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What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape review: Without her consent

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A #MeToo story, told with grace, compassion and courage

BY: R. Krithika

Journalists, actors, directors, lyricists, authors, musician, corporate honchos… In the past couple of weeks, #MeToo in India has brought into the open something most people were happy to ignore.

Despite the excruciating details being shared, there were people willing to discredit the women who have bravely opened up on their traumatic experiences.

I listened in utter disbelief as one speaker on an India Today TV panel discussion said that, #MeToo was a “failed Western construct being dumped in India” and went on to add that, if the women concerned had been really harassed, they would have spoken up much earlier. At that point I switched off the television but what I would have really liked to do was to sit her down and make her read Sohaila Abdulali’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape.

Do we talk about rape? We don’t. And that is the problem. Forget rape, do we talk about sex, about relationships, about interactions with the opposite sex… Of course not. Which is why this book is important.

Beginning with an account of how she was gang-raped as a teenager in Mumbai, Abdulali talks about how women across the globe tackle the issue of sexual violence. It is rather frightening to read how, across the globe, attitudes to survivors and perpetrators are the same. Her chapter on consent is titled ‘Yes, no, maybe’ acknowledging the murky nature of that debate. As she points out, the men who raped her threatened to kill her friend and her if she didn’t stop fighting them. “I ‘chose’ rape over death,” she writes. “Some people might call that consent.” Going on to discuss “affirmative consent” guidelines in U.S. universities, she says, “often consent doesn’t play a major part in conversations about sex and certainly not when it comes to defining sexual violation.”

Abdulali writes with grace, compassion and clear-eyed courage not just of her own experience but that of other women too. Whether it is taking responsibility for one’s actions, flawed notions of honour and respectability, dealing with the aftermath, Abdulali offers examples from India, the U.S., South Africa, Italy, Egypt and other places to show that there’s a long way to go before women can stop looking over their shoulders, whether they are inside their own homes or in the world outside.

Courtesy The Hindu

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