge, and how we raise our sons. It’s not an easy read, but it’s an important one.

View source

Washington City Paper

7 January 2019

Content warning: This pick concerns rape and sexual assault.There should be many more books like Sohaila Abdulali’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape. At 17, the writer was gang raped and nearly killed in Mumbai. She wrote about this experience and her recovery from it three decades later in a 2013 New York Times op-ed. Her new book is somewhat of an expansion of that piece, an expansion on the conversation about rape, sexual assault, and rape culture, and an examination of how different cultures handle sexual violence. In addition to sharing her own story, Abdulali interviewed survivors from around the world and put these intensely personal stories on the page. It’s a book that stresses the fact that there is no singular response to rape, and asks questions that must be addressed: Who gets raped and why? And, if you’re a survivor, how do you recover a sense of safety and joy? It’s essential reading.

View source

Women's Web

4 December 2018

What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape by Sohaila Abdulali is a powerful, solicitous and hard-hitting read which has the potential to create history.

Rarely does it happen that a book leaves me flabbergasted, shattered and reassured, all at the same time.

With the “Me Too” movement gaining momentum and changing the conversations around the subject of rape and consent, the timing of this book could not be better. This is an important read for all of us because the truth is that whenever a rape happens, we are all the victims – some of us realize it, some don’t.


There are many things about this book that one cannot define in quintessential ways and that is its real strength.  If someone asks me the genre of the book, I wouldn’t know how to answer this. If someone asks me about the writing style of the author, I would say it doesn’t really matter. Neither does Sohaila Abdulali claim to educate the masses about rape nor does she come across as patronizing at any point. She raises the right questions time and again, even though she might not have the answers to some. She makes us introspect and contemplate about our own behavior which is interesting because many of us think we are progressive and are doing it all right, but in reality we are not there yet.

A 360 degree look at rape

The author takes a 360 degree view, if I may call it that, on this extremely sensitive and discomfiting topic and not only does she focus on what we talk about rape but stresses more on what we don’t talk about rape. Her in-depth analysis and understanding does not just come from the place of being a rape survivor herself, but also from being someone who has actively been involved in counseling survivors.

At the very beginning, she shares her own harrowing experience of being gang raped in the presence of a friend in the year 1980 when she was all of seventeen years old. She narrates how she penned a poignant account for a women’s magazine in the early 80s on surviving rape which created a trifling stir in the country because in those times, no one spoke about rape. It was soon a forgotten story only to resurface years later after the ghastly 2012 rape case shook the entire nation. Her story went viral, forcing her to face what she was trying to get past without any warning. And then this book happened!

Talking of rape as Indians

Having worked as a counselor with an NGO that rehabilitates human trafficking survivors, I do understand that there are so many complex layers to unfold as we try to comprehend the cause of rape not just in India but anywhere in the world. However, as I read through the different chapters, I realized that there are little nuances about our behavior and talks which we fail to notice, deterring us from being able to deal with the problem head on.

Typically, the conversations around rape are limited to consent and harsh punishments. But, Sohaila Abdulali makes us recognize that we need to go beyond that, and make these dialogues all inclusive, specifically mentioning about how we seldom involve trans people and sex workers in these significant discussions. There is a lucid explanation of consent, and how it is not as simple as saying a “yes” or a “no”.

For a long time, I thought rape was more about power than sex, which of course is true, but now I know that we cannot keep out sex from our conversations if we want to tackle this issue. The book talks about various scenarios from marital rape to date rape to incest, each viewed differently because of the different dynamics involved, although the crime is same. The survivor tales are distressing to say the least but are necessary to drive home the point, loud and clear.

Including toxic masculinity and male ‘protectors’ in the conversation

My favourite chapter in the book is “How to save a life” which cajoled me to think outside of the obvious. It discusses toxic masculinity and the impact of rape on men who are witnesses to the horrific crime but are not able to intervene. How many of us bother to think about this? This just re-affirms why patriarchy is harmful for everyone because men are expected to protect the honour of women and being witnesses to the rape of a loved one is a double blow for them. What also gave me immense hope in this section of the book were stories of heroes who make a difference. They reinstate the lost faith and reignite the extinguished flame.

I think ‘The Abdulali guidelines for saving a rape survivor’s life’should be printed and distributed to one and all. Each one of us needs to know them, no matter how well-read and aware we think we are. We need to be ready to unlearn and re-learn because many a time our actions or words are well-intentioned but detrimental to the cause. For instance, in one of the chapters, Abdulali makes a case for looking at rapists as humans, which I would have never bothered to do earlier. She elucidates why violence is not the answer to violence and that furiously demanding public castration of rapists is not quite a laudable reaction. This made me pause and reflect. I evolved as a person by the time I reached the end of the book because every word in this literary work is a journey, a lesson and a plea to rise above our egos and intolerance to make the world a better place.

To sum it up, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape is a comprehensive, honest and enlightening attempt to normalize the discussions around rape. It is also a guide for parents, mentors and guardians on how to approach this matter with the next generation. For all this and more, it is an extremely important read. Did I say this before? Well, I would say it a thousand times over. Read it. Absorb it. Share it. Re-read it.

I want to conclude by quoting the lines from the book that I believe should be drilled into the minds of every living human in the world.

‘I want to be very clear that it is never a victim’s obligation to speak up, or report, or do anything but survive. Her first responsibility is getting through it. But we are all culpable in the silence around rape, a “vast international conspiracy” if ever there was one.’

View source

Laura Barcella, Longreads

28 November 2018

In a 2015 documentary called “India’s Daughter,” one of Jyoti Singh Pandey’s rapists, Mukesh Singh, gave a disturbing jail-cell interview in which he placed the blame for his crime squarely on his dead victim. “A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy,” he said.

Singh’s quote is despicable, but it neatly summarizes many of the internalized myths that women all over the world walk around with each day: that women have a say in whether we end up brutalized. That we can twist our own fate by making simple choices like staying home at night, or not wearing skirts, or abstaining from drinking. It helps rapists rationalize their actions, and it makes women feel like we retain a semblance of control over what happens to us. Of course, it’s not true.

What do you think about when you think about rape? If you’re someone who has also been a victim, you might think about power, the nebulous lines of control. You might think about the outfit you wore and the plan you’d made for innocent fun with a guy you met twice before. You might think about drinking wine on the patio, of consent given and later revoked. You might think about ripped underwear; the dirt beneath the nails of his callused, unfeeling fingers; and the massive blue bruises you got in places you don’t remember being bruised before or since. You might think about the shame and humiliation of the morning after, of not knowing who to tell or what hotline to call or what to preserve in a garbage bag as “evidence.” You might think about what your friends will say; whether they’ll support your story or find a way to warp it into your fault (“I’ve seen how you act with men when you’re drunk,” “but what did you expect, inviting him over so late?”). You might think about the walk-in clinic you visited afterward and the painful tests you endured there (yes, there was blood). You might think about filing a police report, or you might remember taking to your bed for a week and trying to avoid thinking about anything at all.

In her powerful but accessibly written new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, Sohaila Abdulali explores how cultures around the world handle rape. She approaches this intimate, sinister type of violence with a decidedly global viewpoint, delving into how both individuals and governments treat their victims, as well as how they navigate the nuances of sexual consent. Sure, it’s different in America. But is it better?

Although Abdulali had never before written a book-length feminist treatise of this sort — she’s the author of two prior novels — she is no stranger to the subject matter. In the summer of 1980, shortly before she was due to leave her family in India and move to Boston for college at Brandeis, Abdulali was brutally raped by four armed men while hiking with a male friend in Bombay. She was almost killed, but her parents supported her, and her life crept on. She headed to college, wrote her undergraduate thesis about rape, and published an account of her story in an Indian women’s magazine called Manushi. The article garnered attention for daring to discuss a kind of violence that Indian women were typically encouraged to keep quiet about.

Fast forward to 2012, when Indian medical student Jyoti Singh Pandey, 23, was gang-raped and disemboweled on a private bus while returning home from a movie with a friend. Singh died of her gruesome injuries two weeks later, and the case, publicly dubbed the “Delhi gang rape,” sparked an international outcry. Singh’s attackers received the death penalty.

Asked to comment on the case, Sohaila Abdulali, who went on to work for a rape crisis center in Boston, penned a 2013 New York Times op-ed. The piece went viral, drawing a torrent of personal letters from survivors. Though it was never Abdulali’s intention to be a “symbol of rape” — and she is adamant that survivors can live happy, meaningful lives after even the most grievous trauma — her history informed her work, ultimately leading Abdulali to write What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape (The New Press).

The book is not your typical pop-academia offering. It takes a conversational approach to a painful subject, while still managing to avoid making light of rape or its legacy. Abdulali is careful not to speak for all survivors, acknowledging how rape’s after-effects manifest differently for everyone. And she examines the darkest questions surrounding what we don’t say about rape; for example, must rape victims be forever defined by someone else’s crime? Can rape ever be about sex instead of power? How can survivors find joy while still honoring their rage?

“We must talk about rape, and we must talk about how we talk about rape,” she writes at the book’s beginning.

I discussed the book with the author over coffee on New York City’s Lower East Side.

Laura Barcella: Tell me how the book came about.

Sohaila AbdulaliI had no intention of speaking up. I worked really hard not to speak up. But somebody took a picture of the old [Manushi] article I had written about my rape, and they posted it on FacebookThen everything went crazy, because rape was the only topic anybody was talking about in India. But they couldn’t find any victims; nobody would speak up.

They found me and [I got the] New York Times offer, which worked out really nicely because it was the best possible platform and I could write that one piece and then say ‘no’ to every single person after that. In the last five years, I got away from the topic, wrote a column, did other stuff. Last year, I thought I would do a book. So I wrote to a publisher and said, ‘How about a book?’ And she wrote back saying, ‘What about a rape memoir?’ So I [told her,] ‘I’m fed up of this topic, and I don’t want to write about it. I can’t write a rape memoir because it’s not a main thing in my life anymore.’ She wrote back and said, ‘You don’t have to write a memoir. But you’ve obviously thought a lot about this and you have a lot to say; why don’t you just write a book about it?’ This was before #MeToo.

So I started off with the idea that I would write this book about something nobody is talking about.

Then I started writing it, and #MeToo happened. Just this week [in mid-October], India has gone crazy. #MeToo has exploded therea government minister just resigned. For the first time in our history, women are being taken seriously there. It’s amazing. The book is coming out at the right time; it happened organically. The minute I started writing it, I was obsessed, and I got to talk to the most amazing survivors.

I had no intention of speaking up. I worked really hard not to speak up.

How did you find the survivors you interviewed for the book?

I found them through word of mouth. Also, when my New York Times op-ed came out, about 1,000 people wrote to me from all over the world. I wrote back to every single one, because I felt like, how could I not? Then I felt like I couldn’t [not save] the emails. So I put them in one file and kept them. When I was working on this book, I had this huge data bank of people to contact.

In your book, you wrote about India’s Justice Verma Committee report, which was released as an official government response to the horrific 2012 gang rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey. More than 80,000 people weighed in for the report, which laid out new laws and amendments related to violence against women in India. Did the report have much of an impact on women there?

Psychologically it had a fabulous impact. It’s an amazing thing to read. The Indian government strengthened some of its rape laws, and they strengthened some reporting. There’s a little more training. But I don’t know if there’s been even one less rape there. So who knows if it’s made any [real] difference. It’s also a historical document. They listened to people, and they went out there and talked to people. I don’t know how they did it in just one month.

You touch on how we describe sexual assault versus rape, and how rape is seen as a more ‘forceful’ word for a more violent act. What’s your take on the language that we use to describe sexual assault, and how you decided to include the word ‘rape’ so prominently in the title of your book? Did you ever think of calling it, ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Sexual Assault?’

No, because it was about rape. That’s a really good, thought-provoking question. All rape is sexual assault, but all sexual assault isn’t rape. The more interesting thing about language is the way that people talk about victims and criminals. You know, the whole ‘boys will be boys’ thing, and how people [sometimes] talk about rape using the same terms we use for regular sex. Like the term ‘gang bang.’ A gang bang — is that consensual or not? It’s used for both.

It seems like there has been a shift in the way people talk about assault, post-Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo. I remember there was a lot of dissent about Aziz Ansari, and whether his alleged actions [as outlined in January’s Babe.net article] ‘qualified’ as sexual assault. So much nitpicking over the language regarding sexual assault versus harassment versus bad sex.

We make it more complicated than it has to be, but also less complicated. Because with all those discussions, even if there’s no real answer at the end, we’ve never had them before. It is important. And if you read that woman’s [story], he was disgusting. It was disgusting. He stuck his finger in her [mouth]. But even I hesitate about saying it’s the same kind of rape as some stranger jumping you on the street. Still, that doesn’t mean the trauma is lesser. It is complicated, but we need to talk about it. The more words we have, the better.

Kickstart your weekend reading by getting the week’s best Longreads delivered to your inbox every Friday afternoon.

Do you think that our culture has gotten better at grappling with nuances when it comes to sexual consent? Or appreciating the nuances, if not always respecting them?

I don’t know about the culture, and I’m not on the dating scene because I’m married. But I do feel that in my own family, among the teenagers, there’s a kind of understanding and discussion that there never was before in my generation. So that’s good. But to be clear, with consent, you can have all the rules [laid out], but if you don’t care how the other person actually feels, then it doesn’t matter what you sayEveryone should actually care if the other party is into it. Seems basic!

What do people get wrong when they talk about rape?

Oh, everything. For one thing, the idea that women somehow bring it on themselves. I mean, we have countries in the world where that’s kind of the law, right? In Iran, if you show your head and you get raped, then you’re [responsible for] it. And also [the idea] that men can’t help it. Many of the men I know absolutely can help it, and they choose not to do it.

We also get the effects of rape wrong. Because we either act like it’s no big deal, or we act like it’s the end of your life. Even more so in India. But here, too, women are considered damaged goods [after being raped]. But the impact is so individual, and it doesn’t necessarily have to correspond to what actually happened to you. Like for me, [my attackers were] strangers, and I’ve always thought, ‘Phew, I am so glad.’ Because I can put that away; it’s not part of my everyday life.

What about the psychological trauma? I know it’s very individual and plays out differently for everyone. But what are some of the misconceptions out there about what recovery is ‘supposed to’ look like for a survivor?

In America, one of the big misconceptions is that if you’ve been raped, you’re going to have PTSD that centers around sex only. Which often happens! But we don’t realize [that PTSD] can also relate to lots of other things. Like, I have this chapter on dentistry. I used to be devastated over going to the dentist. I had flashbacks of my rape every single time I went to the dentist, but I didn’t have flashbacks during sex. So I thought I was weird and never told anyone until this dentist came along and said she treats lots of people [with PTSD from rape]. We tend to have certain notions of what trauma is like.

We get the effects of rape wrong. Because we either act like it’s no big deal, or we act like it’s the end of your life.

How did you feel about the Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford hearings? Did you watch?

Oh, I couldn’t stop. It was so painful and disheartening from beginning to end. The only part of it that was good was her. She’s a hero. I can just barely imagine the courage it took her, and the months and years of thinking, ‘Should I? Shouldn’t I?’ Imagine how she feels — it didn’t even work. It didn’t work, and he was crying and screaming like a stupid toddler, and he got his way. If this educated, articulate, white, blonde, American woman can get up there and nobody gives a damn, what hope is there for the rest of us?

In one of the later chapters of your book, you wrote about how there’s this constant knot of anger inside you regarding men who rape. I related to that, and many women I know have that feeling regardless of whether they’ve experienced rape themselves. What do you do with this anger?

It’s not the dominant emotion in my life. But I think [many women] do have that anger, and whether we have it in regards to rape or something else, we’re doing the same thing that I’m accusing everyone else of doing in the book: using rape as a symbol for something else. It’s like, yes, I am angry that men rape — but what else am I really angry about? That, and the fact that they get more pay, plus all those other privileges? Rape is just one very easy piece; maybe the most dramatic piece. I don’t know what one does with the anger. Everyone has their own way [of handling it], but I don’t find that anger paralyzes me. It fueled me writing this book. I am also surrounded by fantastic men. So I cling to the notion that rape is a choice they make, and that they can learn not to make that choice.

The anger can definitely get tangled up with so many other issues, like Donald Trump’s election — ‘why are these men in power?’

And why are we surprised that Kavanaugh is on the Supreme Court? We’ve heard much worse from Trump, and he’s our president. It’s stunning. Righteous anger is good, but there’s no use getting consumed by it and getting bitter. I was afraid when I sat down to interview people for this book that it would put me into a very dark place, because all the rape survivors I’d talked to before were from years ago when I worked at the rape counseling center [in Boston]. They were all in crisis; that’s why they called. So I imagined I’d go through that again, but the people I talked to for the book are all people who have come through it. It was actually really inspirational to talk to them and see how they survived.

Something else you discuss in the book is the idea that rape may not always be about power. What’s your stance on this? Do you think there are instances where rape is not about control, but simply about sex?

I believe it might not always be predominantly about power and control. There’s always an element of power there, but I believe that it’s not always the motivation. It’s too simple to say that. We have to think about these oversimplifications.

As you were working on the book, did you learn anything surprising that you didn’t know or realize before?

There weren’t many blinding revelations. I didn’t actually plan the chapters that much; they grew out of my interviews. The first four people I talked to were all women, and they all had stories of telling people [about their rapes] and having someone really close to them say, ‘What did you expect?’ So that’s when I thought I had to have a chapter called ‘What Did You Expect?’ And then the dentist [chapter]. I told someone I was writing this book and she said, ‘Oh, I know this dentist who works with trauma survivors.’

How long did it take you to finish writing?

Six months. But I had four publishers, so every editor had separate comments.

Are the four versions slightly different?

No, they’re all the same. I really enjoyed the process. I’ve been really lucky. I think if I had written this book ten years ago, I wouldn’t have been as clear about what I wanted. I had this BBC interview last week with a woman in London. And she said, ‘Were you surprised at your father’s reaction [to your rape]?’ And I’d never thought of that before. I said, ‘No. He just acted like my father.’ That’s the other thing with rape, right? Somehow we put all this baggage on it and we expect people to behave differently from how they otherwise would. But people behave true to themselves. If you’re a jerk, you’re going to act like a jerk [when your loved one is raped]. If you really believe that your daughter’s welfare comes above all else, then that’s how you’ll act.

Who do you most hope will read your book?

I really feel strongly that this book is for everyone. I really, really hope a lot of men read it. Not because it will help them not to rape, but it might help people to think about the dynamics in their lives and how to help people they know to whom this has happened. Of course it’s a feminist book because I’m a feminist, but it’s not a feminist book that is only meant for certain people. I really hope it has a broad readership. And I know it’s weird, but I had a lot of fun writing it, and I hope that comes across.

View source

Natasha Badhwar, Live Mint

16 November 2018

When I get stressed from words, or trying to frame something stressful in words, I often, quite suddenly, become very sleepy.

As I read Sohaila Abdulali’s new book What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, I found that I would often be holding the book open in my hands and doze off into a dark, black sleep. My guess is that my mind was trying to escape from having to consciously think about rape and sexual assault. A vague anxiety would get triggered in me.

If this is a subconscious response to just reading other people’s stories and experience, imagine what it is like to be the victim of sexual assault. To have to find a way to survive, to seek justice, to rebuild one’s trust and deal with recurring trauma. To have to console the distress of others. To tell one’s story and have to face the confusion, wrath and callousness of those who are unable to deal with your truth.

“Rape is no different from any other trauma,” writes Abdulali. “You can’t make it unhappen. No matter how much you heal, you can never be unraped, any more than you can be undead.” The trauma returns repeatedly in the survivor’s life.

Abdulali was gang-raped over three decades ago when she was 17-years-old. Four men had overpowered her and a male friend she was with. Through a long, gruesome night, they raped her, wounded both of them and left them alive only after the terrified victims managed to convince them that they would never speak of the crime to anyone else.

“I must be missing the Shame Gene that other Indian women are born with, because, for all the guilt, horror, trauma and confusion that followed my rape, it never occurred to me that I had anything to be ashamed of,” writes Abdulali.

Three years later, she wrote a first person account of the crime that was published in Manushi, a women’s magazine. Her undergraduate thesis was on rape and her first job out of college was at a rape crisis centre in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“If we don’t put it out there, this conversation will always be muted,” Abdulali quotes a marital rape survivor to explain why she has felt compelled to write and talk about rape, even as she remains determined to never allow the assault by four strangers to define her.

“Words are the enemy of impunity,” writes Abdulali. “They can create real change.“

In the same chapter she adds, “But words are also a luxury.”

To talk about sexual abuse takes courage, she reiterates. For many survivors, speaking up can be lethal. For some, their livelihood may be at stake. For others, speaking up about incest or rape can literally mean death. “I want to be very clear that it is never a victim’s obligation to speak up, or report, or do anything but survive. Her first responsibility is getting through it.”

Throughout the book, Abdulali’s analysis is clear-eyed, unsentimental and searingly realistic. She is unafraid to repeat that she doesn’t know the answers to the questions she raises. She insists on underlining nuance again and again.

Abdulali refuses to divide the world into a permanent battleground of men versus women, or even good people versus bad people. She articulates the connection between rape and desire, violence and sex. She insists that it is important to verbalize the dynamics of date rape and violent stranger rape without diminishing the horror of both. We cannot influence the minds of others until we learn to examine the complexity of human motivations.

It is here that Abdulali’s gift as a writer comes to the rescue. She creates pauses to express rage, fury, confusion and even ennui. She wishes she were writing a book about art and music instead of rape. She gives the reader a glimpse into the fear that still revisits her unexpectedly, slamming into her with a rush of sheer terror.

Yet, this is a book that is as much about happiness as it is about destruction. It is also a tribute to Abdulali’s parents. Her father who wrapped her in his arms after she had been gang-raped and asked her, “What do you want? We’ll do whatever you want.” Her mother who tried to discourage her from working as a rape crisis counsellor, but when Abdulali got the job, joined her team every afternoon with cake and “just sat there, knitting implacably against fear and horror and isolation.”

This is a book about rape but it is also a book about the rest of life.

“Hi, I’m Manassah. I was raped, I’m happy. I’m not happy I was raped, but I’m happy,” Abdulali quotes a survivor who introduces himself with these words every time he starts a talk. He wants all of him to be seen together.

Abdulali insists on dealing with the totality of life—what Zorba the Greek had called “the full catastrophe”. Birdsong and brutality don’t cancel each other out—they co-exist. She refuses to step back from paradoxes that may be hard to categorize, from realities too complex to process. There is no right way to heal, she writes.

Some people are destroyed by rape, most are not, Abdulali has learnt. They come through it, “wearing with great dignity a mantle of bitter grace.” But they shouldn’t have to, she reminds us. And they certainly shouldn’t have to do it alone.

With this book, Abdulali hopes to end some of the silence around rape, to illuminate the shadows. “I want to let some light back in,” she writes, handing over the rest of the responsibility to the reader. It is the rest of the world that is culpable in the silence around rape. This book spells this out clearly.

Allow yourself to be immersed in Sohaila Abdulali’s words. There is hope and laughter here, there is redemption and forgiveness in the stories narrated. There is humour, compassion, wisdom and light on these pages. The author’s search for answers is bound to resonate with yours and mine.

View source

Business Standard

16 November 2018

On the night of December 16, 2012, two of my friends— a man and a woman — had gone to watch Life of Piat a movie theatre in South Delhi. Failing to make it in time for the last Metro, they decided to take an autorickshaw and my male friend had to accompany
the woman right to her doorstep. There is nothing unusual with this account, except when they woke up the next day to a chilling account of a young woman’s gang-rape and brutal assault. She was watching the same film in the same theatre, possibly even the same
show. And yet, her night ended so violently different from my friends’.

Most people in Delhi would remember where they were when they heard the news of the 2012 gang rape case. Widespread protests followed, the Justice Verma Committee was set up and the government announced the Nirbhaya Fund, a non-lapsable, Rs 10- billion corpus dedicated to women’s safety.

For Sohaila Abdulali, travelling on a train from Boston to New York, a young woman’s rape had an entirely different impact. An article Ms Abdulali wrote for Manushi 30 years ago had become viral on social media. This piece detailed her ordeal as a 17-year-old gang-rape survivor in 1980. In three decades, Ms Abdulali had learnt to academically engage with and detach herself from her own trauma, but it all came crashing down in 2012. Her phone rang incessantly and her inbox was choked with emails from friends, family, rape survivors and the ubiquitous trolls.

Ms Abdulali’s book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, is a product of her
nuanced engagement with the subject of rape. It would be naïve to assume that she is
qualified to write a book on sexual assault solely because of her own experience with it. If
that were the case, countless women in India would be churning out books by the hour.
While her own experience is a constant reference point in this book, her ability to examine
rape as though it were a tangible, three-dimensional object comes from her theses on the
subject, protesting for change, raising funds and working with survivors at the rape crisis
centre in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

What We Talk About… is a book like no other for various reasons. For one, as Ms Abdulali
points out in the Introduction, this book is not a compilation of essays, does not fit into the
sociology or psychology genres, cannot qualify as research nor is it a memoir. As she
exultantly declares, “This is just what I want, because in this space lies my freedom.” The
book, she adds, explores both what we say about rape and what we don’t. Second, it raises
questions about rape survivors, rapists, about empathy and loss of power and it defiantly
answers none. “In this book, I will contradict myself. Rape is always a catastrophe. Rape is
not always a catastrophe. Rape is like any other crime. Rape is not like any other crime. It’s
all true.” But despite its myriad contradictions and needling questions, Ms Abdulali’s prose
is in no way confused or confusing.

She uses pithy phrases to put forth piercing arguments, offering a degree of refreshing
perspective that at once emotionally charged and objective. For instance, in a chapter titled “The official version”, Ms Abdulali writes about the time when she was called for jury duty in the US for a rape case. As is the norm, the judge asked if anyone had been or knew
someone who was sexually assaulted. Ms Abdulali was one of the several people who
raised their hands. She was called into the room for a brief interrogation and was soon judged unfit to be an unbiased member of the jury. “If you’ve been raped, then you can’t
have an opinion about it because you’re too biased, too emotional, too close to it. Yes, I
know. Crazy. But true,” she writes. She goes on to talk about the language in which rape is
defined, the way in which a criminal or a survivor is addressed and how the official version
is important no matter the statue of limitations on the crime. In her own case, the official
version states that nothing happened on the night she was raped.

Ms Abdulali is joyously irreverent and does not shy away from using colloquial phrases
such as “the system universally sucks” or “d*** conquers all”. For an (the) Indian readership particularly, calling a spade a spade is the need of the hour.  There is enough anecdotal evidence from the reaction around #metoo that suggests that we are still a country not equipped to comprehensively talk about and deal with the issue of gender-based violence.

What We Talk About… not only sets the record straight, but it also explores the yet
unthinkable idea that a survivor’s life isn’t ruined after he or she is raped, that his or her
identity lies beyond the victim checkbox. Remarkable is too feeble a word to describe Ms
Abdulali’s courage, surreal is a misplaced word to define something that is so firmly rooted
in the reality of our times and delightful seems rather inappropriate an adjective for a book
about unimaginable pain. And yet, all three capture the essence of Ms Abdulali’s book that
resolutely escapes all efforts to be pegged.

The AU Review

8 November 2018

Combining memoir, social science, and collected stories, author Sohaila Abdulali provides readers with a well-researched exploration of the many discursive threads surrounding rape and sexual assault. It is, quite simply, a vital piece of literature for the post #MeToo world and beyond.

All around the world, definitions differ, and coping mechanisms vary, making the topic both black and white AND full of shades of grey. The goal of What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape is not to narrow that definition. Indeed, far be it for anyone to tell someone how to respond to their own trauma. Instead, the goal is to explore the jarring impact of these mismatched ideas, of the dangers of differentiating between good girls and bad girls, and of the problems inherent in telling people how not to get raped instead of defining consent and, pretty much, just telling people not to rape. Throughout this short book, Abdulali, drawing on both her own experiences as a gang rape survivor and as former head of a Boston rape crisis centre, as well as extensive research, eloquently examines how the way we choose to talk about rape impacts our ability to understand what is happening, judge how it should be punished, and empathise with survivors.

The reality is that our general view of rape, what it is, who it affects, and who perpetrates it is so narrow, so contradictory, and so damaging that the aftermath can seem worse than the crime, with victims made to feel like they must rank their suffering against that of other survivors, or, worse still, feel that they themselves were responsible in some way. What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape rages fiercely against that, filled to the brim with stories of men and women who suffered not just during or as a result of their assaults, but also when they tried to get on with their lives after the fact. Whether choosing silence and repression or speaking out and risking everything, the evidence Abdulali has gathered is clear: the odds are stacked against survivors, and not just in the courts.

Abdulali has a wry and occasionally quite blunt sense of humour and when you’re dealing with such heavy, sensitive subject matter, it’s an absolute godsend. There are moments when you can almost picture her eyes all but rolling out of her head as she recounts some of the stories – the outcomes are, after all, what many women have come to expect, and there’s very much an attitude of ‘same shit, different day’, that will likely appeal to readers of forthright writers such as Clementine Ford and Caitlin Moran.

Oh, and speaking of shit: “Flowers grow from shit”. Ultimately, that’s the message we need to take from What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape. Not everyone survives it. Not everyone moves on. But the tales of resilience and rehabilitation that abound in this book make for an affirming exploration of refusing to let an act of sexual violence define a life. It’s a heartening counter to the often stomach-churning trauma discussed throughout, a real testament to the strength of the human spirit.

We absolutely need to talk about rape, but we also need to change how we talk about it and ensure that we wrestle control of that conversation from those who would silence victims with blame and shame. Sohaila Abdulali and writers like her are providing us with the means to do that. Pick up this book and lend a hand, won’t you?

View source

Publishers Weekly

27 October 2018

Sohaila Abdulali has written two novels, three children’s books, a newspaper column, grants, annual reports, web copy, op-eds, blogs, articles—you name it; her eclectic list of credits will be familiar to any freelance writer. But she didn’t intend to write a book like What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, which the New Press will publish in November. As she recounts in the book’s opening pages, Abdulali was raped by four armed men in the summer of 1980, shortly before she left India to start college at Brandeis University. Three years later, back in India to do research on her undergraduate thesis about rape, she published an article about her own rape in the women’s magazine Manushi. It created a stir in India—where it was not culturally acceptable to discuss such things in public—but, Abdulali writes, “the next issue came out, life went on, and 30 years passed.”

Then in December 2012, a female student was raped on a bus in New Delhi and later died from her injuries. “I thought all the protests were great, but it had nothing to do with me,” says Abdulali, who is now 55 and lives on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. “But then somebody found a copy of that article and posted it on Facebook. The whole thing went crazy; the media kept calling and asking, ‘Do you have something to say?’ I really didn’t, but I looked at the piece again and thought, ‘Boy, I was really young then,’ and it seemed like maybe I did have something to say. So when the New York Times asked if I wanted to be interviewed, I said, ‘No, but I might write one piece’—you know, keep it classy.”

Abdulali’s op-ed ran in January 2013 and garnered a huge response. She received emails from some 1,000 rape survivors and made a point of acknowledging each one. She was less responsive to agents who called suggesting that she write a memoir. “The rape isn’t the main thing in my life, and it would be fake to write as if it was,” she says. “So I said no to everybody and moved on. But every time I pitched a book to someone, they would say, ‘Why don’t you write a memoir?’ I got annoyed.”

Abdulali was mad enough to write “a real stinker” to Penguin Random House India editor Manasi Subramaniam. “She wrote me this really intelligent email saying, ‘It doesn’t have to be a memoir, but you have a lot to say on this subject; think about another kind of book.’ It never occurred to me that I could write about rape but not as a ‘rape victim.’ I got excited and wrote this completely crazy proposal, which I ultimately sold to Candida Lacey at Myriad Editions in the U.K.”

The resulting book incorporates the individual stories of rape survivors into a wide-ranging consideration of the multiple issues relating to rape around the world: what constitutes consent, rape as a political weapon, the “rape culture” of male entitlement, the healthiness of anger, and also the possibility of forgiveness. Abdulali writes about these thorny subjects in a blunt, conversational style spiked with the same humor evident in her conversation. “I’m not a terribly serious person, but this message is serious,” she says. “So I just wrote as I talk and trusted Candida to cut parts that were too flippant, which she did. I wanted this balance: rape is serious but, like everything else in life, you can be light. In fact, part of the whole problem, certainly in India, is that if you’re raped, you’re supposed to be overcome with heaviness and die.”

“I found there’s a lot of positivity in how people cope with rape,” Abdulali continues. “My friend Sarah McNally, who owns the McNally Jackson bookstore, put me in touch with her friend Yasmin. She was amazing, talking about how she and her friends would go into a mob situation in Cairo during the Arab Spring, when men were assaulting female demonstrators, and try to rescue women. That made me think, ‘I want to write about heroes,’ so I did. Themes emerged from people’s stories. For example, among the first four people I interviewed, every single one of them told me that when they told someone—mother, lover, whomever—the response was, ‘What did you expect?’ So I wrote a chapter called, ‘What Did You Expect?’ Some of the stories were from friends, some were from the people who wrote me about the op-ed piece; I avoided the ones who seemed immediately traumatized, because it seemed unfair five years later to say, ‘Remember this?’ But I contacted the ones who seemed when they wrote to have come to some kind of terms with it, so I had this pool of survivors from all over the world.”

The abundance of material was initially intimidating, Abdulali says. “I said to Candida, ‘How am I ever going to stop?’ She said, ‘Just write and see what happens.’ I thought, ‘I’m just going to keep going until I’m done.’ I would write and write and write, talk to people and write; I thought it would just go on forever. Then, one day in March, it was done. I actually turned it in ahead of the deadline.”

By that time, Lacey had sold subsidiary rights to Meredith Curnow at Penguin Random House in Australia, Ellen Adler at New Press, and—coming full circle to the initial inspirer of Abdulali’s proposal—Manasi Subramaniam at Penguin Random House India. Each of them made her mark on the text, Abdulali notes: “Candida said, ‘Look, I’m your editor, but why don’t we open it up? Why don’t we send everyone the first draft when we’re done with it and see what they have to say?’ I was nervous at first, but they have been amazing. They all read it three or four times, and they all had extensive comments. They were great, and they were putting in so much time that I felt I had to respond to all the comments: I’m using this, I’m not using this and here’s why not. I got this input from four continents, and they didn’t feel like rivals—I call them my four wives!”

In addition to not intending to write a book about rape, Abdulali says she didn’t intend to write any more nonfiction books after publishing the novels The Madwoman of Jogare and Year of the Tigerin India. “Madwoman was set in the village where my parents lived for many years and sold orchids; that’s the book of my heart, but it’s out of print. Then I thought it would be fun to do a New York novel, so I wrote Year of the Tiger—McNally Jackson actually carries it. I thought of myself as a fiction writer after that; I loved writing fiction. But then I got the column for the Indian newspaper Mint, and I loved that too. And this book was so exciting to write—I cannot tell you what fun I had. So I don’t know what I want to do next. I might write another novel. Maybe this time I can get it published here.”

View source

Staunch Book Prize

27 September 2018

Written post-Weinstein and #MeToo, Sohaila Abdulali has produced a timely, deeply affecting and comprehensive work on the subject of rape. In it she notes how shamefully victims are often treated in comparison to their assailants, and investigates the not-so-simple question of who gets raped and who are the rapists.

One minute calmly, the next in anger, Abdulali challenges misconceptions, prejudices and misogynistic thinking, demanding to know why rape is so prevalent and so casually excused. Using both anecdote and cold statistics, she never flinches from asking tough questions or from bringing us back sharply to the often catastrophic affect rape has on the lives of victims.

Reasoned, realistic and unwavering, gang-rape survivor Sohaila Abdulali is a compassionate voice of authority who refuses to let that experience define her. She has achieved something quite remarkable here – a book that, without sensationalising this highly emotive subject, manages to be both a burning roar of outrage and coolly sensational.

View source


3 September 2018

In 2013, Abdulali wrote an op-ed for the New York Times about her own experience of rape and its aftermath. This book expands that essay, examining rape and rape culture on a global level and in the wake of the #MeToo movement. In the three decades since her rape, Abdulali has worked at a rape crisis center, interviewed survivors from around the world, and written extensively on the topic. But her book is by no means meant to be the final word on rape; she intends, in fact, to start a dialogue. In the introduction, she admits that she may contradict herself but that hers is no simple topic, and individual experiences of and responses to rape vary dramatically. She writes in a conversational style and injects a levity that, rather than betraying the seriousness of her subject, makes it more possible to handle the necessary yet horrifying details of rape of all kinds. An important book working towards an important goal: meaningful and thoughtful discussion of a taboo subject.

View source

Publishers Weekly starred review

3 September 2018

Abdulali (The Year of the Tiger) brings precision, clarity, and style to her exploration of a topic often treated as more confusing than it is. A former coordinator of a rape crisis center, she uses her own brutal rape as a touchstone and springboard for this series of extended reflections on the discourse surrounding rape, with stories from Australia, Egypt, India, Italy, South Africa, and the U.S. Drawing on interviews, personal emails, government reports, and other documents, Abdulali discusses varied scenarios, from date rate, marital rape, and incest to gang rape and war crimes, acknowledging the high rates of rape perpetrated against trans people and sex workers. She approaches debates about consent, responsibility, motive, honor, and prevention with deep compassion, humor, a healthy dose of irony, and anger. Though Abdulali doesn’t claim to have answers, the book’s assertions are clear: victims deserve belief, support, and a fair hearing; rapists, not their targets, are responsible for rape; and survivors can go on to live full and joyful lives. Her clear-eyed assessments, grace, and literary touches will make this book valuable reading for sociologists, therapists, feminists, and anyone who believes women should be able to move through the world free from fear.

View source

Kirkus Reviews

27 August 2018

In an expansion of her popular 2013 New York Times op-ed, novelist and rape survivor Abdulali (Year of the Tiger, 2010, etc.) calls for franker conversation about rape. Modeling discourse about rape that is at once direct and nuanced, unblinking yet subtle, the author tackles the complexities of sexual violence head-on, rightly criticizing simplistic shibboleths. For example, she encourages survivors to talk about their rapes, yet she recognizes that ‘telling’ is sometimes costly and ‘doesn't always come with a reward: comfort, closure, justice’. (Abdulali acknowledges that when discussing her own rape, she has sometimes worried that people think she should just get over it.) The author insightfully asks whether the ‘yes means yes and no means no’ model adequately accounts for a woman who ‘chooses’ to be raped over being killed or a woman who ‘give[s] in’ to a man who holds power in her professional world. Abdulali also calls attention to the ‘institutional…scaffolding’ that allows ‘abuse to flourish’—e.g., the family systems, political and economic arrangements, and workplace norms that deprive women of meaningful agency and that sometimes reward women for going along with systems that are ultimately disempowering. The book is distinguished by its global view; Abdulali includes examples and illustrations from the United States but also from India, South Africa, and Egypt.There's a little bit of snark and dash of self-help. Spliced throughout are shorter chapters (‘A brief pause for ennui’, ‘A brief pause for confusion’) that offer snapshots of the author’s emotional landscape: a feeling of rage that overtakes her, seemingly out of nowhere, while attending a bat mitzvah, or her envy of writers who get to write about bird song and other happy topics while she’s pondering brutality and violence (‘Art! Joy! Life! It’s so much more inviting than discussing getting gonorrhea from one’s older brother or rape as a weapon of war’). Susan Brownmiller, vitally updated.

View source

The Lovely Library Lady 5 star review, Bookstagram

Book Review: What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape - Sohaila Abdulali
Book Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ (see star explanations in my highlights!)
I don't think any review that I could write would do this title justice. Abdulali, the author of this book, has dedicated her life to studying all aspects of sexual violence. As a rape survivor herself, her dedication to helping others overcome similar situations is inspiring. What I liked most about this book is that it does not just focus on sexual assault in the United States. Abdulali uses case studies from all over the world and shows how different cultures handle sexual violence. This title was informative and I really enjoyed the writing style the author decided to use. Unlike other books about this topic, Abdulali writes with an informal tone. It is almost like you are sitting and having a conversation with her instead of reading a book. I'm sure you can tell this from the title, but there are descriptive stories of sexual violence in this book. I wanted to mention this in my review in case this topic is triggering for you.

View source

Buying options