Warning: this book hits hard.
Just as I had named Mark Mansen’s self-help book my favourite non-fiction read of 2020, Miller’s Know My Name dethrones it to take the top spot. Given how brilliant this book is, I am both unapologetic about my sudden change of heart and the fact that this book review is longer than usual.
Know My Name by Chanel Miller is a heart-wrenching memoir that tells one sexual assault survivor’s story. Miller is “Emily Doe”, the previously unnamed victim of the highly publicised Brock Turner sexual assault case of 2015, and the author of the viral 12-page Victim Impact Statement published by Buzzfeed, that among other things galvanised a movement pushing for changes in the way the California legal system handles cases of sexual assault.
On its own, Miller’s story would have stood up as powerful, provocative and necessary in a climate where victims of sexual assault rarely receive justice for the pain inflicted upon them, and women are blamed for their behaviour when receiving unwanted advances. But what makes this book unique is Miller’s writing style, which provokes readers to engage with these issues on a personal level.
Several times throughout this book, I had to take a break from reading to compose myself. Miller’s beautiful, evocative prose, and her ability to contextualise her experiences as part of a broader problem that women around the world face every. single. day. broke my heart. As a woman, I related to Miller’s discomfort, fear, and outrage as she recounted smaller moments in her life – both before and after the incident – when men made her feel like her body was a liability, through harassment like cat-calling.
By telling her story, Miller humanises the bigger picture of violence against women, and highlights how privilege tips the balance of power in the legal system. Even when convicted guilty on 3 counts of sexual assault, Turner’s background of being a white, wealthy, Stanford student mitigated the punishment he received. Miller criticises a culture which has for so long allowed perpetrators of sexual assault such as Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, and Larry Nassar to not only continue committing heinous crimes on female bodies, but to hold positions of power. Crucially, Miller poses the question of how problematic moral stances on race, class, and gender inform the legal system, and intertwines the issue of violence against women with other issues, including that of violence against black people.
Had Turner never assaulted Miller, I have no doubt that her voice would have shone through as a writer. The maturity of her writing dazzles in the imagery she chooses to weave into her story.
There is so much more I could say about this book, but for now, I choose to end with a series of quotes that moved me, in no particular order:
- There are heroes in this story
- We are designed to bend and fold, to comfort ourselves and each other
- I decide what I am capable of
- You have to hold out to see how your life unfolds, because it is most likely beyond what you can imagine
- Having extra needs does not make you too difficult, too time consuming, but worthy of compassion and love
- It’s never too late for a new beginning
- Over the span of our lives, we may not see everything that we want corrected, but still we fight
- I do not exist to be the eternal flame, the beacon, the flowers that bloom in your garden
- Denying darkness does not bring anyone closer to the light
- History is happening now, and we are a part of it
- Do not become the ones that hurt you. Stay tender with your power
- Never fight to injure, fight to uplift
- I dust myself off, and go on