By Nora Dunn
I am going to a film festival conference next week in Santa Barbara, Fest Forward, to speak on a panel with other women. Wine, Women, and Song is the title of our discussion. I like that. We are slated to talk about women in the entertainment business. I have covered this territory before, and I admit I find it hard to wrap my head around it. Or maybe I should say my heart. I have never been in favor of "women sections" in bookstores, as if we have to be singled out and stashed in an aisle apart from the men. And I feel that way, sort of, about the panel.
However, these discussions usually prove to be thought-provoking and many women show up for them. Maybe it's because women are eager to talk and exchange or just feel that they are important in the face of so many men who move through the entertainment industry with seeming ease and a sense of entitlement. They ought to, actually, but so should we.
The terrible bombings in Paris have distracted me from the smaller issues in my life, however, like musing about the panel or my upstairs neighbor and her mission to get rid of my bird feeder. My feeder attracts all kinds of birds, and in my town they line up politely, for the most part, to get their seeds. I like to see yellow finches and the Cardinals remind me of my mother. I guess feeding the birds, especially in winter, makes me feel like I'm doing good.
But my neighbor insists that bird feeders breed rats.
Well, now we are faced with what feels like a world crisis. Bird feeding must go out with the bath water, and anyway my neighbor called our city management board and reported the feeder and she and other co-conspirators decided to remove it. Oh, rats.
But even in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, I still felt sad to hear my feeder will go down and my birds won't come, and it reminds me of the fears we all have that affect us in adverse ways. The good-natured softer side of me feels rebuffed. There is not enough good news in the news ever, and now the news is disastrous and I can't even sow my seeds and watch the birds flock and flutter.
Terrorism is not an issue to be equated with losing a bird feeder, but my sadness about it is connected. Taking in Syrian refugees, all ten thousand of them, is a must if we are going to maintain our sensitivity to the needs of those who are depending on us, even if we are afraid to do it. Fear is necessary, but peddling it, as many politicians and military industrialists are, is not. Part of the lesson of fear is how to manage it, and also how to use it in a productive way. My heart leads me on these matters, and I think it ought to. It's the part of me that is both feminine and feminist. It's the part of me who wants to feed life, to feed joy, to feed the soul. And the birds. It's a part of not just doing good, but doing what is right.
We seem to have little feminine/feminist leadership right now apart from Elizabeth Warren who is not running for president. She has a way of moving mountains while walking softly and yet still not carrying a big stick. But Hillary Clinton is running, and she's not going to talk about compassion because the presidential field is male territory and she cannot play on it without suiting up as they do. She cannot lead with her heart hanging on her sleeve and I understand that. But when are we going take our nature seriously? When are we going to say there is a difference, or there ought to be a difference, when women rise to power? What makes us powerful, anyway?
Whenever there is talk of war, women step back and let men take over.
Compassion is powerful. Compassion is the feminine side of leadership, and it's interesting that Obama is leading in that category. And the best piece I have read yet on the Paris bombings comes from the words of a woman whose relative was killed in the attacks. "I will not give you the gift of hatred," she has said to the terrorists. Did anybody hear her?
The Syrians who have made it far enough to get this close to some semblance of peace have gone through a horrific nightmare to do it. Their children have drowned in the sea. They have been met with guns pointed to their heads and with whips and tanks. They have literally been beaten back but they kept walking, a procession with such bravery and dignity that we all should have been shamed by it.
No matter what some politicians say, the Syrian refugees have been vetted. We have offered to take them in. Where are the voices of American women when it comes to this? And where is the so-called pro-life movement in this crisis when their whole purpose is supposed to support life at any cost?
I've seen comments on pieces about the refugee crisis describing our reluctance to go after Muslims as a problem and called the lack of harsh response "limp wristed." That description came from a woman, by the way. Limp wristed means you're a sissy and sissy means you throw like a girl. Well, I do. I do throw like a girl, especially when the ball lands hard in my mitt and I have to throw it back.
Muslims are not our enemy. A teenaged Muslim was beheaded for posting on Facebook. Muslim journalists have been assassinated for writing about the corruption of dictatorial governments, or for saying anything at all about terrorism. Muslims have been mercilessly bombed. Limp wristed means you are fey, or you are acting like a woman would instead of like a masculine man. You are acting like an effeminate man, which in this society is an insult.
I am not a man, though I do have a side that is masculine. But it is not dominant in my nature. It comes out whenever I have to swat a fly, or kill a spider, or change a tire. Or kill a rat, which actually I was not able to do when confronted with that years ago. I became in the face of the rat a limp wristed female. I pleaded with it instead and asked it to leave. In the morning I found it dead of poisoning.
The Syrian refugees are not rats. And in the face of the Syrian refugee crisis, I am not a man. I am a bird-feeding, feminine woman. My wrist goes limp, but I am not afraid.
Feminine identity has been delivered a crushing blow by our masculine-obsessed culture in so many instances. On Supergirl, the new TV series that attempts so display female power, the young heroine spends almost every episode physically pulverizing her opponent. I love that she can fly, and I love that she can lift an airplane, that's the exuberant part of it. But why must she so often resort to violence to fulfill her mission? Wouldn't it be me more interesting and make a more positive statement if she conquered with female intuition and the power to nurture? Oops. I said the "N" word.
I don't know what our panel will discuss next week in Santa Barbara and I don't have the answers for the questions I have not heard. I have a lot of questions of my own, and powerful feelings. That's my nature.