Title: Toufah: The Woman Who Inspired the #metoo Movement
Author: Toufah Jallow and Kim Pittaway
Publisher: Steerforth Press
What's it about?
The story itself is pretty simple. A young woman, Toufah Jallow enters a pageant in hopes of winning the chance to study where ever she wants. Instead, she wins the attention of the president of our African country, Gambia. He also happens to be a man not as great and wonderful as he seems. When Toufah refuses his advances, he refuses to take "no" as an answer, eventually raping her. Toufah refuses to spend her life at the beck and call of the president so he can rape her again and again so she flees and, eventually finds a voice so mighty that it demands to be heard.
What were my favorites?
Favorite person: I loved Toufah. Her intelligence radiates from the page, planting her words in your head, demanding to be aced. She's got this strength that is not at all about self advancing in any way but in realizing that if she doesn't stand up and do something about the wrongs in the world, it will only take longer for the necessary changes to happen, assuming someone eventually stands up. She was just incredible! So, while there were many people in the book that made me thankful for their existence, Toufah would have to be my favorite.
Least Favorite person: Obviously that would be Yahaya Jammeh, the former president of Gambia. I could attack his character but, then it could be argued that I never knew him. However his actions and cruelty in his actions are horrendous and unforgivable.
However, I think we also need to bring Jimbee into this. She was Jammeh's cousin, his right hand girl who played in active role in Jammeh's actions and went so far as to help him commit his despicable actions. Her, and anyone else who helped facilitate the rapes and violence that Jemmeh committed also need to be help accountable and I dislike them almost as much as Jammeh himself.
Favorite Part: The march in Africa. It brought me to tears, literally. I just felt this great explosion of empowerment and value and worth pouring through the pages from Ms. Toufah and into me. It was a turning point that I was so proud of experiencing, even if only through the pages of a book.
Favorite Quotes: It's been a while since I found a book that gave me a quote so impactful I had to copy it and share it. This book had a number of them, right from the very start.
"But a country is not just its weather, it's buildings, it's people. A country is also its government, it's power structure, it's leaders, and it's way of life." (pg. 8)
"'The absence of war doesn't necessarily equal peace,' I said." I loved this because it's such a poignant reminder that just because the extreme is not the case, doesn't mean that the opposite extreme is, either. No war doesn't automatically equal peace just like no depression doesn't automatically equal happiness and "not bad" doesn't always equal "good".
"'You don't have to be a PhD to be an activist," she said as we talked one evening, after I'd shared my worries about not having been able to move forward with my education as quickly as I wanted to. Katrarine didn't discourage me from pursuing my school goals, but she also told me I didn't need to wait for a piece of paper to give me permission to try to make a difference in the world." I don't even know where to start with this one. I guess I'll with the simplest. Anyone can make a difference in the world.
"Social and religious circumstances pushed them down. Their strength and will pushed them forward- and perhaps in these ways they were more similar to the mothers and grandmothers of Western feminists then is often acknowledged." Another one loaded with so much knowledge and wisdom, I don't even know where to start or the words to use. I just lived this little excerpt so much!
"Our silence is their protection. Speak up." (pg. 242) This was painted on signs for a march Toufah helped to put together. And it's true. If we don't speak up, things will keep going as it is and people will keep being allowed to get a way with it.
"'No person should be subjected to this.' If a woman's value, a woman's autonomy, her right to be free from assault, is dependent on her relationships as a mother, wife, a sister or daughter to the men in her life, it means she is only a human as the strength of her relationships to the men around her-that women are only conditionally human." (pg.269)
"But the answer isn't to stop making promises; the answer is to change the world to make the promises possible." (pg.299)
The truth is, and this might surprise you, but I had a lot of thoughts about this book. It made me think and, yes, sometimes, I got uncomfortable but it also made me mad. It made me want to be better, teach my kids to be better and demand better from the world. What happened to Toufah was horrible and it never should have happened, but it was allowed to happen by the absence of knowledge, education and equality mixed with fear and misplaced shame. Sadly, that's not unique to Gambia, Toufah just broadcasted the Gambian version of it. I loved the way Ms. Jallow didn't blame one person or everyone, but blamed the teachings, the culture and, when warranted, the specific people. She addressed the fact that there is no word for rape in the multiple languages most commonly used in Gambia and the effect that has on those within that culture. And I loved the way she really makes you step back and rethink the way you think about how you define words like "feminism" which I think we need.
Now, the book isn't perfect. There were times when I feel like the organization could have been better and there were some grammatical errors/typos that disrupted my flow. But I also think that this is one of those times where the content overshadows the imperfects drastically.
All together, this was an amazing book that I think should be in every library and every classroom. This is a book that opens up conversations and makes you evaluate your way of thinking and even how you express those thoughts. Yes, the retelling of the rape may be a trigger for some and is not fun to read (I can't even imagine how horrific it was to live through) and there are some curse words, but the knowledge, understanding and awareness that fills this page is absolutely worth every bit of it. I mark this down as a must read for everyone!
I give this a
10 pageant crowns
But that's just what I thought. What did you think? Did you feel inspired and empowered? Did you think it was a waste of time? Let us know below.