Book Review: The Anatomy of Silence

Oftentimes silence is seen as something comforting, a momentary respite from the clamoring of an increasingly chaotic world. Yet, silence isn’t always golden. For victims of sexual violence and harassment, silence has been an oppressor. However, that’s all starting to change. With the rise of movements like #metoo, more and more voices are starting to speak out and speak up (many for the first time). The Anatomy of Silence has gathered twenty-six of those voices to share what it means to stay silent, to be silenced, and to break that silence.

I knew this book would be difficult to read, but I’m not sure I was prepared for some of the stories I encountered within its pages. From stories recounting abuse from close relatives, such as Andrea Roach’s A Small Thing, to memories of gross abuses of power—as illustrated in Steven Strafford’s College Dreams—a veil is pulled back. The stories we, as a society, are often too uncomfortable to face are seated directly in front of and made to listen—just as we should’ve been doing all along.

On a personal level, I found myself remembering similar things in my own life—none traumatic—and wondering why I just brushed them off as “that’s just how things are” or “it’s not a big deal”. Even if those experiences aren’t traumatic some have a frightening or anger-inducing element to them. These are the moments that linger with you because some part of you has still been violated in some way. This feeling was echoed in both Melissa Dickey’s Misogyny and Chelsea McMillan’s This Is Why. It was in these stories I found solidarity and courage I’ll carry with me to speak up in moments I know I shouldn’t stay silent.

The collection also takes a look at why communities are unwilling to face their transgressions and the correlations between an unwillingness to discuss sexual behavior and sexual abuse/violence. Patrick McFarlane explains in his essay Why We Are Hush that, “It is in teaching about boundaries, consent, healthy behavior, and sex that we can then make room to also talk about the reality of sexual abuse and how to address it.” Not only that, the collection explores silence of perpetrators and why it’s so difficult to make those who need to hear what’s being said so difficult (see Frederick Marx’s Men’s Work). 

Overall, The Anatomy of Silence takes a bold approach to a topic that tends to slip through the cracks. What I like most about it is that it’s open and honest. The stories shared here are stories so many can either identify with or learn from. Even in its loudness, there is a calm voice that commands you to listen. It’s in this listening that we have a chance to heal what has been broken by silence for far too long.

The Anatomy of Silence will be available from Red Press Ltd. March 8th, 2019.

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