Women Talking, written and directed by Sarah Polley, based on a book by Miriam Toews, looks at the decision making process among a group of Mennonite women who lived in a remote colony in Bolivia. When it comes to stories about empowered women taking control of their own destiny, this is an outstanding one.
In Women Talking, women and children in the group of Mennonites who lived and farmed together were being drugged and raped. Some of them were beaten. When complaints about the rapes were made, the men told the women they’d been visited by Satan and their stories were unbelievable.
When the women couldn’t take it anymore, they held a secret vote. Since they couldn’t read, images were use to represent the choices: stay, stay and fight, leave. The vote was a tie between stay and fight or leave. A smaller group were selected to break the tie by talking it out and deciding what the group should do. Whatever the decision was, they would abide by it together.
The smaller group, which included elders, women and teen girls, met in the hay loft of a barn on days when the men were gone. The schoolteacher August (Ben Whishaw) was assigned to listen to them and take minutes on what was said.
Some (but not all) the women talking were Ona (Rooney Mara), Agata (Judith Ivey), Salome (Claire Foy), Greta (Sheila McCarthy), Mariche (Jessie Buckley), and Scarface Janz (Frances McDormand). Sometimes the transgender man Melvin (August Winter) would participate.
The trauma the women had lived with affected them in different ways. One stopped talking. One raged. One wanted to protect her unborn child of rape. They were firm in their religious beliefs and often prayed and sang hymns as they talked.
Emotions swirled as they struggled to articulate the pros and cons of staying and fighting vs. leaving. Point after point was raised and debated.
The women were strong and smart. Uneducated but smart, and willing to dig deep in their discussions. Even after they agreed on what to do, they had more to decide about how and when to do it. They had no power, no money – nothing but courage and resolve.
As a woman watching this film, I grew to respect and admire these brave women. The parallels between what faced the isolated women of a Mennonite colony and the perils faced by women in the larger society of the modern world were stark. The men around them used God to justify violence and assault. The women used faith to distinguish right from wrong. The contrast was pertinent.
You can see the film on Prime Video or Apple TV+. I highly recommend watching it.