Book Review - At What Age Does My Body Belong To Me

The events it explores will either affect you directly or through someone close to you

January 28, 2021

Book title: At What Age Does My Body Belong to Me

Rating Summary: Thought provoking, constructive and unapologetically honest.

About the Author

Amanda Tayte is a TV producer and writer. She is also the co-founder of the online education Company SMBLO, award-winning media company Visual Sensation and feminist content creation platform It’s a Feminist Thing. Picture of Amanda Tayte

At What Age Does My Body Belong to Me is her first book in what’s setting up to be a long career in writing. It is based on true events dealing with rape, the cycle of abuse and borderline personality disorder. - a condition characterised by extreme black and white thinking and instability in self image and emotions.

In a conversation on what this book means to her work, this is what she told me:

(text adjusted for readability)

It’s now more surprising to find a girl who says she hasn’t been raped than one who has. We can’t keep shoving everything under the rug and act like none of this is happening.

The first story I wanted to tell was my own, because I felt like our real-life stories hold the most power. What happened to me happened in front of people, it was common knowledge but no one stopped it. The same has happened to so many girls.

My biggest aim is to make at least one person feel like they are not alone so that they can have the courage to speak out. I wanted there to be meaning from my pain.

- Amanda Tayte

What's the Book About?

At What Age Does My Body Belong to Me morphed alot of traits in one. You could say its a novel on one level, an nonfiction autobiography, or article of social commentary on another.

The book's main plot rotates around Mia - an intelligent young woman suffering from borderline personality disorder. She identifies as pansexual, has been sexually assaulted multiple times and is possibly a drug addict in denial.

Mia is an outlier and is also a survivor of a "poorly" executed suicide attempt. Throughout the book, she narrates her thoughts and experiences of how she got there and built herself out of it - including the time when she is forcibly locked in a psychiatric institution for something that had nothing to do with mental health.

Her life exists as summarised by Leslie Arimah Ba's statement, “Girls with fire in their bellies are forced to drink from the well of correction till their flames burn out.” Fortunately for her, her flames didn't burn out.

At what age does my body belong to me? is a question directed at society. When do women, young girls in particular, become free to control who they wish to be without being dragged down by a system which demands them to serve traditions more than their basic biological needs? Does that freedom even exist at all?

Without assuming to know the answer, Amanda provides a map of factors to be considered if we are to get to the most humane answer possible. The key to the map is the link between our behaviour and ideological perceptions of sex and rape. She specifically provides insight on how they fuel the cycle of abuse.

The book’s crowning achievement is the analysis it provides on why victim blaming is common as opposed to focusing on the perpetrator or conditions which allowed the abuse to happen in the first place. It cites our need to absolve ourselves from responsibility through cliché statements like , “It’s not all of us who are like that." It also extends to a desperate attempt to deny that the problem because we can't stand the idea that our world can be so random and tragic.

The working theory in her book is that: The key reason behind the multiple unreported cases of abuse and mental health cases is because victims experience more trauma from society's methods to fix things than from the actual event.

Why Should You Read It?

At What Age Does My Body Belong to Me is a problem solver.

I will try my best not to oversell the book but I guarantee that you will definitely find something useful there. If not for you, then for someone close to you.

It details and maps the common flawed journey from the time of trauma through to all the events which follow and our failure to connect with the victims - often despite our good intentions. Usually, we think are helping but end up pushing the victim away.

The solution Amanda presents is a ridiculously simple one: We should just listen, care and provide what the victim needs to grow and move forward despite their pain.

Mia and all the other characters in the book demonstrate where our efforts to help should focus on: To encourage victims of abuse to confront the problem directly and find power in doing it at their own pace. This must be done without placing unnecessary burdens on them like, “Do you realise that pursuing this will ruin someone's life?" She advocates that we should consider that someone's life is already ruined in the first place! - we should first focus on mending the aftermath of their current trauma.

From this book, you will get a clear picture of what’s wrong with the most common reactions to suicide, rape and mental health issues, and for the first time, a relatable voice on how our approach looks like to the victim.

Lookout for: Chapter 3: #LoveOurBoys What it Means and What it Should Mean

How Does it Differ from the Rest?

One of the things Amanda does well is provide a glimpse of the local feminist movement's diversity. It is presented as a movement born of varying-real-life experiences across the spectrum. She details the voices, pain, experiences, aspirations and overall, modern concerns of the movement in its radical, moderate and offbeat liberal forms.

She builds towards two brilliant states of understanding:

  1. Identity is a product of experience and shouldn't be invalidated based on our normative/cultural views of it.
  2. Feminism in Africa, particularly in Zimbabwe, isn't a regurgitation of Western liberal rhetoric aimed at blaming men for all of women's problems.

In her words, "everyone is representing", defending their own experience so much that nothing else matters more. Possibly that's how context and solutions are lost in identity politics. Her work aims to demonstrate how futile and useless that is. Her objective in the book is to transcend the conversation of abuse beyond the tiring rigid structure of identity politics. To make it a human conversation. She explains how abuse affects both men and women from a young age.

In that regard, At What Age Does My Body Belong to Me brings a much-needed fresh breath of dynamism to the problem of insensitivity associated with the need to consolidate identities on a moral high ground. - the need to feel like our systems are not responsible and it's someone else's fault. Unlike most before her, she brilliantly shows each social voice's origins and deconstructs it, instead of moralising throughout with no illustrative purpose.

What’s Lacking in the Book?

Solving the problem of abuse requires systematic clarity on the cyclic relationship linking the socially engineered, natural, and inescapable contributors to the problem. Amanda could have done more to demonstrate the practicable side of our idealistic wishes to intervene and turn things around.

It’s a social fact that all human systems have an inherent bias, a flaw – an area of neglect which inevitably result in a victim. All social systems therefore eventually get corrupted and oppressive through that loophole. -even if they had the purest intentions at heart. We have seen it in Pan Africanism, Democracy, Christianity, Marxism and Capitalism. Feminism and Patriarchy are no different.

Still on that topic, Amanda cites that people are naturally inclined to victim blaming to protect the belief that their social system isn’t arbitrarily flawed. She cites 3 major flaws in our system but doesn't provide much in terms of analysis on the hierarchical nature of their relationship.:

  1. Neglect and lack of awareness and social involvement.

  2. Patriarchy (The working characterisation of male dominance is limited by Mia’s collectivist attitude towards the system)

  3. Men - again not clear, the term is sometimes used collectively and also with an age distinction - (even women sometimes - the 'docile' ones).

When you combine them together, one key question is raised which Amanda doesn't address: What is the departure point or level of contribution for all these factors?

The danger of leaving that question hanging is that it can be used to exonerate the oppressive elements in patriarchy: One can easily make a flawed appeal that no human system is infallible therefore it’s unfair to blame men for benefitting from what seems to be an organic demonstration of our species’ natural limitations.

If that set of arguments is not dealt with, most accounts of sexual abuse will always be weakened.

Although At What Age Does My Body Belong to Me provides key details on the nature of abuse, it takes us back to the same position where patriarchal apologist arguments can still be raised against feminism. That is perhaps its biggest limitation.

Will the Book Be Relevant in the Future?

At an individual level, At What Age Does My Body Belong to Me is a book worth reading at least twice and has parts which will likely leave a permanent mark on your memory.

Am rooting for Chapter 3 as the best and most important section in the book. However, a book’s real acid test is its success in shifting the conversation around the issues which the author raised. The book's dark fate is that as long as abuse is still prevalent, then it will remain relevant.

For Amanda Tayte, it seems the book is just the beginning. She has a sequel planned for this year titled 24 and Reclaiming My Body featuring contributions various feminist and expert writers i.e., Dr N Paweni, Lolo Cynthia and so many others. It builds up from where At What Age Does My Body Belong to Me left off focusing more on consent and helping victims of abuse regain self-confidence on the road to recovery.

Where Can You Get the Book?

The book is available for sale on all major online book stores. Follow this link here or any of the links with the title littered across this article.

Be sure to check it out and evaluate its contribution for yourself. It might just be the birth of a new feminist trend in Zimbabwe aimed at making victims of sexual abuse more vocal and proactive about their sexual exploitation.