What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape by Sohaila Abdulali: A Book Review 

Jocelyn Crawley is a FIST member who authored this review on the important topic of rape. The opinions are that of the author and do not necessarily represent the positions of FIST.

Rape remains central to the way patriarchy operates. In her important book What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, Sohaila Abdulali discusses how the ongoing reality of sexual assault impacts survivors and the communities in which they live. Reading this work provides radical feminists with fresh insights regarding why rape is still prevalent and what we should be doing about it.

The introduction of What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape is meaningful for many reasons, including the presence of an important question: “How have we managed to evolve as a species that is riddled with rape? When did we give ourselves permission to become this way?” (2) These interrogations are important because they prevent us from falling into the normal mental pattern of perceiving rape as an inevitable part of life and cause us to think of sexual assault as the horrific, dehumanizing reality that it is.

One of the most compelling sections of the text unfolds in Chapter Two, where the author recounts public response to the brutal gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in New Delhi. People protested by raising signs which read “Don’t tell your daughter not to go out. Tell your son to behave properly” (8). However, negative messaging and response to the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh coincided with the protests. Specifically, one of the rapists stated on film that “only about twenty percent of girls are “good.” If they go out at night with boys, they are asking for trouble. If they don’t want to be killed, they should just lie back and submit. He and his friends were teaching Jyoti a lesson, he said, and her death was an accident. (8). Here, feminists can see that misogyny is still a prevalent element of male socialization such that rape is permissible because men identify traits in women which make them worthy of their wrath.

For many years, many radical feminists have pointed out that while many aspects of rape are problematic, one of the most disquieting, discouraging realities of sexual assault is the lack of concern for the victim. The term “victim-blaming” was coined to reflect the lack of empathy and positive attention given to survivors, and Abdulali speaks to this reality by noting that “the victim remains the least important factor” (33). To recognize how this abstract impression works on the concrete level, consider Abdulali’s assertion that “Sometimes women tell but everyone acts as if they said nothing at all. One woman emailed me: “I told my parents about it and they did nothing. Absolutely nothing. I felt so betrayed. Everyone in my family knew but still he was there at each and every family function. He even works at my uncle’s shop” (18,19). Here, women who are committed to global female liberation can see the need to recentralize the holistic recovery of rape survivors when strategic acts of resistance to patriarchy are being developed.

As 2024 continues to unfold, rape must remain an integral element of radical feminist discourse and strategic work towards the liberation of women and girls from the sexual tyranny of men. Women-centered women can refer to Sohaila Abdulali’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape to obtain more information regarding how discourse regarding sexual assault unfolds and what strategies feminists can develop to resist the minimization of female experiences under patriarchy.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.