In Women Talking, eight women who have suffered abuse within their Mennonite community gather to discuss whether to fight back, leave, or to stay and do nothing. The film is based on the book of the same name by Miriam Toews, who herself grew up in a Mennonite community, and was adapted for the screen by Sarah Polley.
Personally, I found the film to be beautiful, nuanced and graciously sensitive in a way that I think a lot of our general conversations—especially online—are not. All the women have each suffered some form of abuse and have different responses to it, opening the floor to a debate of sorts. However, the end objective for all parties is the same and the sisters gather round each other for support. I love that the story doesn’t just acknowledge that terrible things are happening but asks how it can be made better.
Women Talking sheds light on several things: how difficult it can be for people in abusive relationships to leave, especially those dependent on their abusers; what allyship looks like (shoutout to August Epp); pacifism vs revenge; if abusers are products of their environments and therefore themselves victims; forgiveness + what it looks like; and, in this case, the fear of eternal damnation if the victim is not as quick enough to forgive the abuser as God would like.
The story of these women is more heart-breaking because it is based on a situation in a Mennonite colony that actually took place. Sadly, we’re no strangers to seeing people who profess to be people of God commit horrible acts- sometimes in His name. A lot of us who grew up in/belong to the church have had a hard time freeing ourselves from the crushing weight of guilt that we feel when we’re finding it hard to be as perfect as we think the all-powerful being who can see every single one of our thoughts needs us to be. We’ve seen people endure repeated heartbreak, pain, and abuse because they think ‘this is what God expects of me’ prompting others to ask, “Why do the victims have to be the bigger people?” I know, being a black woman who’s good at ignoring hurt and just doing what she’s told, how annoying it can be to hear “Wow! You’re so strong.”
I really believe—and this should go without saying, but I find myself having to repeat it a lot—that people who have any form of authority/power in a situation are obligated to care for those with less. I think that’s a responsibility that comes with in any position of power but especially for those who claim to be people of faith.
In Women Talking, the women (and Toews and Polley) challenge that misuse of power, that notion of God and that idea of forgiveness. The film demands that we decide what we want the world and ourselves to be, and that we set ourselves on that course, hopefully alongside a community of people who want the same thing.
Women Talking is playing in theatres on Friday, December 23rd, 2022.