Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Communication Studies

Department or School/College

Department of Communication Studies

Committee Chair

Sara Hayden

Commitee Members

Celia Winkler, Steven Schwarze


conservative feminism, family values, mama grizzlies, maternal apeals, Sarah Palin


University of Montana


Female politicians are heavily constrained by discourses that prescribe masculine values as natural, yet at times they draw on societal expectations of femininity that allow them to utilize such discourses to their advantage. Motherhood, a feminine yet powerful role, provides such an opportunity. Capitalizing on this acceptable avenue of female power, women have strategically relied on maternal appeals since they first entered public life, often to challenge patriarchal social structures. Utilizing Lakoff‘s (2002) concept of the nation-as-family metaphor and informed by the pervasive myth of the traditional family, this analysis explores the consequences of Sarah Palin‘s use of maternal appeals related to discourses of family, politics, motherhood, and feminism. The rise of prominent conservative women like Palin engages questions about the feminist potential of maternal appeals. Conservative politicians often support ―family values,‖ including a more traditional familial structure with relatively strict gender roles. A female politician‘s support of this family model creates an interesting contradiction, as participating in public office necessarily involves stepping outside of the home and traditional role of a wife and mother. Despite this seeming inconsistency, Palin bases her political image on her family and role as a mother, and frames her political career as a necessary response to protect America‘s children and conservative family values. She describes herself as a ferocious ―mama grizzly‖ and emphasizes that women‘s unique perspective and special talents—such as mothering—are valued skills that should be brought to the public sphere. She argues that not only are women capable of working just as hard as men, because of their essential nature and experiences as mothers, they bring special gifts and abilities to public office that men cannot. Through this use of maternal appeals, Sarah Palin creates room for herself in a male-dominated political arena, but because she bases her political persona on traditional family values and a tough but self-sacrificial ―mama grizzly‖ persona, she effectively reinforces expectations of femininity and motherhood that limit women‘s other opportunities.



© Copyright 2012 Jasmine Rose Zink