Much as Theodore Roosevelt identified the Progressive movement of a century ago with his own self-image as a "Bull Moose," Sarah Palin has coined a new political species by identifying herself and similarly reactionary women as "Mama Grizzlies," a presumably more savage form of the "Soccer Mom" of civilized times, or else a maternal type more suited to territory unsuited to soccer. Last week's Nation devoted a cover story to the Mama Grizzly phenomenon, caricaturing Palin and other prominent Republican femmes as the cast of Sex and the City as a GOP elephant leers admiringly. Inside, author Betsy Reed contends that MG politicians often lack a MG constituency. Right-wing women, Reed writes, are more popular with men than with women. In a theoretical Obama vs. Palin 2012 scenario, for instance, women surveyed favored Obama handily while Palin prevailed by a small margin among men, and her margin grew among white men.
Reed considers possible explanations for the gender disparity. While she entertains the idea that conservative men are simply turned on by relatively attractive politicians like Palin (or pundits like Laura Ingraham), she also notes that women as a whole still prefer activist government and welfare-state programs to the rugged individualism presumably espoused by the MGs. The gender disparity got me thinking on my own track about the prominence of strong, self-reliant female archetypes in pop culture, from superheroines in comic books to Angelina Jolie's superspy in Salt. Feminists have applauded this trend (while often deploring the continued eroticization of heroines) as preferable to the old archetype of the helpless damsel in distress. But the popularity of the superwoman archetype, and the MG as her political counterpart, may reflect not only the abandonment of patriarchal patronization and its presumption of female incompetence but an abdication of traditional male responsibility along with any sense of collective interdependence. That is, guys may dig superchicks, and may dig Palin and other MGs, because they can feel that they don't have to do anything to take care of them. The contemporary pop-culture superwoman is arguably an icon of self-reliance for men who feel no instinct or obligation to support anyone.
Such an analysis may go against some observers' gut feeling that the MGs themselves uphold "patriarchal" values as creatures, in many cases, of the Christian Right. That element isn't as sexist as many suspect, however, if women like the MGs can get nominated in the first place and depend on CR support. Whether patriarchal traditionalists are enough to get any MG elected on a state level is also debatable. If we see MGs like Meg Whitman, Sharron Angle or Christine O'Donnell win elections next month, it may be men who think the way I describe above who put them over the top.