Our Children, Ourselves

Children can thaw the iciest of souls and bring the most unlikely people together. Do you want to befriend those parents of the new kid in your son’s class? Compliment their child. You’ll be invited to dinner faster than you would be than if you spent hours with them on the bleachers. Trying to win someone over? A nice word or two about their offspring will transform them from foe to friend in a heartbeat. Even the meanest man on earth will turn into Tom Hanks when they hear nice words about their kids. People believe this reflects well on their parenting skills, and in most cases it does.

When Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump entered the Town Hall arena for the second debate, the lack of a handshake was awkward and out of place for the situation. (Maybe Hillary was afraid Donald, “The Octopus,” might grab her inappropriately.) The chill in the air must have made the auditorium seem like a walk-in refrigerator. They couldn’t have been more distant than bitter ex-lovers, despite Trump hovering behind Clinton like a serial predator. When it was his turn to talk, the vitriol flew. He reminded us about a doomed USA and how we’re all going to hell in a hand basket. Punctuated by odd sniffing, there were endless put downs, repetitions of the word ‘disaster’ and crazy assertions. Adding insult to injury, Trump said his opponent had hate in her heart and should be locked up.

Then the magic happened. Near the end of the debate, an audience member asked what the candidates admired in each other. We all racked our brains and scratched our heads wondering how Clinton would respond. Despite the difficulty of the question, she did not miss a beat. Clinton complimented Trump on his children. She said,

…Look, I respect his children. His children are incredibly able and devoted, and I think that says a lot about Donald. I don’t agree with nearly anything else he says or does, but I do respect that. And I think that is something that as a mother and a grandmother is very important to me.

The seas parted, the angels started singing and the planets aligned. All was right with the world. The Republican candidate puffed out his chest. It was as if Charlize Theron had called him sexy. America was great again! In fact, Trump was so proud, so tickled, that he lost himself completely. When it was his turn to respond, he contradicted himself from an earlier debate when he questioned Clinton’s stamina. But in the afterglow of her kind words, he said,

I will say this about Hillary. She doesn’t quit. She doesn’t give up. I respect that. I tell it like it is. She’s a fighter. I disagree with much of what she’s fighting for. I do disagree with her judgment in many cases. But she does fight hard, and she doesn’t quit, and she doesn’t give up. And I consider that to be a very good trait.

A burst of sunshine lit up the dark dismal campaign. The two candidates approached each other and shook hands, ending the session on a positive note. All was well. Even if it was only for a moment.

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How an Indie Film About Turkish Orphans is Germane to the Presidential Election

When “Mustang” opened to a small handful of U.S. theaters last year, critics gushed. But like many independent films, it evaporated at cinemas like an ice cube on a hot stove. When it showed up on Amazon recently, I was ecstatic and planned an evening to watch it with my husband and teen aged daughter. From the opening scene to the end credits, we were totally engrossed. Charmed and repelled. Happy and incredulous. Our hearts broke. The good news is that “Mustang” has a good outcome, although it’s bittersweet. Then a funny thing happened on our way out to get ice cream: We realized this Turkish/French film is soberly relevant to the U.S. presidential election.

The film takes place in a small village in Turkey. At its center are five beautiful and spirited sisters on the last day of school before summer break. As the girls leave the school grounds, they decide to ditch the hot, crowded bus and walk home. On the way, they frolic and gallop, like a group of wild mustangs, with their long, dark hair, blowing in the warm wind. A detour to the beach with a group of boys soon has them in the sparkling, azure water, soaking their school uniforms and their hair, as they chicken fight atop the boys’ shoulders.

Their gleeful fun has extreme consequences when a meddling neighbor in a “shit-colored” dress (Lale’s description), rats the girls out to their strict grandmother before they arrive home. They walk in the door, still giddy with joy, but the mood in the house is anything but mirthful. The sisters are surprised by the reaction to their innocent behavior. Without any discussion or respect to their viewpoints, they are scolded, shamed and physically abused. Meaningful possessions, like makeup and music, and are locked away. They are stripped of phones and electronics to block them from the outside world. They are made to wear those ugly shit-colored dresses. Home becomes a “wife factory” where the sisters learn how to stuff dumplings, sew and do other chores reserved only for females. They are living in a virtual prison, complete with iron grates on the windows and locks on the doors.It is determined that the girls will all be married off, to men they don’t know, whether they want to or not. They are disrespected and have no choice. So the girls are forced to play hostess to strange men that come to over to “approve” them, while serving Turkish coffee they’ve resentfully spit into. In another scene, Lale, an enthusiastic soccer fan, begs her uncle if she can attend a match. It’s out of the question, but that doesn’t crush her spirit. Being the catalyst for much of the action in the film, Lale finds a way to escape to the stadium with her sisters. The scenes are delightful, from climbing through a tunnel to get off their property, to flagging down a ride and cheering in the stands with their long dark hair flowing like wild horses. The girls break loose on other occasions, but afterwards, the house is reinforced with even more iron and steel. As a final blow, the girls are not allowed to return to school (a waste of time anyway, since girls are only good as baby making machines and housekeepers). Their environment is closing in, but the strength of their bond and fiery spirit fortify us. Kinship is reflected in every glorious frame of the film and these sisters make confinement almost seem tolerable. One scene shows all five girls entangled on the floor as they play with each other’s toes before falling asleep. The atmosphere is comforting and warm, despite the cold, dark place in which they’ve been trapped.

Appallingly, the movie reflects how women in many countries are still treated today. (In fact, the film is based on an actual experience by the film’s director, Deniz Gamze Erguven.) There’s no equality for women — no driving, no sex before marriage, severe punishment for not abiding by men’s rules and no continuing education. And these are just the tip of the iceberg. Women are second-class citizens with no say. Women are degraded, humiliated and disrespected all the time. Sadly, their suffering is as routine as the setting sun. Girls in progressive, democratic countries who see “Mustang” will be astonished to observe a culture that oppresses women in this day and age. Sadly, traces of this attitude aren’t all that outrageous to some here. Of course, a Donald Trump presidency would not turn America into a small village in Turkey. What it will do is set women way back, undermining much of the progress that has been made. “Mustang” is a must-see movie for anyone who is within spitting distance of voting Republican this year. This important film will break hearts. Most importantly, it can change minds.