What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape

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

“Both unflinching and nuanced, Abdulali breaks the East/West boundary so often upheld in feminist writing on this subject. . . . Disruptive and powerful . . . If the #metoo campaign is to have any lasting impact for change in women’s circumstances around the world, it will be because of books such as this.” —Preti Taneja, author of We That Are Young

Sohaila Abdulali was gang-raped as a seventeen-year-old in Mumbai. Indignant at the silence on the issue in India, she wrote an article for an Indian women’s magazine questioning how we perceive rape and rape victims. Thirty years later her story went viral in the wake of the 2012 fatal gang rape in Delhi and the global outcry that followed. In 2013, Abdulali published an op-ed in the New York Times called “After Being Raped, I Was Wounded; My Honor Wasn’t” that was widely circulated. Now, as the #metoo and #timesup movements blow open the topic of sexual assault and rape, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape is a brilliant and entirely original contribution to our understanding.

Drawing on her own experience, her research, her work with hundreds of survivors as the head of a rape crisis center in Boston, and three decades of grappling with the issue as a feminist intellectual and writer, Abdulali examines the contemporary discourse about rape and rape culture, questioning our assumptions and asking how we want to raise the next generation. She interviews survivors whose moving personal stories of hard-won strength, humor, and wisdom collectively tell the larger story of how societies may begin to heal.

Abdulali also explores what we don’t say. 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 another? How does one recover a sense of safety and joy? How do we raise sons? Is a world without rape possible?

Both deeply personal and meticulously researched, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape is a rallying cry and required reading for us all.


“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
“Both hard to read and an amazing, vital read, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape is the exact book we all need right now. Sohaila is a brilliant and beautiful writer, filled with empathy, and she is a thought leader for our generation.”
—Alyssa Mastromonaco, author of Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?, co-host of #HYSTERIA podcast, and former White House Deputy Chief of Staff
“Know this: the shock is not that Abdulali speaks frankly about rape. The shock is not that she interrogates the content, and limits, of our public discourses about rape culture with candor and warmth, with cool precision and justified rage, with wisdom and, yes, humor. The shock is that there are not more books like this. Read it, and do not stop talking.”
—Sarah Krasnostein, author of The Trauma Cleaner
“The right to our own bodies is the first step in any democracy, and by that measure, women in general—especially those of us also de-valued by race, caste, or class—are still subject to an intimate dictatorship. Read the personal stories in What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape and see how far we have come—and have yet to go.”
—Gloria Steinem
“If the #MeToo campaign is to have any lasting impact . . . it will be because of books such as this.”
—Preti Taneja, author of We That Are Young
What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape places the American #MeToo movement in a global context. Sohaila Abdulali takes us from the U.S., to India, South Africa, Mexico, Kuwait, and other countries, providing examples that illustrate both the intense particularity and infuriating similarities of sexual violence around the globe. The book is courageous, angry, compassionate, informative, hopeful, and wise.”
—Elizabeth A. Armstrong, professor of sociology, University of Michigan
“Such a lot of insight in this book. I wish I had written it. The more we talk, the more we learn. The more we learn, the more we can change. Read this book and be part of the change.”
—Una, author of Becoming Unbecoming
“An essential contribution to the current conversation about rape, rape culture, and the personal toll of sexual violence in the world today. Abdulali captures the complexity of this disturbing topic with clarity, compassion, and insight . . . [and] teaches us that surviving sexual violence is essentially a creative act. In her brave book she shares her, and many other, inspiring stories of surviving, thriving, and regaining wholeness.”
—Richard O. Prum, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, Yale University, and author of The Evolution of Beauty

News and Reviews

What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape Reader's Group Guide

The New Press is pleased to share a Reading Group Guide for What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape by Sohaila Abdulali.