One of the early narratives written during this midterm election cycle highlighted Sarah Palin’s “mama grizzlies” and the power and potential of some female candidates. Although Palin’s original endorsed picks – Nikki Haley and Carly Fiorina – haven’t remained the keys to the mama grizzly revolution, the subtext has survived: Women candidates may well be one of the big stories that comes out of Tuesday’s elections. The emergence of a whole other set of women (Michele Bachmann, Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell) has energized American politics – there are more women running for high office than ever before.
But some warn that emphasizing gender as an election topic might set the country back. “This sexualization of politics is not a good thing: It caricatures the sexes and legitimizes turning real or imagined gender differences into a battle between them,” says Andrew L. Yarrow in the Baltimore Sun. These women, however, have challenged traditional gender roles this year, by running unabashedly aggressive, belligerent campaigns without being smeared as unfeminine,” says Wendy Kaminer at The Atlantic. She adds:
“While the Mama Grizzly movement advances a relatively muscular femininity (as did some of the women who took on the liquor industry at the turn of the 20th century), it still elevates traditional, strictly bounded ideals of sexuality.”
The Guardian‘s Diane Roberts is even more critical, pointing to the ignorance we’ve seen from some of these candidates and to their opposition to bills that you’d expect them to support. “They say they want to take the country back; evidently, they mean back to when abortion was illegal, to when contraception was hard to get hold of, to a world of rigid gender roles and women being judged on how they look, back to when men were men and women were ladies.”
The heart of the problem, Roberts says, is that Palin’s “conservative feminism” is too hard to define, or understand. Their collective message remains vague, unstated, and incomprehensible to many people just days before their big races take place. That should be a cause for concern for any candidate leading up to an election, as voters look to make their final decisions. Much of what we know about these women is that Sarah Palin backed them at some point, and they seem to be riding that endorsement to the polls.
We’ll find out on Tuesday whether this election strategy can actually pay off with a victory. It’s a shame, though, that throughout all the campaign events, debates, videos, and other moments we never found out what these women really stand for; we never got anything beyond an introduction. You have to wonder, too, how you can have a movement that refused to move.