October 20, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Sisterhood trumps politics as liberal and conservative bond over tea

Cynthia Dill and Susan Dench are newfound friends.

Maybe we shouldn’t make too much out of a simple Twitter exchange.

click image to enlarge

Cynthia Dill, above, a liberal, has a new friend in Susan Dench, a conservative.

2012 file photo Gordon Chibroski/ Staff Photographer

Or maybe, as we survey the political rubble from the federal shutdown and what some are now calling the nation’s “near-debt experience,” hope springs eternal from a few simple tweets.

It started earlier this month, right around the time the federal government came to a grinding halt.

Cynthia Dill of Cape Elizabeth, the liberal Democrat who finished a distant third in Maine’s recent race for U.S. Senate, logged onto the Bangor Daily News website and read a debut column by Susan Dench, a self-described conservative from Falmouth whom Dill had never met.

Let’s go to the Twitter feed:

Dill: Agree to disagree over a conservatini sometime? I take mine with bean sprouts and kale. Congrats on the column.

Dench: Thanks, Cynthia, would love to get together – maybe we can find common ground over a Libertini? Next week?

Dill: oh, heck. Let’s compromise! One each for both of us. Next week sounds great.

Dench: I can do coffee any day but Wed, drinks Th or week of 10/21. What works for you?

I stumbled across this unlikely banter last week while checking out the Informed Women’s Network, founded earlier this year by Dench. The group finds itself in the headlines via leaked recordings of Gov. Paul LePage’s speech to its members last week – an hourlong address that, as usual, has the fact-checkers now working overtime.

LePage’s tall tales aside, I wondered if Dill and Dench actually followed through with their “tini” date.

Turns out they did – a week ago Friday. (Although they both eschewed the hard stuff and settled on matching cups of tea.)

And did they get through it without causing, shall we say, a disturbance?

Back to Twitter:

Dill: Thanks for the tea. Let’s keep in touch!

Dench: Thank you, Cynthia, and will do – I had a blast!

Struck by the sheer sisterhood of it all, I contacted Dill and Dench and asked if they’d like to do an encore – this time with a slack-jawed columnist along for the ride.

My question, as we settled in at a downtown Portland coffee shop: What in the name of the Great Political Divide is going on here? As the nation reels from its nastiest political fight in recent memory, why would you two even consider meeting each other, let alone delve into your many differences?

Because, they explained, they actually have some things in common.

Starting with the obvious: They’re both women.

“Men come at this from a different standpoint than women do,” said Dench. “With women, you talk about the personal first because you’re trying to establish a common bond. You’re trying to get to that common ground.”

Added Dill, a litigation lawyer, “There’s nothing I need to convince her to do.”

Thus they can wade into something as fundamental as what Dench still calls “women’s lib” without so much as a raised voice.

In the past month alone, Dench lamented, two women have actually apologized to her because they’re “just a wife and mother.” Important as those jobs may be, she said, they feel like they’ve let the feminist movement down by not doing more with their lives.

“I think women’s lib is one of the worst things that’s happened to women,” said Dench. “It presented a lot of opportunities, but I really think it knocked us off a pedestal. Frankly, I like being on a pedestal.”

I looked over at Dill, half expecting her hair to be on fire.

“I disagree,” Dill said calmly. “But I think it’s a conversation that is worth having. And if it’s about women’s issues and it is about whether or not women’s lib is the cause of good or bad, it’s important that publicly it be a conversation between women – not having Rush Limbaugh tell us how it is.”

(Continued on page 2)

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