Sohaila Abdulali was born in Mumbai and moved to the United States with her family when she was a teenager. She has a BA from Brandeis University in economics and sociology and an MA from Stanford University in communication. Her undergraduate thesis dealt with the socio-economics of rape in India. She is the author of two novels as well as children’s books and short stories. She lives in New York with her family.
Her book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, was published by Myriad in October 2018.
Interviews and Features
When It Comes To Rape, We’re Still Asking The Wrong Questions by Sanjukta Bose
“We still persist in thinking that some women can’t be raped. Especially ‘bad’ women. If bad women are raped, it doesn’t fit our victim narrative, and so we’d rather ignore it. Or call it sex.”
The way we treat rape survivors also has to do with the way we imagine who gets raped and by whom. When women are raped, we ask them what they could have done to warrant such an action. What were they wearing? Why were they out so late? Were they drinking? We think the solution to rape is to lock up women, to teach girls to occupy as little space as possible, to not exercise their sexual freedom.
JFA Human Rights Journal feature What We Talk About...
‘Kiran wore a rather fabulous sparkly green blouse on the day we spent together. She took me to Gokulnagar, where she and other sex workers live and work in colourful houses set in a row backing on to an undeveloped parcel of land. It was a peaceful morning scene, with kids running around, smells of cooking and washing, women clustered around a sleeping newborn baby. The baby was so cute I pulled out my camera to take a picture, only to be smacked down. It’s bad luck to take pictures of babies with their eyes closed.’
Bookstagrammer @iambookaanan on What We Talk About by Sohaila Abdulali
‘A woman walks into a hardware store. It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it’s actually the beginning of one of the videos made by the “It’s On Us” campaign to demonstrate just how cracked some of our justifications for rape are.’
The campaign video shared by @iambookaanan can be watched in full HERE.
Speak Up: Conversations about Women's Issues with Sohaila Abdulali
Sohaila Abdulali talks to Revolution Books, New York
Sohaila talks about Indian brothels, trauma dentists in Australia, rape survivors and the new normal. Thank you to Revolution Books in New York who arranged this online event. Watch again here.
Sohaila Abdulali and Ashwini Desphpande on measures to curb domestic violence during global lockdown
Sohaila Abdulali joins fellow author Ashwini Desphpande with straight-forward and urgent measure governments can put in place to curb domestic abuse and sexual violence during the global lockdown.
– There is a shadow pandemic on the rise and it is following the trail of the spread of COVID19 from China to Europe and the USA – rising cases of domestic abuse against women.
– In India the National Commission of Women has seen a spike in reported cases of domestic abuse during the lockdown. This is worrying particularly because there is massive underreporting of domestic abuse in India.
– Underreporting occurs because women are scared, lack resources and/or self-confidence, don’t know about hotlines, are culturally conditioned to believe abuse is acceptable. Data from the National Family Health Survey revealed that 52% of women think it is okay for their husbands to beat them up. In contrast, 42% of the men think beating their wives is par for the course.
Read their article in full here.
Tell Me About Your Father podcast with Sohaila Abdulali
Sohaila Abdulali, author of What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, talks to much-heralded US podcast, Tell Me About Your Father about growing up in an eccentric, upper-class Muslim family in India and how her father played a central role her in recovery from a sexual assault when she was a teenager.
Interview with Elle magazine, Turkish Edition
Sohaila Abdulali on Rosa Distrito
‘Why don’t you talk about rape? Why not remove the taboo from the topic and finally accept that the violation continues due to the reluctance to speak clearly and clearly about it? Why the fear of authorities, teachers and parents to treat it?’
Read more HERE.
Nederlands Daglbad; Let's Talk About Rape
Ruth van der Kolk wrote an article for Nederlands Dagblad, focusing it on Sohaila Abdulali’s integral work towards influencing and challenging the way we discuss rape and sexual abuse. You can read it in full HERE. Sohaila’s book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape was published in 2018 and is available now.
Houston Jaipur Literature Festival, Tribune India
“JLF brings together speakers from the Occident and the Orient. We discuss and debate issues that may emerge from the primary theme of the book and place these issues within the context of local, national, and international perspectives,” Sanjoy Roy, festival producer.
Both U.S. Jaipur Literature Festivals follow the main literary event which took part this January in India, at which Sohaila also spoke.
In Conversation with Sohaila Abdulali for Jaipur Bites
Listen to Sohaila Abdulali, author of What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, in conversation with writer/host Lakshya Datt. On this episode of the Jaipur Lit Festival Podcast, Sohaila shares what it’s been like to share her book with people around the world, and what stories readers have shared with her along the way. Sohaila was guest speaker at both JLF Houston and JLF Colorado. LISTEN IN FULL HERE.
No.1 on Good Reads Nonfiction 2019 list
Dazed Digital with Catriona Morton
Sohaila Abdulali was recently invited to discuss sexual assault with Catriona Morton, writer and sexual assault survivor, on BBC Radio 5. In this article, Dazed the value of creating platforms which support survivors, offering safe and encouraging spaces to talk about sexual abuse and how Catriona’s new podcast, After: Surviving Sexual Assault has created just that. The article highlights Sohaila’s book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape to underline the value of conversation.
Sohaila Abdulali in Conversation with Marcella van der Kruk
Sohaila Abdulali and Cynthia Enloe on BBC Radio 5
Authors Sohaila Abdulali, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, and Cynthia Enloe, The Big Push, are joined by Jane Thurlow and Catriona Morton to discuss sexual assault on BBC Radio 5. Listen HERE.
‘Rather than focussing on making women more brave to speak out we need to focus on what the rest of us are doing to make it so difficult to speak out. The moment a woman speaks out about being raped, or a man or a boy, the focus is on them and half the time you forget to talk about the fact that there’s a criminal out there who did this.’ Sohaila Abdulali
‘It’s not only the assaulters who should be accountable. Complicit are all the enablers: people who make it hard to report, people who give a culture of disbelief to prosecutors who only want to win their cases they don’t want to actually believe victims unless they think they can win the case.’ Cynthia Enloe
‘Sohaila’s book is absolutely amazing, unlike anything I’ve ever read before… I would urge everybody to read it. It’s about feminism and women’s place in society, not only about rape.’ Jane Thurlow
Sohaila Abdulali at Waterstones Tottenham Court Road
Sohaila Abdulali recently toured her book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, to the Netherlands and the UK for a set of talks and signings. We’re grateful to photographer Lisa Lee for taking photographs at Sohaila’s event at Waterstones Tottenham Court Road, where she was in conversation with author and founder of Clear Lines Festival, Winnie M. Li.
Sohaila Abdulali on Channel 4 News Live
Sohaila Abdulali was invited to talk with social affairs editor Jackie Long live on Channel 4 News. They touch on victim blaming, speaking out and how our attitude to rape is changing. Watch in full HERE.
'Feminism in India and China' with Sohaila Abdulali at Adelaide Festival
‘I was really terrified of making light of it. I wrote a little chapter called ‘a brief pause for horror’, to remind everyone that it’s horrible. I have five brief pauses in the book: horror, fury, terror, ennui and confusion. That fulfilled the purpose of telling the story in all its complexity but bringing it down so we can talk about it without being overwhelmed.’
'How to deal with a rape survivor without worsening the trauma' by Agencia Patricia Galvao
‘In an interview with VEJA, Sohaila Abdulali described the situation as a rape of Bollywood (a kind of Hollywood in India), with violence, aggressive men and death threats. But, on a daily basis, the most common cases are those caused by partners. “I do not believe all men are capable of raping. For soldiers, who use abuse as a war crime, it can be part of a function. In a relationship, it can be part of the dynamic, the will to have sex. What I know is that it’s a choice. It is not something natural, it is not something that men can not avoid, as if it were a biological impulse. They can avoid yes. They can control themselves, ” she said.’
Read more on their website.
'8 Quotes by Muslim Writers That Have Bolstered My Feminism' on Book Riot
“Who gets raped? Who do we think gets raped? Are girls who can shit and vomit on command immune? What about sex workers? Even if we acknowledge that anyone can be raped, who deserves to be raped? When are we willing to call it rape? At what point do you lose sympathy of your peers? When you’ve drunk too much, when you’ve had sex with x number of men in the past, when you’re just not a nice person? … Maybe acknowledging that all sorts of women get raped by all sorts of men messes too much with the comfortable narrative that says only good girls get raped. Oh, but it also says good girls don’t get raped. Both these things can’t be true, and sex workers aren’t good girls, so how can they be raped, and if they’re raped, they’re human and hurt, and we can’t have that. So let’s just shut our eyes and maybe the whole confusing thing will go away.”
Taken by Force. Sohaila Abdulali for Brandeis Magazine
Brandeis Magazine feature What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape by Sohaila Abdulali, including an abridged excerpt from the book in which Sohaila questions how we heal from rape, and if a world without rape possible.
Respect the Woman Who Speaks Out - Sohaila Abdulali on BDC News
Sohaila Abdulali on BDC News: ‘Let’s get real – I have yet to see a single woman anywhere actually gain anything by pointing the finger at a rapist or harasser. So let us accord women speaking out about sexual abuse at least the respect of not starting with the fear that they are out to get men. Historically, in every culture, there is one group that has consistendly lied about rape: Rapists.’ Read in full here.
All About Women Festival, featuring Sohaila Abdulali
‘What #MeToo has done is crumbled the walls that made sexual harassment of all kinds taboo. Today it is acceptable to talk about it. You are listened to. There is engagement.’ Read more here.
The New Press Author Spotlight: Sohaila Abdulali
‘I’ve told stories both of people who have found forgiveness, and of people who carry rage like a hot stone in their chests. Funnily enough, I’m not sure there’s always a tension between the two. If the ultimate aim is to find peace for yourself, then both revenge and mercy are tools you have. Use whatever works. I’m not advocating going out and creating mayhem, but healthy anger is no bad thing.’
Read the entire interview over on The New Press website.
Has #metoo made a difference? All About Women 2019
More than a year in, #metoo has held some powerful men to account. But has it gone far enough, and what are the next steps? Explore how the #metoo movement must evolve to represent women worldwide. This particular discussion from All About Women 2019 features Michelle Obama’s former Chief of Staff Tina Tchen, New York Times journalist Emily Steel and author of What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape Sohaila Abdulali. With Lenore Taylor of Guardian Australia they reflect on the wins of the movement so far and how to create longlasting change.
Podcast - Sohaila Abdulali on The Drawing Room
on The Drawing Room, Abdulali talks about the importance of conversation and her new book What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape.Hear the podcast
A Shrill Reading List on Rakuten Overdrive
Rakuten Overdrive recommends What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape in a new reading list. Read the full list here.
Sohaila Abdulali: Consent and Power
The Sydney Morning Herald: Twelve lessons learned at the 2019 All About Women festival
The Sunday Morning Herald shares insights from All About Women Festival, held at Sydney Opera House, in which author Sohaila Abdulali featured.
The #MeToo movement exposed hundreds of predators, but the exposition of sexual harassment, assault, and misconduct isn’t enough. In the #MeToo: Year Two discussion, author Sohaila Abdulali said: “It’s fantastic to have the conversation, but the old systems which allowed the abuse are still there.”
Indian Link feature Sohaila Abdulali's event at the Wheeler Centre, Melbourne
“What are we talking about, with rape?” Abdulali asked. “We’re talking about an entire culture of a way that men treat women, and then we all treat each other.”
Rape will continue as long as we are, as she so nicely put it, “mesmerised by patriarchy.”
“You could go out and be marching in the streets and demonstrating against rape, but if you come in and you give your son the first helping, it’s cancelling everything you’ve done.”
Aparna Ananthuni reports back after watching Sohaila at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre. Read the entire article on the Indian Link website.
'Leave no one behind': five things we learned at All About Women
It’s time to include men in the MeToo movement. This was one of the conclusions journalists Emily Steel, Sohaila Abdulali and lawyer Tina Tchen reached as they discussed the next phase of the feminist movement at All About Women last week.
When asked by an audience member about how to counsel men who want to be involved but who were concerned about doing the wrong thing, Tchen acknowledged it was an uncomfortable transition but an important one.
“We are changing very deeply held societal norms about how men and women interact in the workplace and that is to the good,” she said, “but we (as advocates) have to create spaces where men can be part of the conversations. We are not going to solve this without men as allies, without men engaged, and there are many men who want to be part of this conversation.”
Tchen said it was important to help men to engage with this movement productively. “We have to be patient and not jump down the throats of someone who says something in not exactly the right way.”
The panel agreed the backlash was already happening, with Tchen pointing to comments from speaker Anthony Robbins in April 2018 about male employers shying away from hiring attractive women and instead opting for less qualified men. According to Tchen, its about seeing workplace culture as a whole, rather than separating the issues of sexual harassment, diversity inclusion and pay equity.
Steel said the most important thing was to listen to women’s stories. “For so long, we’ve heard these statistics and knew the numbers, but we weren’t really listening to the stories behind that and that’s something that once it’s out of the box, you can’t put back in.”
However, Abdulali cautioned against too much tiptoeing around men. “[This idea of ] men worrying about how they should behave – they should worry!” she said to thunderous applause from the audience. “We worry forever about how we behave, and the men who I’ve talked to who are worried are the ones who should behave … Let’s be real about backlash.”
The Guardian - All About Women Festival, Sydney
‘Indian women were dressing up and fighting wars hundreds of years before there were any suffragettes,’ says Sohaila Abdulali, author of What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape. Backstage at the All About Women festival held in Sydney in March, Guardian Australia posed the same question to Abdulali and three other diverse women: what do outsiders get wrong about your experience of feminism? For Leta Hong Fincher, an expert in China’s emerging feminist movement, it’s that a movement exists there at all. Watch a highlights video here.
Rage, Rape and Revolution at Adelaide Writers' Week
‘Women’s anger – and the potential to harness its power to bring about societal change – was the focus of last night’s topical Zeitgeist series session Rage, Rape and Revolution at Adelaide Writers’ Week.’
In Daily: Adelaide’s Independent News discusses a group discussion Sohaila was involved in at the writers’ festival in Adelaide. Read their write-up here.
Podcast - SBS News: Sohaila Abdulali, 'women must keep speaking out'
“At least it’s getting talked about when it never was talked about much before,” she told SBS News. “I wish I could say that it means there is now less rape, but there’s no way of knowing that.”
Sohaila spoke to SBS about her rape and why she made sure to share her story and to use her book to do the same for other women who had been raped and not heard.Hear the podcast
Podcast - Sohaila Abdulali on ABC: Changing how we talk about rape
Sohaila shares her life with ABC, delving into growing up in India, her family life and how rape changed her story.Hear the podcast
The Saturday Paper Sohaila on survival
“When I started writing this book,
nobody was talking about rape. And even in
that short time, people are now starting to want to speak about their experiences and
understand them. That people want to
understand and talk about it – makes me feel
hopeful. There’s a lot in the world to feel
hopeless about too, but there’s still hope.”
Sohaila in the Guardian
‘I know rape is entrenched, quotidian, epidemic. I know many people are clueless, malign, brutal. I know all this because I have seen all this. I see the trolls on Twitter, and roll my eyes at the newspaper headlines unable to sing a different tune, that insist on making me a sad downtrodden victim. But I also see some other things, things that would not have been possible when I wrote my first piece: My 80-year-old uncles and aunts showing up at my book launch radiating support and love, after almost four decades of not saying a word about the subject. My mother’s driver, hearing about my book, casually asking, “Have you mentioned your own rape?” The woman in Mumbai who wept while asking what to do about her father who loves her but is smothering her for her own protection. The hundreds of people in Jaipur who broke into spontaneous applause when I talked about rapists being ordinary men. The young man who stood up in the audience and said, “What can we do, Mam? What can we do to make it better?”’
Outlook Magazine's choice for February
The Motherload Book Club features Sohaila
The Motherload Book Club features What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape in a line up of nonfiction feminist titles.
Rape: It's a Man Thing
‘It’s important to understand rape in part because every victim is someone’s sister, daughter, mother, friend. Rape is like that proverbial pebble in a pond that causes ripples far and wide – except it is not a pebble but a boulder, a giant calamity that crashes explosively into someone’s life, and then flings shrapnel into her present, her future, her lovers, her children present and future, her job, her soul, her day, her night, her year, her life. It is never, as the Stanford rapist Brock Turner’s father said, just “20 minutes of action.” It is a trauma that requires everyone in her life to help her come through. That includes you.’
Sohaila wrote an article for The New Press on rape being an issue which shouldn’t just be resigned to the Feminist Studies section, but on every nonfiction shelf in every bookstore.
Best of 2018: Nonfiction books by Scroll.In
Sohaila’s title, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, was featured by Scroll.In on their round up of nonfiction tiles to best understand India and the world.
A survivor shares how we can have better conversations around rape
Sohaila was interviewed by Hello Giggles, a blog for independent women.
HG: ‘You also talk about the intricacies of “yes means yes and no means no.” Can you explain what people get wrong about that, and why it’s so complicated?’
SA: ‘I think this has a lot to do with gender. Women are taught to please and be polite. Sometimes we say yes to the most awful things just to keep the peace. And sometimes we say no because we don’t believe we deserve pleasure. In a world where we are taught sex is for men to enjoy and women to endure, it’s no wonder everyone gets baffled by each other’s signals. This is not an excuse for rapists—it’s simply an acknowledgement that language is complicated, and that a “yes” under duress (not knowing your rights; worrying about your job; thinking it’s your fault for being in this situation, etc.) isn’t the same as a “yes” given freely.’
Australian Women's Weekly
VICE ran an extract of What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape – read it over on their website now.
The Week Podcast
‘Sohaila talks about how she told her daughter about, how her own parents normalised rape and that helped her get over what happened to her. She also talks about how she does not want to centre her entire life around that single incident and hopes that more victims are given control to recount their stories in a way they are comfortable with.’
Listen to The Week podcast with Sohaila in full here.
But what does #MeToo have to do with it? Everything
The Hindu Business Line discussed the array of amazing feminists who featured at Jaipur Literature Festival, including Sohaila, Germaine Greer, Mary Beard, Parvati Sharma, Ira Mukhoty, Audrey Truschke and Rana Safvi. Read the full article here.
Rape victim should be made powerful with support from family & friends, says Sohaila Abdulali
According to Abdulali, a rape victim should not be frowned upon, rather be made powerful with support from family and friends and even the close ones should know how to handle the delicate situation.
“Be horrified but don’t fall off your chair that she has to take care of you. Believe her, no ifs, ands, or buts. Let her take the lead, if she wants to talk Ok, if she wants to be quiet Ok. If she wants to cry Ok, If she wants to joke Ok, If she wants to throw things Ok. Ask her what she wants, no need to help.”
“Encourage her to get help—medical, legal, physical mental—but don’t force it. Don’t ask for details but let her know you are open if she wants to elaborate. Don’t question her judgement, let her frame it the way she wants. Don’t try to understand, just be there,” were a few of the ways Abdulali said a situation like rape and the victim’s emotions should be handled.
Read the entire piece here on DNA India.
Sohaila in discussion with K A Johny at Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters
‘I am strongly opposed to capital punishment in any form, for anyone. As for hanging rapists, it just seems stupid to assume that this will change anything, except make a statement that we are a barbaric society. ‘
A brief extract from one of Sohaila’s talks at the Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters 2019.