I’ve been inspired to look at different scenarios that trigger a sense of shame within us both individually and collectively. I was guided to watch the Canadian documentary film Because We Are Girls directed by Baljit Sangra and released in 2019. The film centers on three Punjabi Canadian sisters from British Columbia who have gone public in adulthood about the sexual abuse they faced during their childhood by an older male cousin who lived with their family.
Sexual abuse is not an easy topic to discuss let alone treat with sensitivity and honesty in a film. Within the South Asian community in general, if a girl or woman publicly comes out that she was raped or sexually assaulted, she will typically be coerced into silence – and usually will not be believed by even her close family members. On top of this, she will be made to feel that somehow it was her fault. Her family may even shun her and she will often be considered an outcast. Hence, the cycle of shame begins and it can be buried for generations.
Can you feel how thus it can be shameful to even approach shame?
However, the director and filmmaker, Baljit Sangra, manages to tackle a very difficult topic with gentleness, honesty, sensitivity, and respect. She shares not only the experiences of the three sisters but also their younger brother and their parents – who are ill-equipped to handle this very difficult situation. The parents feel ashamed about disclosing this information and confronting the cousin who is the perpetrator. The sisters feel no emotional support from their parents nor their brother and find solace only in their sisterhood. They feel joined in a deeper purpose that they need to share their story in the hopes that their cousin can be prevented from harming any other girls in their community including their own daughters.
Even when poignantly sharing distressing memories and difficult conversations, the filmmaker intersperses heart-warming family photos and videos of the sisters dancing, singing, watching Bollywood movies, and even having snowball fights- from their childhood days to even while they negotiate an uphill legal battle in the court system that often leaves them feeling retraumatized.
We also meet the daughters of the sisters. They witness the tortuous journey of their mothers. The daughters exude an innocence and trust that their mothers tragically lost and are fighting to foster and protect for them and other girls in the community. As the sisters move through their journey, we can feel slowly yet steadily they reclaim an inner light and beauty that cannot be extinguished by anything external.
You can watch a trailer of Because We Are Girls here.
You can watch the full movie free here. (83 minutes)
Recently, I felt inspired to share this movie as part of a Zoom circle. You can listen to my commentary on the movie here.
While we may not have experienced what the sisters faced, we can all relate to these uncomfortable and often debilitating feelings that accompany shame. As we walk with these courageous sisters, we receive a gentle washing away of any sense of shame, sin, unworthiness, or inferiority we may harbor within our hearts. Finally, like all good Bollywood movies, Because We Are Girls ends on an uplifting note. As we watch these sisters laugh, sing, play, and dance while facing their shadows, we become willing to have greater conviction that yes, we are here to shine our light. Everything we have experienced- regardless of how painful it was- can help us step into our function as a light bearer in the way that is for our highest good.
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