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<i>What We Talk about When We Talk about Rape</i> by <i>Sohaila Abdulali</i> (2018) (read in 2019)
<abstract>Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I've pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I've failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I'm happy for you.</abstract> While this book offered a few interesting insights (mostly in the conclusion), it was rather thin on the ground with information. While there were a few statistics, many of them were either unsubstantiated or cited shaky sources (AlterNet, Jezebel, etc.) These are not <i>bad</i> sources, per se. They sometimes have quality articles, but they just as often have unhinged screeds that you can't really take seriously. It's unclear which ones she cited---but some of the "facts" she cited seemed nearly unbelievable (e.g. <iq>In the US, more than ninety percent of people with developmental disabilities are sexually assaulted</iq>). Unfortunately, throughout the book, she devolves to the "all women are victims and all men are monsters" rhetoric that should be beneath her. She interviews much better than she writes. The book was actually very short and had no central theme or line through it, other than all of the material being more-or-less about rape and its consequences. Sometimes the switches between chapters was jarring---and often topics that had come up previously were brought back up again later, but without any cohesion. It felt like a scattershot collection of essays and thoughts, with a copious amount of quoted material to fill in what ended up being a short book. The conclusion contained more interesting material, with more cohesiveness and balance, suggesting that the person I'd heard interviewed was the same one who'd written that material. While I applaud her for writing a book about rape all over the world, she doesn't properly indicate which country she's talking about when she makes some of her more incendiary statements. For example, earlier in the book, she writes: <bq>Sexual predators deserve due process, but they donít deserve blanket immunity from accusations any more than any other criminals.</bq> Again with the straw man. Even if a lot of people believe this, do you need to spend so much time debunking it? Might as well prove that 2+2=4. As well, while this might be the case <i>in people's minds</i> in some places in the States, it's not the legal case anywhere. Boys will be boys is stupid. So is pretending that people arenít animals who have to be trained to resist biological impulses. Anyone who says they havenít ever felt a nearly overwhelming biological urge is lying, man or woman. Giving in to it without consent is rape. Controlling it takes training. Again and again throughout the book she claims that rape is something that happens all the time, but fails to back it up with data from any reliable source. For example, she writes that <bq>out of every 1,000 rapes,<ul>310 are reported to the police; 57 lead to an arrest; 11 get referred to the court system; 6 rapists go to jail.</ul></bq> But how do we know thatís abysmal? Are we assuming all 1000 are true? Is she saying that only 0.06% of rapists are punished? As I wrote above, these unsubstantiated "facts" are just presented as if they don't need any justification, even though the accusation is incredibly monstrous. Abysmal would be false convictions or acquittals of rapists (perversion of justice). At a few points, she writes that her husband is brilliant, which left me thinking that she should have had him write the book. After she several times cites that 70-80% of rapes occur in the home or with close relatives, she fills the rest of the book with (possibly apocryphal) stories of rapes outside of the family. They're almost certainly true (hoping she did her research), but they're so over-the-top, they can't represent even the average of the experience for those rapes that do occur outside of the family. For example, <bq>Late night/early morning, there was a knock on the passenger window. I looked up and saw that it was my ex. I cracked the door. The next thing I know Iím being dragged out of the car and slammed onto the ground. ďThere were nine guys. Four I had known. The other five were strangers. One was my best friendís boyfriend. Some had bats. One had a gun. They kicked me and beat me. They zip-tied me and put me in the trunk. They took me to a basement and took turns raping me.</bq> Who does this? Madness of the highest order. Who plans this? How do you have nine friends whoíll come along on a gang rape/kidnapping party? I'm not doubting it, but it's at the absolute extreme end of sexual assault, to say nothing of harassment. Those that call everything rape would throw this in the same category as unwanted hair-sniffing or shoulder-touching? It's madness, and she offers no guidance. Weíre all trained to just believe everything we hear, but this seems beyond the pale. I know it must happen sometimes, but the story is presented as if this is a risk that faces anyone at any time. Just like the story of Alexa (included in citations below), where she ended up doing tremendous amounts of blow and being passed around her Wall StreetĖoffice like a sex toy. This is not a common danger. To round out the critique with one of the better ideas from the end of the book (even though the grammar is a bit slapdash): <bq>[...] if someone forces you to have sex, it is rape. The narrative that says: good girls donít get raped; bad girls canít get raped. In either case, the nunsí infamous Boys are off the hook. Weíve created a narrative that says that either it didnít happen to you, or you deserved it.</bq> <h>Citations</h> <bq caption="Page 24">Weinstein, a Hollywood mogul, has been accused, arrested and indicted for sexually abusing woman after woman for years.10 His victims stayed mostly silent, or if they spoke out, it was only to their closest people. Then, in October 2017, the story burst wide open with a New York Times article about Weinsteinís predatory behavior, which apparently had been an open secret in Hollywood. Star after star said she had been harassed, or worse, by him. Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Rosanna Arquette, Ashley Judd, Asia Argento, Rose McGowan Ö the stories were revolting. The response, for the most part, was heartening. Others in the industry lavished support on the women who spoke out. Those who didnít were a distinct but vocal minority. Words turned out to be more powerful than Harvey Weinsteinís grip on the industry, and certainly more powerful than his dick, which way too many people have seen. Words are the enemy of impunity. They can create real change.</bq> Not indicted. Arrested, but not charged. Perfect example of the exaggerated and quasi-mendacious style. <bq caption="Page 38">In the US, more than ninety percent of people with developmental disabilities are sexually assaulted.</bq> Thats nearly all. No footnote. <bq caption="Page 48">So what? So what if she was the initiator? If she was drunk, or she changed her mind after they were in the room, or she changed her mind after they were both naked and the condom was already onóif she changed her mind at any point, and he didnít listen, that was the point at which she stopped consenting. Thereís no guaranteed ticket to the end of the line.</bq> This runs counter to her prior citation about eliminating the myth of woman as submitter and man as aggressor. <bq caption="Page 48">Itís complicated to look at womenís agency in a system of abuse, but we must.</bq> Why is that? Because it contradicts your all-women-are-victims narrative. <bq caption="Page 49">So often we tend to talk about the victims and the ways they went along with, or took advantage of, or kept suspiciously quiet about, rape. They didnít leap up and stab the man and go running out clutching their clothes to their outraged bosoms, therefore they consented.</bq> That's different from men using rape as gatekeepers to power. It shouldn't happen either, but these acts are more avoidable. Report and suffer the non-rape consequences. Torch a potential career. It wasn't consensual sex, but it was a deal. Avoidable by not taking the deal. Shitty that she's blocked from pursuing dreams, yes, but more avoidable and in a different class than assault on a street or in the home or by family. <bq caption="Page 52">The case was dismissed. The judge said they were normal men, and therefore they couldnít be criminals. Audrey had been sexually active before that night, therefore she hadnít been raped. A friend to whom she explained this reasoning was as flabbergasted by it as I hope you are, dear reader. She</bq> I don't believe this is so simple as she makes it out to be. In the US? Maybe. It's very difficult to eliminate this mindset. But her example seems quite extreme. <bq caption="Page 61">Sexual predators deserve due process, but they donít deserve blanket immunity from accusations any more than any other criminals.</bq> Again with the straw man. Even if a lot of people believe this, do you need to spend so much time debunking it? Might as well prove that 2+2=4 Boys will be boys is stupid. So is pretending that people aren't animals who have to be trained to resist biological impulses. Anyone who says they haven't ever felt a nearly overwhelming biological urge is lying, man or woman. Giving in to it without consent is rape. Controlling it takes training. <bq caption="Page 77">All of us men are guilty in some way or the other for these atrocities and crimes against our dear women.</bq> <bq caption="Page 77">As a man, I apologize for what those evil men did. All of us men are guilty in some way or the other for these atrocities and crimes against our dear women. I hope</bq> Strongly disagree. <bq caption="Page 79">Itís no wonder the conviction rate in American rape trials is abysmal. Consider this: out of every 1,000 rapes, <ul> 310 are reported to the police; 57 lead to an arrest; 11 get referred to the court system; 6 rapists go to jail. </ul></bq> How do we know that's abysmal? Are we assuming all 1000 are true? Abysmal would be false convictions or acquittals of rapists (perversion of justice). <bq caption="Page 82">In the US, thousands of rape kits (the packets of forensic evidence containing semen, hairs, fibres, etc. collected from victims) are gathering dust awaiting testing while rapists go free.</bq> Ugh. <bq caption="Page 82">The official version matters. Sticks and stones may break my bones, and words too will always hurt me.</bq> Always? <bq caption="Page 84">Someone needs to tell Ted that you donít annoy girls to show them you like them. When Ted goes to college and has an unrequited crush, howís he going to show it? Ask for a movie date? Or break into the womanís room and rape her?</bq> Knock it off, Ted. Ted the third-grader is obviously already a fully formed rapist-in-waiting. <bq caption="Page 128">One of my smarter moves was marrying this man.</bq> You should have had him write this book, I think. This is less a book and more a collection of loose notes and unsubstantiated Live Journal--links on a topic. <bq caption="Page 139">Reading these accounts reminds me why it is dangerous when we say that rape has nothing to do with sex.</bq> This is a good point, but could have been made without the possibly entirely apocryphal stroke story from reddit. <bq caption="Page 149">Iím 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 doesnít make you guilty. It makes you human.</bq> <bq caption="Page 151">Alexa is a Puerto Rican New Yorker.</bq> This lady's story just keeps piling it on. Possibly true, but an absolute disaster of a person. Everything just "happened" to her. No agency. <bq caption="Page 161">Imagine what would be unleashed if so many people didnít have to waste so much time dealing with flashbacks, secret-keeping, suicidal thoughts, low self-esteem, crippling fear of Ö everything, and on down the dreary list. Imagine the fantastic, the amazing, the mind-boggling things so many rape survivors could do, say, create or be if they didnít have to waste time being traumatized and stymied and made small.</bq> <bq caption="Page 162">LIFE, UNLIKE GOLF, doesnít allow for handicaps when you go out to play. You come yowling out into the world into a random set of circumstances, and they mark you forever, for better or worse.</bq> <bq caption="Page 163">ďLate night/early morning, there was a knock on the passenger window. I looked up and saw that it was my ex. I cracked the door. The next thing I know Iím being dragged out of the car and slammed onto the ground. ďThere were nine guys. Four I had known. The other five were strangers. One was my best friendís boyfriend. Some had bats. One had a gun. They kicked me and beat me. They zip-tied me and put me in the trunk. They took me to a basement and took turns raping me.</bq> Who does this? madness of the highest order. Who plans this? How do you have nine friends who'll come along on a gang rape/kidnapping party? We're all trained to just believe everything we hear, but this seems beyond the pale. I know it must happen sometimes, but the story is presented as if this is a risk that faces anyone at any time. Just like the story of Alexa above, where she ended up doing tremendous amounts of blow and being passed around her Wall Street--office like a sex toy. This is not a common danger. <bq caption="Page 186">Almost every oneómale, female, trans, gender-fluid, gay, straight, bióhad multiple stories of rape. Gang-raped by eleven of his loverís friends on a hotel terrace; set upon by more than a dozen of her brotherís political rivals in a forest; raped by policemen as the price of staying out of prison and earning money for her children Ö</bq> India sounds utterly loathsome. Are there similar undercurrents in America? Switzerland? I just heard a story yesterday about a school class of a good friend's son in Switzerland. There were boys in his class who were shouting down the teacher, telling her that women's rights aren't relevant and to stop teaching such crap. They were fourteen years old. They've been removed from the school because they're too unruly, reprobate and likely irredeemable. I wouldn't know where to begin undoing that boy's mindset. <bq caption="Page 189">Sangeeta is a second-generation sex worker. She would have liked to do something else, but she couldnít finish school because of the abuse she got for being a sex workerís daughter. Her teacher threatened to burn her alive, and she left school and became a sex worker at twelve. She lives with her children and sister. She talked about feeling safe working out of her upstairs room, rather than visiting clients. ďIf a client calls me somewhere else, and suddenly four or five men appear, thatís rape.</bq> Every word is horrifying. <bq caption="Page 192">if someone forces you to have sex, it is rape. The narrative that says: good girls donít get raped; bad girls canít get raped. In either case, the nunsí infamous Boys are off the hook. Weíve created a narrative that says that either it didnít happen to you, or you deserved it.</bq> <bq caption="Page 200">Itís time to throw one idiotic notion overboardóthe notion that men canít stop, that thereís a point of no return once youíre sexually aroused. We keep talking about womenís agency, but men have agency too. Guys, tell me this: if you were in the middle of hot sex and really, really into it, and your grandmother walked into the room and peered at you over her glasses, would you stop, or would you keep going?</bq> <bq caption="Page 201">Why they do it is interesting, but after a point Iím more interested in moving along from this unevolved state of human interaction. I donít want to care about rapistsí motivations. They should just stop. Whether itís wired in or because their daddy didnít play with them or theyíre just jerks or theyíre sexually frustrated or they do it because they can or they do it because they canít not do it or theyíre normal or theyíre abnormal, who cares? They should just stop what one superior babysitter once called this ďthird-class behavior.Ē Unfortunately we do have to spend time trying to understand, if weíre going to stop it. So yeah, we canít talk about rape without talking about why men rape.</bq> <bq caption="Page 208">Itís hard to believe in peopleís innate humanity when you can go to a local shop in India and buy a rape video for a hundred rupees. Thatís a real rape video, by the way, not a simulation. In North India, itís sometimes euphemistically called a ďlocal videoĒ or a ďWhatsApp sex video.Ē107 You can go to a small general store and buy one for a pittance. Men rape women, film their actions, and then sell the videos. Iíd like to say that I have faith in human nature. Human nature is kindness and large-heartedness, compassion and respect. But human nature is also vile and cruel, selfish and entitled.</bq>