In 2022, women in film were kings and eternal, we were everything and everywhere (some would say, all at once). And in two of this year’s big awards-season hopefuls, women are talking. She Said chronicles the efforts of the two journalists who broke the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse story; Women Talking tells a fictional story (inspired by real events) in which women in a religious colony must grapple with how to respond to the consistent sexual abuse they endure from the men in their isolated community. Both films utilize the premise of women talking to explore the heavy burden of being silenced, marginalized, and preyed upon. Both films, rightfully, argue that in order to tell certain kinds of stories, women talking ought to be the whole point. Both films are powerful and striking. But given our growing demand for cinematic transparency, I wondered: Which film best fulfills the promise of its title? In which movie does she say more? Which film actually contains more women talking? I put my stopwatch app to the test to find out.
In solidarity with both women and coziness, I watched each film lying back with my phone on my chest, finger hovering over the screen. Any time a woman opened her mouth and words came out, I pressed start. This includes, for example, women talking in non-English languages, or on the TV in the background of conversations between men—as long as you can mostly make out what they’re saying. This does not include women crying, or the baby babble of female infants (present in both films). During silences, or when those pesky men started talking, I pressed stop. I should note here that my button-pressing may have been inexact, so your measurements may differ from mine. Also, I am not a mathematician, so argue with your mother … as many do with theirs in one of these films.
By my count, Women Talking clocked approximately 38 minutes of women and girls debating, praying, and singing in the 97 minutes from its first frame to its last (minus credits), meaning that female voices comprise about 39 percent of Women Talking. In She Said, on the other hand, women cajole, empathize, and utter the phrase “on the record” for 58 minutes of its 122-minute runtime. So female voices comprise about 48 percent of She Said. By total minutes and as a percentage of screen time, She Said has more she saying than Women Talking has women talking.
But there’s so much more to consider! For instance, the amount of women talking to other women, as opposed to men or just themselves, is evidently higher in Women Talking than She Said—though we’ve learned our lesson this year about reducing that metric to the Bechdel Test. The women in Women Talking spend most of their time talking to one another, as all the men have gone to town. In She Said, the women must talk to men a lot, because they are reporting a story for the New York Times, which still insists on employing men. (If only the actual Times had national treasure Andre Braugher on staff.) And, generally speaking, general speaking is just more common in She Said than it is in Women Talking; the former centers fast-paced journalists, and the latter is about women living in a society that rewards religious meditations in quietude. These two films, both tackling the ways in which our patriarchal society has a culture of protecting abusers, showcase the far reaches of this culture by situating themselves amongst wildly different subjects: the who’s-who of Hollywood and the female inhabitants of a secluded Mennonite colony.
It’s refreshing to watch these films go beyond simply centering women’s points of view, and instead truly reckon with what it means to ground discourse on problems of oppression in the voices of those most affected by it. I found it notably moving to hear so many women’s voices in a movie, and very satisfying when, in Women Talking, women shush the singular man that deigns to even mumble a word of well-meaning advice.
It’s when we juxtapose these films, and let She Said and Women Talking speak to each other, that we realize they’re saying something far more important about the pervasiveness of female suppression and institutional (versus situational) power. She Said may have more women talking than Women Talking, but remember: how much women are talking is never quite as important as what we’re talking about.