What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape

What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape

by Sohaila Abdulali


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What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape is brilliant, frank, empowering, and urgently necessary. Sohaila Abdulali has created a powerful tool for examining rape culture and language on the individual, societal, and global level that everyone can benefit from reading.”
Jill Soloway

In the tradition of Rebecca Solnit, a beautifully written, deeply intelligent, searingly honest—and ultimately hopeful—examination of sexual assault and the global discourse on rape told through the perspective of a survivor, writer, counselor, and activist

After surviving gang-rape at seventeen in Mumbai, Sohaila Abdulali was indignant about the deafening silence that followed and wrote a fiery piece about the perception of rape—and rape victims—for a women’s magazine. Thirty years later, with no notice, her article reappeared and went viral in the wake of the 2012 fatal gang-rape in New Delhi, prompting her to write a New York Times op-ed about healing from rape that was widely circulated. Now, Abdulali has written What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape —a thoughtful, generous, unflinching look at rape and rape culture.

Drawing on her own experience, her work with hundreds of survivors as the head of a rape crisis center in Boston, and three decades of grappling with rape as a feminist intellectual and writer, Abdulali tackles some of our thorniest questions about rape, articulating the confounding way we account for who gets raped and why—and asking how we want to raise the next generation. In interviews with survivors from around the world we hear moving personal accounts of hard-earned strength, humor, and wisdom that collectively tell the larger story of what rape means and how healing can occur. Abdulali also points to the questions we don't talk about: Is rape always a life-definining event? Is one rape worse than another? Is a world without rape possible?

What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape is a book for this #MeToo and #TimesUp age that will stay with readers—men and women alike—for a long, long time.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781620974742
Publisher: New Press, The
Publication date: 11/27/2018
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 174,914
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Sohaila Abdulali was born in Mumbai. She has a BA from Brandeis University in economics and sociology and an MA from Stanford University in communication. She is the author of two novels as well as children’s books and short stories. She lives in New York with her family.

Table of Contents

1. Who do I think I am?

2. Shut up or die

3. The night everything changed

4. Yes, no, maybe, kind of, sort of, not really but perhaps

5. What did you expect?

6. How to save a life

7. The quality of mercy

8. A brief pause for horror

9. A bagful of dentures

10. Keys to the kingdom

11. A brief pause for fury

12. Sometimes a dick is just a dick


13. You spin me right round, baby, right round

14. Stealing freedom, stealing joy

15. A brief pause for ennui and a longing for light

16. My rape is worse than yours

17. Good girls don't

18. Boys will…

19. The official version

20. Polite conversation

21. The full catastrophe

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Both unflinching and nuanced, Abdulali breaks the East/West boundary so often upheld in feminist writing on this subject. Her writing is disruptive and powerful for it—never letting us forget that there is a person who suffers, a body that gets broken, and, when a body is violated, all of society is at risk.
This book could not be more timely, nor could there be a better thinker—
herself a survivor—to write it. If the #metoo campaign is to have any lasting impact for change in women’s circumstances across the world, it will be because of books such as this.’—Preti Taneja, author of We That Are Young

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Sharon_Arundel 4 months ago
This is one of those books that you don’t want to read, yet you know you should read. It’s full of the information regarding actual rapes, trials and the events after being raped for the families and friends. It’s amazing how rape is often considered, excused and even condoned by some people and the country and culture that they grew up in doesn’t always have any bearing on their thoughts and reactions. What is pretty much constant though is the devastation that the victim feels and the social stigma that they are forced to deal with once they have been raped. This is a discussion that we need to have in every society, and we need to desperately change the perspective of those who consider rape to be inconsequential. This book is a wonderful start to that dialogue and is written in such a way that can be easily understood by everyone who reads it.
SchizanthusNerd More than 1 year ago
Content warning: Naturally a book with ‘rape’ in its title is going to come with a content warning from me. This book is confronting so I would caution you to be aware of the potentially triggering nature of the content, but it was one of the best I’ve ever read on the topic. The author considers the difficulty of categorising this book and I agree; it’s a blend of personal experience, other peoples’ experiences and insights. What kept popping into my head as I was reading was that it’s a conversation. I loved Sohaila’s down to earth tone and how she makes this multifaceted and too often silenced experience approachable. Her writing is considered and empathetic. She doesn’t shy away from the gravity of the trauma associated with rape, yet at the same time I came away feeling hopeful and validated. “Discussions about rape are so often irrational, and sometimes outright bizarre. It’s the only crime to which people respond by wanting to lock up the victims. 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.” Although titled ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape’ this book is also about what we don’t talk about when we talk about rape, like how “it’s the weirdest things that can get you. Like dentophobia.” When I was two thirds of the way through this book I’d already recommended it to a counsellor who works for my state’s rape crisis hotline and would recommend it to anyone who has experienced sexual assault, knows someone who has experienced sexual assault, works with people who have experienced sexual assault or want to read an intelligent, thoughtful book about this truly global issue. While there are stories of people from America in this book there are also those from all of those other places that aren’t America, like India, Australia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. There’s also a wonderful cross section of peoples’ experiences, from the poorest and most marginalised to well known cases and celebrities. There were a few sections that seemed a bit disjointed to me and details of some stories were repeated in a couple of chapters, although the repetition did serve to remind me which person’s experience I was reading about. Absent from this book was any mention of women who rape; while uncommon, it does happen, and I would be interested to hear what this author has to say about it. This book is sociological, political, personal and contradictory. Now, contradictory may sound like a criticism but it’s not and as Sohaila expresses, rape and the way we talk about it is contradictory, so to highlight these contradictions is vital to an honest discussion. I loved/hated the “Lose-Lose Rape Conundrum”; it is so infuriatingly accurate: “If you talk about it, you’re a helpless victim angling for sympathy. If you’re not a helpless victim, then it wasn’t such a big deal, so why are you talking about it? If you’re surviving and living your life, why are you ruining some poor man’s life? Either it’s a big deal, so you’re ruined, or it’s not a big deal and you should be quiet.” Thank you so much to NetGalley and The New Press for the opportunity to read this book. My current activism level is set to: Need to do something positive immediately!