Last week, I saw two articles regarding a speech given by Sarah Palin that disturbed me in an entirely new way. According to these articles, Palin “freely used” and “started tossing around” the word feminist/ism in a recent speech to the political action committee, Susan B. Anthony List. There was similar fuss about Palin’s “mama grizzlies” rhetoric. Predictably, these articles sent me into a Google Reader comment rant. I was on the verge of sharing said rant (now deleted) when I realized that I was 1) reacting and writing in a semi-rage and 2) examining opinion pieces, not the source material. Out to the Interwebs.
I hunted down and viewed videos from Palin’s May 14, 2010 speech to the Susan B. Anthony List. What’s immediately obvious is that Palin did not pepper this speech with the word “feminism.” In fact, she uses the word sparingly–a bit uneasily at times–and only tentatively applying the word to her comrades fighting the anti-abortion fight (and even then, she applied the word indirectly). Never once does Palin refer to herself as a feminist. Instead, she slips in the friendlier “womens’ movement” and attempts to redefine what feminism is for conservative women and men1. Listening to the mama grizzlies bit sent me over the top. These grizzly-women are the same people who demand books being removed from library shelves for containing dangerous information for children and teens! Oh but again, with the knee-jerk reaction. Back to the words.
While listening to the context and to the “mama grizzlies” quote in question at 6:35, the deeper, far more horrific message of Palin’s metaphor dawned on me: cease all meaningful dialogue immediately and begin ripping into and destroying one another like animals. She’s stirring up the mama-mob. Don’t think, don’t discuss, don’t research, just get really ANGRY. Curiously, Palin muddles her own message. There are a couple of weird disconnects in Palin’s speech regarding the angry mob/rational dialogue dichotomy.
Minutes before Palin speaks about “mama grizzlies” (same video, 4:48), Palin accuses the media of portraying Tea Party members as (among other things) violent. Tea party members are not, according to Palin, violent mobs–and in general, I’d agree with her. So are we to believe that these Tea Partiers are like mama grizzlies, protecting their young from predators? Sorry, was this supposed to comfort me? Mammals protecting their offspring do not invest energy in logic and fact-finding; they are reactionary and unthinkingly violent. Is this the kind of behavior that you want to see encouraged in your fellow American voters? It is one thing to educate yourself, listen to the other side, make a cool, rational decision and put your vote behind it; it is another thing to get angry, shut down and start shouting–just as I was guilty of doing immediately upon reading these articles. Thinking calmly and rationally about the issues that are really important to us is very difficult, even when there isn’t a popular public figure stoking the fires.
The mob/dialogue disconnect becomes really hard to reconcile at the end of Palin’s speech (different video, 8:25), when Palin praises the Susan B. Anthony List organization for their ability to “engage in the issues and the debate–with healthy debate–and so diplomatically, so professionally, with so much wisdom and intelligence and again, with grace.” Wait… what about the grizzlying? Weren’t you just telling us fifteen minutes ago that standing around talking gets in the way of getting things done? Right before she leaves the stage, Palin refers back to her speech’s opening quote by Margaret Thatcher, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.” So men talk and are generally ineffectual (nice!), while women do what it takes to make things happen2. Palin’s message seems to be “Women: get ANGRY. Let’s get out there and get more people ANGRY. Let’s take our anger to the polls where we will vote on one and only one issue.” Utilize anger to turn off brains. Act on a people’s sense of persecution and/or righteous moral indignation. Unleash the mob.
It’s my wish as a voter that intelligent, healthy debates regarding the crucial issues relating to our civil liberties continue in the days leading up to and beyond November 2nd; however, I find this insulting likening of taxpaying citizens to brainless, enraged animals to be a little too close to the truth of things. Talking down to me–reducing me to a beast–will neither win my vote nor my respect, Mrs. Palin. I am prepared to discuss specific policies–regarding abortion and MUCH, much more–when you are.
Star has another well-written take on Palin’s speech at her blog.
1. Interestingly, there is no room for moderate feminism in Palin’s view of things, only the two all-or-nothing, you’re-with-us-or-against-us extremes. Back to the text.
2. Or women do what they’re told to do–it’s unfortunate that Thatcher’s quote works both ways. Back to the text.