The New Haven Region has scheduled a discussion of the film:
"Women Talking: Challenging Community & Faith and Imagining a Post-Traumatic Future"
A discussion of the film led by Rita McCleary, PsyD
Sunday, 12 November 2023, 3 to 5 PM
As practicing psychotherapists, our clinical work with sexually traumatized clients focuses predominantly on the personal damage they have suffered and how they might move beyond it. We consider less often the cultural and historical factors that contribute to the perpetuation of sexual abuse within communities as well as families. Sarah Polley’s 2022 film, Women Talking, makes the interplay between an individual’s sexual trauma and the cultural context in which it arises its centerpiece. Based on Miriam Toews' 2018 novel of the same name, the movie examines an insular and strict Mennonite sect whose beliefs and practices render women subservient to and almost completely dependent on its men. Horrifyingly, many men in this faith community anesthetize and brutally rape its women, including young girls. Why do the women stay, enduring this chronic abuse for years? What motivations hold them together? And what, ultimately, allows them, collectively, to imagine leaving?
The women’s conversation - to fight or flee - challenges us to witness how radical their decision must be. It is easy (if necessary) to condemn sexual abuse, but we know from our clinical work that it is rarely easy for abused women to flee, much less press charges. At the deepest level, these women must confront the religious faith that up until now has bound them in community. One might expect that they would reject this faith altogether, but Women Talking makes clear that abandoning the beliefs, practices, and values that give meaning and purpose to their personal, familial, and communal lives is not so obvious.
The recent documentary series, Shiny Happy People, presents a simpler and perhaps more familiar response to a religious cult corrupted by rampant sexual abuse. It focuses on the individuals who have left the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), most famously Jill Duggar. While Women Talking and Happy Shiny People both adamantly censure sexual abuse, the documentary series takes the cult’s tacit acceptance of sexual abuse as proof that the entire community lacks all positive value. As a result, abused women in the cult can either reject the abusive community in which you were raised, losing most of their familial relationships in the process, or remain victims of a radically unethical system. In Women Talking, the Mennonites debate is far more nuanced, painful, and profoundly soul-searching. What becomes clear is that this community of women cannot make individual decisions without the community support. Imagining a post-traumatic future demands the consensus of all of them.
How might the dilemmas facing the women in Women Talking inform our own clinical work? More specifically, what might we learn about how imagining a post-traumatic future is helped, not simply hindered by the larger community or culture, in which it occurs?
Before attending this mini-meeting, please watch the entire film, Women Talking, available on Amazon Prime. There is no need to watch Shiny Happy People, but I recommend David French's New York Times opinion piece about the docuseries in which he considers some of the broader cultural appeal of joining and remaining in tightly organized, hierarchical communities: click here