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 novel, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, was published by Myriad in October 2018.
Interviews and Features
The Sydney Morning Herald: Twelve lessons learned at the 2019 All About Women festival
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, Sohaila Abdulali said: “It’s fantastic to have the conversation, but the old systems which allowed the abuse are still there.”
The Sunday Morning Herald shares insights from All About Women Festival, held at Sydney Opera House, in which Sohaila Abdulali featured. Read their report online.
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.
Sohaila Abdulali at Politics and Prose Bookstore
Sohaila was invited to Politics and Prose bookstore to discuss What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape in front of a live audience. Watch her here.
Sohaila Abdulali on PBS: Victims of sexual violence are more than ‘broken beings’.
‘We need the words. We need to train guys that you should care whether the woman’s into it, and we need to train ourselves that it matters what we want, because words are great, but I think there’s more going on with consent.’
Read the full transcript or watch Sohaila’s interview with Jeffrey Brown on the PBS website.
FLOWERS GROW IN SH*T: TALKING WITH SOHAILA ABDULALI
‘Sohaila Abdulali has no “Shame Gene.” The “brown bisexual middle-aged atheist Muslim survivor immigrant writer,” or so she posits herself in her new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, has struggled for years to understand why so many rape survivors—including herself—are shamed for their silence, for their outspokenness, for their very existence. Abdulali argues she wasn’t born with a “Shame Gene,” thus justifying why she “has the nerve” to write this challenging, nuanced and altogether triumphant book.’
Read the entire interview with Sohaila and Lauren Puckett on The Rumpus here.
‘It’s not a survivor’s duty to cure rape’
‘Then the other thing is — it’s not anybody’s duty to speak. It’s not a survivor’s duty to speak out and cure rape, like an extra added burden on us. I’m finding this now with the book, I love talking about the book, I’m really interested in this topic. But I don’t really feel it’s my role to have the answers.’
Read Sohaila’s full interview with Mary Elizabeth Williams on Salon here.
Sohaila on This is Hell, discussing rape and the conversation about rape.
‘I think it would transform the world [if we were to have sensible conversations about rape], because I think we lose a lot by not talking about it. There are two sides to it – there’s the victim’s side and the perpetrator’s side. On the victim’s side, we lose a lot because as anyone who has been raped knows, it’s really awful to feel alone, like no-one understands you and like there’s no help; just to feel bad about it and to have no recourse. The other thing we do by not talking about it is to give a free pass to rapists, because we act like they don’t exist, or we pretend they’re out there and there’s nothing we can do about it. That way we take away the opportunity to actually do something, to change society, to change how we talk to our kids. I think we lose a lot.’
Listen to the full interview here.
Podcast - Publishers Weekly: Sohaila Abdulali
When Sohaila Abdulali started writing What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, she thought she was writing an “outlying book on an outlying topic.” Then the #MeToo movement happened. Publishers Weekly talked to Abdulali about how the book came to be, what she learned, and how the conversation about rape changed while she was writing it.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape was one of ‘Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2018.Hear the podcast
Recent Books of Interest to Women Scholars
Sohaila’s title, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, was featured in the WIA Report of Recent Books of Interest to Women Scholars. Intrigued which other titles made the list? Have a look here.
The Telegraph article by Sohaila Abdulali
‘Most rapists are men who choose to rape. That counts more than whether their victims are tough or weak, rich or poor – all those factors come into play, but that one choice is at the heart of the matter. And while men from New York to New Delhi make that choice, we all have a rape problem.’
Read Sohaila’s article in The Telegraph here.
Bustle: Taking A Global View of The #MeToo Movement
‘If we can’t stick to our ossified expectations of how we are supposed to behave, then we have to rethink everything we know about male privilege, who gets to say yes and no and stop, and both consent and pleasure. It’s very exciting! It implies being able to rethink and redefine how we conduct ourselves in the world.’
Sohaila in conversation with E CE Miller for Bustle. Read the full article here.
Longreads: Sohaila Abdulali
‘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.
Read the full interview over on the Longreads website here.
Podcast - The Brian Lehrer Show: Sohaila AbdulaliHear the podcast
Publishers Weekly: Sohaila Abdulali Tells Stories of Survivors
‘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.’
Read the full article by Publishers Weekly here.
Sohaila discussing What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape.
Electric Lit: A Master Class in Women’s Rage
‘Many of our required reading texts use the author’s personal experience as a starting point for a discussion about larger societal issues. As Abdulali notes, this can make them difficult to categorize properly:
“Essays? Not really. Sociology? Not Learned or Academic enough. Psychology? No, too opinionated. Research? Not comprehensive enough. Memoir? Heaven forbid.”
‘Do you suppose that’s why nonfiction discussing the continued oppression of 51 percent of the world’s population frequently ends up stashed on the “Women’s Studies” shelf in bookstores, as opposed to, say, the “Current Affairs” display?’
Sohaila Abdulali featured on Electric Lit in an article by Kate Harding, discussing how non-fiction, feminist titles end up hidden away and not on the political shelf. Read the entire article here.
BBC World Service: Sohaila Abdulali
‘I got a grant to go back to India and talk about rape, and I think that was one of the most naive things I’ve ever done in my life. I somehow thought I’d show up and find all these people to talk to, who would tell me their stories. In fact, there was a huge amount of denial.’
Sohaila Abdulali on the BBC World Service discussing What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape. Listen again here.
Harper’s Bazaar: Talking About Writing About Rape
‘Just for this lovely moment, I’m living the dream. I’ve spent some months writing a book, had a grand time doing it, and it’s poised to come out all over the world. It might sell; it might not. The dreamy part was working on it, talking to incredible people, typing madly while ignoring the reality that my table is too high and my chair too low and it huts to sit here and why don’t I get a real desk…’
Sohaila discussing What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape in Harper’s Bazaar, Indian- October 2018. You can read the article here: Harper’s Bazaar India, October 2018