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Women Talking

Sarah Polley's adaptation of Miriam Toews; 2018 novel of the same name.

Based on real events, a film shown recently at the Telluride Film Festival looks to be an allegory for the current state of women.


Toews’ 2019 novel was inspired by horrific events in a Mennonite community in Bolivia, where for years women were drugged and raped while they slept by a group of men in their colony. The book revolved around the women’s deliberations, in a hayloft, after they learned the truth about their assaults. Their discussion was filtered through the voice of the one man they still trusted, schoolteacher August, enlisted to take the minutes of their meetings because none of them had been taught to read or write.
Given a couple of days to forgive the men who have been arrested for the rapes — or be excommunicated from the colony and therefore denied a place in heaven — the women vote on three possible responses: do nothing, stay and fight, or leave. These are the essential choices for how to address any life crisis, but for people who have lived such sheltered lives, the vote is an extraordinary undertaking. The tally is a deadlock between the latter two options, and the women from two families are chosen to examine those choices and decide.

Once again, we have to hand it to Canadian women writers. Margaret Atwood envisioned a dystopian world in her 1985 book, The Handmaid's Tale. Another Canadian writer, Miriam Toews, has brought us possibilities for moving forward in troubling time with her 2018 work based on a true story, Women Talking (talking, because none of the women in this community have been taught to read). We are currently haunted by the TV adaptation of Atwood's landscape, and this year filmmaker Sarah Polley has released a film version of Toews' book.

The recent railroading of women's rights that was the abolishment of Roe v Wade has its roots in the normalization of boorish, racist, woman-hating behavior that was sanctioned in the 2016 election. Written four years ago, the women in Toews' book face a similar dilemma tthat echoes our post Roe v Wade choices: do nothing, stay and fight, or leave. The film, which has not yet been released publicly, is already a 'critic's darling' at Telluride 2022. As the women in the film conclude, it's a bit too late to do nothing.

So we are back to 'stay and fight' mode. Those of us who were around for second-wave feminism in the 1970s, weary as we may be, are thrust into action once again, if we have the capacity and the will to do so. And it bears mention that the intersectionality of oppressions, so often overlooked by white women in the past, must be an integral part of this fight. Coincidentally, National Read A Book Day is September 6. The list of suggested books are oriented toward children and YA readers; two classics on the list are Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. (Intersectionality, people, intersectionality!) I propose a Read A Book/Watch A Movie season for grown feminists/womanists/riot grrls, allies, sympathizers, and the like. Aside from Women Talking, you may know of other books you wish everyone would discuss in a white-male-supremacy-smashing atmosphere, such as Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, I'm Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya, etc., etc. Perhaps some clever younger people can figure out how to make this blow up through social media. and truly gain traction.

We are gearing up to the 2022 mid-term elections, which some say are going to turn on general dissatisfaction with the limitations on abortion rights and suppression of other freedoms. Wouldn't that be wonderful if it was true?

As I near my 70th birthday, I continue to be an avid voter and advocate for getting people to the polls. I have friends my age and older who work to register and mobiliize LGBTQ+ voters locally. Prior to the 2020 election Alicia Garza, one of the founders of #BlacklLivesMatter, created Black Futures Labs and the Electoral Action Center to educate and empower Black voters. The Center is still actively educating and registering voters for the 2022 season. The Dolores Huerta Foundation (helmed by the now-92-year-old civil-rights activist who partnered with Cesar Chavez on behalf of farmworkers in the 1960s) is currently hiring canvassers to get out the Latino vote for the California mid-terms. VoteRiders assists people without an official ID (including trans voters with incorrect gender designations) to get prepared to vote. What can you do where you are?

I believe we have a good grasp on the questions; now we need to look for the answers.....together.


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