What We Talk About When We Talk about Rape

Review From User :

A book every man should read, written with compassion and power and managing to maintain balance. Abdulali describes herself thus:

"A brown bisexual middle-aged atheist Muslim survivor immigrant writer without a Shame Gene"

She knows of what she writes having survived a gang rape by four men when she was seventeen and living in India. One of the strengths of the book is that it draws on the stories of women throughout the world, not just from Europe and the US. Abdulali talks about the #MeToo movement, which took off while she was writing:

"I'm not qualified to talk about whether it has the capacity to revolutionize society, since I'm a complete social media misfit. But of course it should! Anything, in any medium, that connects women and helps amplify their voices on this issue, is fantastic, as far as I'm concerned. If one lone woman spoke out for the first time about sexual abuse, that's already a success."

Abdulali has worked for a rape crisis centre and with rape survivors for many years and draws on her experience with many women and some men. She talks about the complexity of rape and the feelings related to it. This is illustrated by an extended quote:

"In the fall of 2017, the international news was suddenly full of women who were abused and terrorized by men, who stayed in relationships (personal, professional) with their abusers and have said they had conflicting feelings. This may sound confusing, and I've had friends express doubts to me about how severely these women were really victimised.
Maybe it wasn't so bad
No, no, no. This is a tough one to grasp, I know, so I repeat: no, no, no. How you act with your rapist afterwards, and even how you might feel about your rapist afterwards, doesn't indicate the seriousness of either the crime or your trauma.
In the midst of my own shock and pain all those years ago, I felt a fugitive pang for the people who raped me. I had no history with them. They were strangers full of hostility and rage and I had nothing in common with them. I looked into their eyes and felt sick with panic. But I also felt a weird compassion.
I think calling it Stockholm Syndrome and labelling it a pathology or a dysfunctional response is too simplistic. I didn't like them, or sympathise, or understand. But I did see that in some odd way they were fellow human beings.
And they were not happy. They were not having a fine old time, out for a jolly gang-bang. Maybe some men have fun committing rape, but these men weren't. It was all terrifying for me, but they were also tormented, and I couldn't help noticing that and feeling a tiny chord of empathy.
Oddly enough, this might have been what saved my life that day. Their plan was to kill us, my friend and me. I talked and talked and talked-I've never talked that much before or since. I forgot that I was supposed to be a shy kid. I talked about how I knew they were good people, we were all brothers and sisters, blah blah ...
Let me be very clear, I did not think they were good people or that we were brothers and sisters. I thought, and still do, that they were extremely bad people. They were malign, brutal, and vicious. But it was the only way I could think of to get them to see me as someone they couldn't destroy. Or themselves as people who couldn't kill. And perhaps the only way I could do that was to believe it a tiny bit myself.
If the world were different and I had seen them in court, would I have felt sorry for them I have no idea. I'm just pointing out that it makes perfect sense to me when I see photographs of famous women smiling and hugging men whom they later point out as rapists. The fact that you have confused feelings about the person who hurt you doesn't make you guilty. It makes you human."

Abdulali asks a lot of relevant questions; Is rape always a life-defining event Does rape always symbolize something Is rape worse than death Is rape related to desire Who gets raped Is rape inevitable Is one rape worse than the other Who rapes What is consent How do you recover a sense of safety and joy How do you raise sons Who gets to judge
This should be required reading, it is well written, very important and analyses the culture and attitudes around rape with anger, cold calm humour and humanity.

“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


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