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Laura Barcella

‘I Really Hope a Lot of Men Read It’: Sohaila Abdulali on How We Talk About Rape

Garu Student Union of Bangladesh demanding the arrest of a rapist accused of raping an indigenous girl, April 14, 2014. Photo: Zakir Hossain Chowdhury/NurPhoto/Corbis via Getty Images.

Laura Barcella | Longreads | November 2018 | 12 minutes (3,191 words)

 

In a 2015 documentary called “India’s Daughter,” one of Jyoti Singh Pandey’s rapists, Mukesh Singh, gave a disturbing jail-cell interview in which he placed the blame for his crime squarely on his dead victim. “A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy,” he said.

Singh’s quote is despicable, but it neatly summarizes many of the internalized myths that women all over the world walk around with each day: that women have a say in whether we end up brutalized. That we can twist our own fate by making simple choices like staying home at night, or not wearing skirts, or abstaining from drinking. It helps rapists rationalize their actions, and it makes women feel like we retain a semblance of control over what happens to us. Of course, it’s not true.

What do you think about when you think about rape? If you’re someone who has also been a victim, you might think about power, the nebulous lines of control. You might think about the outfit you wore and the plan you’d made for innocent fun with a guy you met twice before. You might think about drinking wine on the patio, of consent given and later revoked. You might think about ripped underwear; the dirt beneath the nails of his callused, unfeeling fingers; and the massive blue bruises you got in places you don’t remember being bruised before or since. You might think about the shame and humiliation of the morning after, of not knowing who to tell or what hotline to call or what to preserve in a garbage bag as “evidence.” You might think about what your friends will say; whether they’ll support your story or find a way to warp it into your fault (“I’ve seen how you act with men when you’re drunk,” “but what did you expect, inviting him over so late?”). You might think about the walk-in clinic you visited afterward and the painful tests you endured there (yes, there was blood). You might think about filing a police report, or you might remember taking to your bed for a week and trying to avoid thinking about anything at all.

In her powerful but accessibly written new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, Sohaila Abdulali explores how cultures around the world handle rape. She approaches this intimate, sinister type of violence with a decidedly global viewpoint, delving into how both individuals and governments treat their victims, as well as how they navigate the nuances of sexual consent. Sure, it’s different in America. But is it better? Read more…