What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape is a must read. It’s a no-holds-barred, direct light on rape, on survivors, on rapists, and on our society in general. And it’s brilliantly written. Sohaila Abdulali writes a story that reads like a conversation, peppered with facts and true life stories, as well as references to her own personal experiences. For me it was such a refreshing read, because Sohaila Abdulali talks about rape and sexual assault in the way it should be talked about: without holding back.
That said, there are areas in the book that may be triggering to some, and there is no way most people will be able to read this in one go. With the status (collapse) of this country right now and all of the mayhem flying around on the news, the nomination and subsequent confirmation of a perpetrator of sexual assault to the Supreme Court, even after the survivor testified and subsequently vilified, as well as just trying to get through life in general, I had to read this book in small doses. I’m glad I did because I feel like I got a lot more out of it than if I had sped through it.
There are certain areas that stood out to me so much while reading that I jotted down some notes, but in general each chapter contains very important information, even the interludes. (Interlude on a moment of terror specifically hit me hard). Here are my notes:
Sohaila Abdulali does such a fantastic job of giving the survivor a platform, and not just from a standpoint of they have a voice too, but by showing how widespread victim blaming is, how we look at everything in black and white, and how each time we mention choice we base that choice on our own perceptions without ever putting ourselves in the place of the victims. This is something that always irks me terribly, when I hear the “but she could have...”, the “but why didn’t she walk away...” etc etc. The onus needs to be on the perpetrator, NOT the victim. We need to stop scrutinizing the victim and start scrutinizing the perpetrator. Sohaila Abdulali is so right about this. So right. I know personally that until we do this I won’t be able to speak either, because what stops so many women from speaking, even years later, is the fact that they know they will be judged, even by those who don’t think they are judging.
There are so many areas that I related to, and also areas that were very revealing. It was only recently that I equated the fear I feel on the dentist chair to another fear I felt as a child, and Sohaila Abdulali explains the correlation so well. It’s the same feeling I have had with doctors and why I avoid male doctors, especially after some experiences in pregnancy and childbirth that left me feeling even more violated than I felt before.
Sohaila Abdulali was born in India and survived a brutal rape as a young woman. She went on to work as a rape counselor and public speaker, amongst other things, and also spent a lot of her academic life studying and writing about rape and rape culture. When the #MeToo movement moved to the forefront in 2017, an old magazine article she had written 30 years before where she talks about her rape resurfaced. Sohaila Abdulali then went on to write this book even though she wondered whether it was a safe thing for her to do seeing as she mainly has been able to move on in her life. I am personally so happy that she did write this book as it has been very, very helpful to me, and in general I think it should be assigned literature for all to read.
If we don’t talk about rape we will never see a change.
Thank you Sohaila Abdulali!
And thank you Netgalley and The New Press for the advance copy (and the physical galley I won in a competiton on Instagram).