Women Talking: Remaking a Broken World

"Women Talking" is based on a true story. Men from a remote Mennonite colony drugged their girls and women and abused them at night. This movie is an exercise in reflection.
Women Talking: Remaking a Broken World
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 29 August, 2023

Acts of violence against women occur on a daily basis all over the world. Moreover, they’re almost always hidden stories. They’re nourished by horror and tend to be silenced, both in the individual and the collective female unconscious. It’s difficult for them to be brought to light because it hurts to put into words the kinds of traumatic acts that are intertwined with the weight of fear, misunderstanding, and even shame.

However, the rise of the #MeToo movement initiated a conscious raising exercise. It uncovered the impulse to reveal the abuses suffered and make each voice count. In fact, every voice that joined in helped form a current that tried to change things, get victims out of isolation, and make public the violence that had always been kept hidden.

The way in which these kinds of acts are reflected is important. Literature and cinema are the best channels for raising awareness about sexual violence against women. Women Talking is an innovative production in this respect. The movie was directed by Sarah Polley. It was nominated for two Oscars (adapted screenplay and best film) and is an exceptional exercise in reflection.

“We are not members… we are commodities… When our men have used us up, so that we look sixty when we’re thirty and our wombs have literally dropped out of our bodies onto our spotless kitchen floors, finished, they turn to our daughters.”

Miriam Toews , Women Talking ―

Poster of the movie They Talk
Although Women Talking is set against a background of undeniable violence, the film exudes serenity and reflection.

Women Talking: a true story

Sarah Polley’s movie is based on the book, Women Talking, by Canadian writer Miriam Toews. The author tells her own story of her gritty experience in a Mennonite colony in Bolivia, a sect that remains anchored in the 16th century. They’re a trinitarian branch of the Anabaptist Christian movement.

Women Talking describes a real event in which the girls and women of this religious colony woke up one morning covered with traces of blood and semen and drugged. Men from their community, in most cases their own fathers and brothers, had repeatedly raped them after drugging them with a cattle anesthetic made from belladonna.

The adaptation of this novel for the cinema is staged as a timeless moral fable. Indeed, it’s difficult to situate the historical moment in which the events take place. This serves a specific purpose. Because violence against women has always occurred. Moreover, it continues to do so in the present and no doubt will continue into the future.

“We are women without a voice. We are women out of time and place, without even the language of the country we reside in. We are Mennonites without a country.”

Miriam Toews, Women Talking

Confronting violence with words

For a time, the Mennonite women were led to believe that these assaults were committed by Satan. They thought that their alleged misconduct and impropriety were being punished in a supernatural way. Until, at one point, two of the girls see their rapists. They’re ‘devils of flesh and blood’. The women complain and two men are arrested. However, the rest of the male community is quick to go to the city to pay their bail.

For a couple of days, the Mennonite group is stripped of men, at which point the women have their chance to make a decision. At that moment, everything stops being a dream and they’re able to imagine what kind of world they want. They have time to reflect and make decisions.

Stay, leave, or act? Three generations of women speak out

Women Talking is an act of female imagination interlaced with questions. In view of the fact that the violations will continue to be maintained over time, what should the women do? Should they respond to the men with violence? Should they leave the community and enter an unknown modern world? Or, should they stay and continue to obey? After a general vote among the women, they rule out violence and only two options remain: to flee or forgive.

From that moment on, the movie is orchestrated by eight women. They represent all the families in the community, female presences of great impact and of different ages with amazing stories. There are girls, young women (some pregnant), and elderly women. Each face and each voice tells a story, a personal perspective.

We meet the ethereal Ona (Rooney Mara) carrying a baby in her womb, probably from a relative. Her philosophical reflections are both enlightening and challenging. Her older sister, Salome (Claire Foy), represents anger and the need for revenge. On the other hand, Mariche (Jessie Buckley), talks about the need for forgiveness but is also consumed by unresolved rage.

The older women, Agata and Creta, radiate wisdom and pacifism. They even exhibit a sense of humor. In fact, despite so many dormant and complicated feelings, the women choose to converse. Indeed, they demonstrate feelings of sisterhood in the face of the violence exerted on them.

“All we women have are our dreams – so of course we are dreamers.”

Mirian Toews, Women Talking-

scene from the movie they talk
The movie brings together three generations of women who, with their reflections and wisdom, must decide the future of their community.

Optimism and hope

Women Talking is an intelligent exercise in reflection that demonstrates the need to remake our world with affection and serenity. While it’d be easy to choose violence to confront systemic violence against women, in this production, that particular perspective doesn’t fit.

These are a group of women who, despite not knowing how to read or write, are full of wisdom. In the small barn that acts as a bubble of intimacy against external violence, three generations of women relive their traumas and talk about their experiences, fears, and feelings. It’s an exercise in catharsis in which, often, and despite everything, they find room for laughter and humor.

These wise and wounded figures are intent on making a decision that creates a better world for their children. Their words, meditations, and universal questions deserve to be heard. Because, behind their voices, full of anger and hidden pain, lies only one purpose: to remake with love and compassion a broken world. Fortunately, hope remains.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Ajinkya, S., Jadhav, P. R., & Srivastava, N. N. (2013). Depression during pregnancy: Prevalence and obstetric risk factors among pregnant women attending a tertiary care hospital in Navi Mumbai. Industrial psychiatry journal22(1), 37–40. https://doi.org/10.4103/0972-6748.123615
  • Hsieh, CJ., Fifić, M. & Yang, CT. (2020). A new measure of group decision-making efficiency. Cogn. Research, 5(45). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41235-020-00244-3

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