“Mama grizzlies” and other meaningless nonsense
An interesting discussion broke out in the comments of this post about whether or not Sarah Palin means something concrete when she says “mama grizzlies”. Renmiri suggested that, since the phrase came up in an anti-choice context, it has an anti-choice meaning:
o me it sounds pretty obvious they feel they are defending “unborn babies” which to us sounds meaningless as we see those as just embryos. To them they are actually defending little angels, “snowflakes”, pure untainted souls.
There’s definitely something to that, but the phrase flattened out and became generic right away, and probably in no small part because using it as an anti-choice slogan is incoherent metaphorically. “Mama grizzlies” is meant to invoke a very specific image—that of a bear who will do anything to protect her young. But a woman who makes the private choice to abort isn’t, even if you accept the anti-choice official belief that fetuses are the same thing as 5-year-olds,* attacking your child. Mama grizzlies don’t put their lives on the line to protect other bears’ cubs. Only their own. The metaphor falls apart.
However, it’s an ideal metaphor, as I noted in the interview, for conveying the message “I got mine, so fuck all y’all, but I’m still a proper lady.” And this is Sarah Palin’s peculiar genius, finding a way to combine the twin demands on modern female movement conservatives to be traditionally feminine and to be Tea Party assholes.
The conflict is simple for conservative women:
1) On one hand, being a traditional woman is about being nurturing, giving, warm, good-hearted, etc.
2) But being a Tea Partier is about embracing extreme selfishness as a virtue, on the grounds that being an asshole is both fun and patriotic. Teabaggers don’t have a coherent ideology, but they do know that if they have a choice between an inefficient, expensive system where the “wrong” people (easily identifiable by their class markers and/or skin color) get nothing or an efficient system that saves everyone money while treating all citizens equally, they’re picking the first. And jacking off while they think about how many liberals it pisses off.
Male conservatives can go whole hog into #2 without any real concerns, but women, as I noted, feel yet again stuck in the kitchen while the guys have all the fun of being full-blown assholes. “Mama grizzlies” gives them a way to get in on the action without risking their status as good women. Sarah Palin tells them that they can be an asshole in the public square, a lady in the kitchen, and a whore in the bedroom, and men will eat it up and their reward is they can feel superior to those stupid feminists who think they’re so smart.
A lot of people, including myself, complain about how the Tea Partiers get way more media attention that their numbers and power probably deserve. But you have to admit, it’s fascinating, because what’s happened here is that movement conservatives are doubling down the tribal warfare and insisting on a politics that has no relationship to policy. Outside of screeching about blocking Democratic initiatives, there’s not a lot of policy talk. And even then, being angry about health care reform or economic stimulus is more about pissing off the liberals and feeling victimized because of taxes than it is about real policy. Tea Partiers have managed to create a political discourse that is wholly about resentment and tribal warfare.
When I said in the interview that it’s hard to know exactly what they’re riled up about, this is what I mean. This is why Republican politicians denounce the stimulus and then take credit when the money is spent in their own districts—they’ve completely uncoupled policy and politics. And yes, as I noted at Double X, this is yet another situation where you can thank the anti-choice movement for its innovations in batshit politics. They’ve managed to create a bunch of momentum for a ban on abortion by getting people to say they’re “against” abortion without feeling like they have to consider the consequences of that. For a long time now, antis have been able to rally in anger about abortion and even pass laws without actually bothering to think about what the effects are, or if there’s any real dent to be made in the abortion rate. Or even if they’re willing to throw women in jail for getting abortions should they get it criminalized again. It’s a knee-jerk “against abortion is good, for choice is bad” mentality, with absolutely no follow-up in terms of real world effects. Real policy is and should be the opposite of how they approach it. And now we’re just seeing that mentality spreading out to all corners and all issues. Teabaggers want to Do Something about immigration and the economy and terrorism, but their ability to follow through or consider things like how to measure success—or even what success looks like—has shriveled up and died.
Which isn’t to say their actual politicians don’t have policy ideas. They do—the same ones they always have, which are basically to shore up corporate power and increase the gap between the rich and everyone else. But that stuff isn’t part of their politics at this point.
*This is the official belief, but as anti-choicers still aren’t holding funerals for miscarriages or baptizing tampons, I remain skeptical that they really think this, and instead believe they want to restrict abortion for the same reason it’s always been restricted—controlling female sexuality.