I just saw the most profoundly simple and yet the most intensely complex movie I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s a movie that could change us all if we let it.
It is based on the true story of a group of Mennonite women and children as young as 3 in Bolivia who have been tranquilized and brutally raped by their men and boys for years. I’ll have much more to say about this in my next blog post. First, though, let’s concentrate on this incredible movie, entitled Women Talking.
I know that discussions of this type of brutality can be triggering for some, and might make them want to avoid this movie. Let me reassure you that the abuses themselves are not shown. Just as the women in Bolivia did, the characters in this film wake up, confused, bruised, and bloody, knowing something horrible had happened, but not knowing exactly what.
For a long time, they are not believed. (The hysterical woman trope will plague us for centuries.) Then one night one of the rapists is caught, and he gives up the name of 8 others. Never having had to deal with such horrific crimes before, the colony leaders decide to give these criminals to the government for prosecution.
It appears that justice will be served. But based on their religious beliefs, the women in this colony know they will be expected to forgive these heinous acts if the men confess and repent. They are expected to look the other way and not speak of the violence that has washed over them in bloody waves. And they have a 2 day window in which they are expected to make this adjustment.
So, while the rest of the colony men are dragging the criminals into the city, many of the women and girls gather together in a hayloft to decide how to move forward. They are faced with three choices. Do nothing. Stay and Fight. Leave.
Soon, it becomes quite clear that they cannot do nothing. One woman points out that her 4-year-old daughter was one of the victims. What woman could stand by and do nothing under those circumstances? And the fact that domestic violence and incest run rampant in the community as well can no longer be ignored.
Do they want to stay and fight and build a colony that’s more equitable, that allows women to have a voice, that provides them with literacy and an education and gives them the opportunity to say no, or do they want leave everything they’ve ever known and go into a strange world plotted out only on maps that they have never even seen?
The debate becomes more complicated as the movie progresses. Do they raise their small boys in the shadows of their violent fathers, or do they teach them a new way? At what age do boys become potentially dangerous? 10? 13? 15? Is their freedom and the ability to keep their children safe more important to them than tradition and family and the comfort of the things that they’ve always known? How will they support themselves when they can’t even read?
In addition, until now they have never had the words to speak about their bodies and how they should be treated. Can they ever be silenced again? Many of these women have fallen pregnant due to these rapes. Will they be able to love these children?
I won’t further spoil the movie for you, but I urge you to see it. Even though these women live vastly different lives than most of us do, the movie’s themes will still resonate with most women. Especially the central theme, which is that women are discouraged from talking in general.
There’s a reason why we are so often interrupted, ignored, discounted, dismissed, overruled, and left out of the discussion entirely. Women talking, especially to one another, gives us strength, determination, knowledge, insight and courage. Women talking allows us to see possibilities that we’re often too busy or too undermined to contemplate on our own. Women talking equates to power, and many elements of society are very threatened when we access this power in any way.
Do you ever wonder why women make up approximately half the population of the world, and yet we are the oppressed minorities, to one degree or another, in every single country? In my opinion, it all boils down to two things: childbearing and communication. The powers that be actively work to take control of our reproductive rights, and more subtly, keep us separated as much as they can.
Some countries and religions would prefer that we have as many children as possible whether we like it or not. From their emotionless standpoint, children are valuable commodities, as they become our future workers, soldiers, and consumers. Our wombs are the factories in which these commodities are produced.
There’s also the societal “side benefit” that pregnancy, to a certain extent, incapacitates us for 9 months each time. Yes, it’s possible to still work and carry on with life in that condition, but let’s face it, most of us would not be running any marathons in the third trimester or building houses or winning any fights should we be forced to defend ourselves. And afterward, it’s really hard to become a captain of industry when you have a toddler in tow. Meanwhile, a scary percentage of men don’t provide the child support that they should, which forces many women into a level of poverty that they should never have to endure.
Other societal factions go to the opposite extreme and attempt to prevent us from having children even when we want them. Perhaps they have concerns about overpopulation. Maybe they view certain women as being unfit to reproduce. Eugenics is alive and well, as is forced sterilization.
We don’t discuss any of these topics nearly as often as we should. Even so, most women know that the struggle with these issues is worldwide. It is the ultimate power play to make our voices go unheard.
We Americans are taught to believe that we have more freedom than any other people on earth, but that’s a lie. Our health care system is abysmal for starters, which undermines this country’s very foundation. And the illusion that women’s rights are taken seriously has been challenged by the fact that there is such an insane pay gap between genders, and to make matters worse, Roe vs. Wade has always been under threat and has now been overturned. We should not overlook the fact that men’s bodies are not restricted in any way by legislation, and they never will be.
I haven’t felt like an American citizen since that moment when my right to choose was stripped from me, and I doubt I ever will feel like one again. Women, in general, are only tolerated if they can be controlled. And what better way to restrict a woman than by taking control of a bodily function?
Keeping us from talking to one another is a part of that control. We don’t seem to notice it as much as the reproductive rights issue, but it’s still pervasive. Men still hang out. They go to bars, they watch sports. It’s much less accepted when women do those things. Instead, we’re kept so busy that we barely notice that we don’t get together very often. We’re expected to stay home and make sandwiches and change diapers. At work we are pitted against one another, fighting over what few breadcrumbs the men see fit to toss in our direction. This, too, is a form of control.
It is important for each one of us to think about the things that tie us down and the things that allow us to fly. We could fly a lot higher if we were more cohesive, but ultimately, each woman has to choose her own path and remember that as she does so, she is also forging a better path for the young women of the future. If things remain as they are, these changes will be so incremental that we’ll barely notice them in our lifetimes. And it’s quite obvious that we’re more than capable of backsliding. We must remain vigilant if we want to make any progress at all.
I won’t tell you what the women in the movie decide to do. You’ll have to see for yourself. I will tell you that the real life women in Bolivia have made entirely different choices. I’ll discuss that in the next post.
I urge you to see Women Talking. I was disappointed that it didn’t win an Oscar for best picture, but it was up against some stiff competition. As with life, timing can be everything.
I will leave you with this: The last sentence in the movie, spoken by a woman to an infant, is, “your story will be different from ours.” It is up to us to determine whether that will be good news or bad, but I’m choosing to look at it as cause for hope.
Three cheers for differences.
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4 thoughts on “When Women Talk”
I was very impressed by the film, much more so than I expected.
It’s one of those films that might not draw you in at first glance, but if you see it, you are grateful that you did.
I was all in until abortion “rights” came into the conversation. I have a very different view! I can not see how anyone thinks they have a “right” to take an innocent life. 🙏
It’s always wonderful when legislation backs up one’s opinion, but it’s even better when it allows everyone, one way or another, to make their own health care decisions about their own bodies. Men would never allow that right to be taken away from them. I will always fight for your right to not have an abortion.