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Themes of Religious Trauma in "Women Talking"

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Let’s break down all of the religious trauma themes that we see in the film Women Taking. Trigger warning: sexual assault

I’m Dr. Quincee Gideon and I’m a clinical psychologist and educator specializing in religious trauma and cult abuse recovery. I want to point out unhealthy culty dynamics when they show up in our media or culture news so we can all keep ourselves safe from coercive groups. 

Here's the full video on how religious trauma shows up in Women Talking. 


Premise of the Film Women Talking

Let’s chat about the film Women’s Talking! [Spoiler Alert] The premise of the film is about a religious group that lives on the outskirts of civilization.  We see folks walking around in clothing that resembles Amish or Mennonite clothing, riding horses, and their homes are without modern conveniences. Within the first 90 seconds of the film, we realize that there has been a disruption in the community. 

All of the men in the community have traveled to the nearest city because one of the men has been accused of sexual assault.  The women are left at home and they are faced with a vote... the first vote of their lives, in fact.  None of the women can read or write and they ask the schoolteacher to take minutes of the meeting that happened after the vote.  

That's when women talking comes into play.  The women spend the film talking about their experiences, their opinions and how they are going to make the difficult decision to: 

  • Do nothing
  • Stay and make a change
  • Leave

Religious Trauma Themes

There's three major ways that religious trauma showed up in the film Women Talking.  Let's break them down: 

Process of Deconstructing 

The women talking is a beautiful example of the process of deconstructing.  Deconstruction is the process of slowly pulling apart the tenants, philosophies, or traditions of the faith and examining them.  We have to look at them honestly and decide if they cause harm or if they continue to serve and good and meaningful purpose for us and others.

The process of deconstruction usually leaves us with the very question of whether to leave and start over or stay and make a change.  This is perhaps the hardest question to answer and each person has the right to make an independent decision about how they would like to proceed.  In the film, we see the women agonizing over this decision and that's a whole lot like how deconstruction work.  It's hard to look at our faith and traditions. It's hard to make changes. It's hard to leave. It's all hard, but it is a necessary process.

We watch the women trying to make a decision and we learn a time old truth: all decisions will come with grief and loss.  There is no one decision that will represent all of your needs. In all of our decisions, we are having to sacrifice some things in order to make other priorities for ourselves. 

Process of addressing how different parties are a part of the dynamic

As the women are discussing how they want to proceed, they talk about the boys and men being “great learners” when it comes to how to abuse women.  At the end of the film, the women have to admit that they have also become “great learners” in accepting the abuse under the guise of “religious belief”. 

This dynamic happens in a lot of other religious groups. The way we learn to treat one another with the group based on the rules, expectations, and gender roles becomes concretized within the social norms.  What's more is that Biblical or religious texts will be used to support this abusive power dynamic. 

Legacy of religious trauma

The legacy of religious trauma is rarely held within one generation.  Its much more common for groups to span over at least two generations and the group becomes more and more unhealthy as time progresses.  Women Talking shows how often the younger generation is learning gender roles and toxic and abusive behaviors through the observation of the previous generation.  

When addressing whether a group is healthy and aimed at the betterment of humans, then we have to ask: is the "good life" that the group promises available for all that believe? In this group, the women did not have access to the good life.  They were second class citizens that were actively kept from education, betterment, empowerment, voting, or any decision-making.  They were also taught that supporting the abusive behaviors of men was essential to getting into heaven. 

So, what's next? 

Survivors: I’m teaching people how to see religious trauma for what it is.  If you’d like to learn more about your own religious trauma, you can join us in our monthly membership for survivors. I teach you how indoctrination works, how to spot emotional manipulation in cult leaders, and what you can do to reclaim your mental health after getting out of a high-control group. We are open for registrations and you can join us here.

Therapists: If you would like to learn how to treat religious trauma in a competent and trauma-informed way, I have an exclusive therapist training program for you.  Join us for monthly education on how to spot religious trauma in your clients (so many don't know how to name their experience), how to treat the inevitable symptoms, and how to become a strong and informed therapist. We are open for registrations and you can join us here. 

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