Moana: Healing Te Kā’s in a World Full of Maui’s

For anyone who hasn’t seen Moana yet, do so. Now. Seriously. It’s one of Disney’s best animated films. Frozen doesn’t even compete. Anyhoo, if you haven’t yet had the privilege of experiencing the film and you haven’t already deduced the ending from the numerous Moana memes floating about the internet, you might want to stop reading because SPOILERS**.

A few days ago, I came across this screen cap of a Tumblr post written by user i-want-cheese. 

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This post put words to so many of my feelings about Moana‘s ending, as well as the film as a whole. Shortly after sharing the post to Facebook, someone I don’t know and have no mutual friends with commented. To respect the commenter’s privacy, I will refer to them by a pseudonym (though the post was public and can be viewed here). We’ll call this commenter Becky. Becky suggested that the original post showed “a pretty big bias against men”.

Blurred Screen Shot

It seemed Becky kinda missed the point of i-want-cheese’s original Tumblr post.

Now, as a form of self-care I’ve been working on valuing my time and not providing my intellectual labor for free. However, I was in a fairly good mood that fine Tuesday. So, rather than simply responding “You’re wrong,” I took some time to explain my interpretation of the film and the original post. A full transcript of the conversation is below. 

Becky: This is nice and all, but it has a pretty big bias against men to me.
So only women can be understanding or compassionate towards those who have been hurt?
Men can only react with violence?
That should be hugely flawed thinking to anyone who claims to aim for equality…

Me: There are so many layers to the movie and this moment in particular, but I’ll try to keep my response short…

The point of the post isn’t that men only react with violence or that only men are violent, but rather that violence is a tool men use against women. It’s a subtle but important difference. (Whether men are capable of reacting without violence is a very different conversation. Since the post doesn’t actually suggest that, I won’t directly address that argument here.)

More importantly, even if a man isn’t reacting with violence, to a victim/survivor of male violence he is still a representation of it. No matter how compassionate, understanding, or well-intentioned he may be, he is still a reminder of past pain. Even if Maui hadn’t reacted to Te Kā with violence, he still embodies the trauma she suffered.

The post is specifically addressing the trauma women (and I would argue femmes, more generally) experience at the hands of men. It’s saying that when this happens, it’s necessary we have the space to heal without being forced to relive our trauma. It’s acknowledging the fact that we are a community and that we will always understand each other’s pain best.

Equality is of less importance to me than equity.

BeckyI have an honest question about your opinion.
Should female victims of female violence be kept away from other women?
Are men inherently better at helping women who have been hurt by other women in a violent or serious emotional manner better at helping those women heal than another woman would be?

Me: In terms of avoidance it depends on what the victim needs. A woman cannot be kept away from herself, so in a real-life situation, a trigger would likely (though not necessarily) be more specific than gender alone (e.g. facial features, smell, voice, etc).

It’s important to take historical context into consideration. There’s a long history of violence perpetrated by men against women. It’s something many of us grow up experiencing, or at least with a legitimate fear of. Violence against women by women happens, but to a lesser extent and rarely is it specifically because of gender. This relates back to my previous point about men being representations of violence. It’s largely because of this historical context.

It’s important to note a few things: 1) This isn’t a matter of violence inherent to men. It’s a matter of violence inherent to the toxic masculinity that so many men are conditioned abide by. 2) This is not to say that individual men should not console or support women/femmes who’ve experienced violence. Rather that the approach to that support should be devoid of violence as well as all traces of toxic masculinity. Sometimes, even that is not enough for victims, and it’s important to be mindful of that. 3) Women aren’t inherently better at helping women. We’re simply operating within a different historical context and with a shared experience. And that, too, sometimes isn’t enough.

For the record, my intention here is not to come for Becky, but to inform and educate. This Tumblr post has gone viral. There are thousands of people seeing this screen cap, and likely thousands who are misinterpreting the meaning behind it and/or not fully understanding the importance of its message. Because of the significance of the topic – to me personally, as well as for our society more generally – I feel the need to offer a bit more analysis.

To expand on my final comment to Becky, men and women are not inherently anything, particularly in terms of behavior. What I attempted to explain is that when it comes to addressing trauma, it’s all a matter of what a victim/survivor needs. It’s about creating the best environment for them to heal. I do not believe that women are inherently more compassionate. I acknowledge the fact that our society conditions women to be compassionate, to be care givers, to empathize. This conditioning has the potential to provide women with the tools to better help other women through trauma.

An additional point I intentionally chose not to address on Facebook is the fact that often men cannot help women heal from trauma because they do not see it.

Te Kā is so many of us who experience trauma. We don’t always express our pain through tears and sadness. Often, we express it through anger. We are fire and brimstone, and we lash out against those who hurt us and sometimes those who are there to help us. The abuses we suffer are never an excuse to abuse others, but sometimes we temporarily turn into lava demons. The thing is, women aren’t allowed to be lava demons.

A woman can speak in a perfectly normal voice and be accused of yelling. She can voice the simplest of concerns and be accused of being bitchy. And when she expresses anger for a completely legitimate reason, she’s labeled “crazy”. Women’s emotions and concerns are ignored, often resulting in more pain and exacerbation of trauma. Maui, like so many men do with women, ignored the pain he caused Te Fiti. He’s that guy that tells women they’re overreacting or being too sensitive when it’s him that’s being insensitive. He’s that guy that expects you to accept his apology while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge he did anything wrong. He’s that guy that hurts you and then makes you out to be the bad guy when you react to your pain.

It takes women to heal women, not just because of the violence men represent, but because of their failure, or inability, or refusal to see our trauma and the toll it takes on us. It takes women to heal women because women see women. As i-want-cheese stated, Moana didn’t wait for Te Fiti to present herself before expressing love. She saw the beautiful goddess beyond the lava demon. Moana learned this compassion from her grandmother. Gramma Tala was the village crazy lady, but Moana saw past that and recognized Tala for the wise woman she truly was. When Chief Tui made Moana out to be nothing more than a silly girl who wants to leave the island, it was Tala who saw Moana as a brave young woman with aspirations. Women are able to see each other, to show this kind of love and understanding, because we’ve all been “bitchy” or “crazy” at some point in our lives. We know how to be Moana because we have all been Te Kā.

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