The Feminist Establishment Rejects the Mama Grizzlies

What Women Really Think
Aug. 19 2010 11:01 AM

The Feminist Establishment Rejects the Mama Grizzlies

At DoubleX , we've been turning over the question of whether Sarah Palin and the Mama Grizzlies can call themselves feminists. The feminist establishment is weighing in, and its answer is no. EMILY's List, the fundraising group that backs female candidates, has a new campaign, " Sarah Doesn't Speak for Me ." In an NYT conversation , Gail Collins and Stacy Schiff both vote to expel any M.G. who opposes "government programs that provide poor working mothers with quality child care," as Collins puts it. That's a stand in for what's really a broader litmus test about supporting legislation that promotes equal opportunity. As Schiff observes:

The issue is no longer first-rate intellect, or first-rate temperament, but first-rate opportunity. Which is where the Mama Grizzly business really falls down.

An actual grizzly mom is a single mom. She lends a whole new definition to full-time homemaker. If Dad shows up it’s probably to eat the kids. What Mama Grizzly wouldn’t believe in school lunches, health insurance and quality childcare? Who’s going to look after the kids while she’s off hunting? It’s really, really clever to put this powerful vocabulary-pit bulls and grizzlies-in the service of disempowering people. Kind of like death panels in reverse.

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Note how absent or underplayed abortion is in much of this debate. It's the pink elephant in the room: After all, feminists have stressed the importance of choice for women's freedom for decades. And of course there's still an argument that access to legal abortion is also crucial to opportunity for women. Think how much some women's lives would constrict if they really had to carry every pregnancy to term. But that's not where most feminists want to draw the line that separates them from Palin and Sharron Angle and the rest.  Instead, they're stressing bread-and-butter social programs, and the gap between cheering on women's accomplishments and backing away from the government supports that actually help women, especially poorer ones, make their families' lives better.

That makes sense. What's sad is how little is on the table to fight over. Practically speaking, we're talking about the scraps of a few state programs that subsidize child care for a relatively small number of families rather than anything approaching the full bounty of universal quality child care. Sarah Palin and her grizzlies aside, the feminist agenda still has a long way to go.

Emily Bazelon is a Slate senior editor and the Truman Capote Fellow at Yale Law School. She is the author of Sticks and Stones.