Dancing Bears

Dancing Bears December 13, 2013

Today I want to talk about something I call “dancing bears”–that strange phenomenon you see when somebody who doesn’t really fit in with a group, or who might even be someone that group is actively working to undermine or disenfranchise, is deliberately sought and trotted out to advance that group’s interests and confirm its dominance.

'Dancing Bear' III
‘Dancing Bear’ III (Photo credit: DrewOtt)

In real life, a dancing bear is a tamed bear that was captured very young, indoctrinated to live with humans, and trained to do tricks to amuse tourists–including “walking” on its hind legs for brief stretches. It’s not a nice thing to do to the bears, of course, and you can imagine animal rights groups aren’t thrilled with the idea of dancing bears, but it’s a widespread practice across the world. I saw one as a child in a circus and wondered why the bear didn’t eat the humans but rather worked to amuse and please their masters.

And not much is different about the sort of dancing bears we’ll be covering today.

Nowhere do we see this phenomenon illustrated as well as with the modern case of women, minorities, and gay people who nonetheless seem very excited about the White Power Jesus Republican Party. Don’t these people realize that whatever their fiscal or foreign policies, the Republican platform calls for no less than the removal of bodily ownership, voting abilities, and civil rights from each and every one of those groups? It wouldn’t matter to me how much of a tax break a political party promised me or what their strategy for Syria might be if they’re planning to undercut my self-sovereignty or pull my rights to vote out from under me. And yet here we see gay, minority, and female Republicans getting paraded out to tell their peers to vote Republican, as if by seeing some of these rare birds, their peers might be persuaded to give Republicans another chance. How ridiculously stupid do Republicans think people are?

Apparently they think the rest of us are really stupid, because there are a lot of these dancing bears getting trotted out lately.

The Log Cabin Republicans are a group of gay Republicans who don’t seem to mind too much that most of the GOP hates them and wants their private lives criminalized. Called self-loathing by many other gay people, these folks struggle to reconcile their nice Republican “screw all y’all, I’ma get mine” ethos with a political party that quite genuinely believes they are evil and not quite human and that giving gay people rights will cause straight people to lose rights and quite possibly lead to meteors hitting the planet and destroying us all. But there’s this group of gay Republicans who apparently can live with having their civil rights abridged and getting lumped in with pedophiles and murderers if it means limiting government size or whatever it is they think the GOP is doing that’s so important they can root for the team that is actively trying to destroy their dignity and civil rights (and the effectiveness of these putative benefits is in doubt anyway: just to take that first example, Republican governments tend to be much larger than those of Democrats).

The National Federation of Republican Women has existed for decades, but considering that their very own semi-leader (in name at least) John Boehner says that his party has no idea how to actually talk to women in a way that doesn’t make women’s Fists of Death activate, I don’t actually know what it is they think they’re doing. Also considering that a sizable number of women polled in one survey believe that the Republican party is waging a War on Women, and given the frequency with which Republican leaders keep putting their feet in their big mouths regarding women’s bodies and rights, I’m not sure how effective these Republican women have been at educating or informing their colleagues or teaching them that women are not weird, alien creatures who must be handled just right or else we stop dispensing approved procreational sex, sandwiches, and babies. But they’re out there and they’re here to tell the rest of their astonished peers that no really, Republicans love women and respect them lots and lots! As long as they dress the right way, act the right way, have only approved sex, go to the right churches, and don’t backtalk. Otherwise they’re sluts who want free whore pills and who cannot be trusted to vote the right way because they’re such emotional little flowers who must be approached just right–damn them. (Do you hear that My Fair Lady song in your head right now? Why can’t a woman be more like a man, you can almost hear them singing.) I’ve got to admit, I do not understand even a little why any woman would support this party. There is just nothing their leaders could promise that would outweigh what they’d do to my rights if they got half a chance.

And minority Republicans exist. I just don’t even know what to say. Just looking at black Republicans, how in the world can they actually stick with a party that is falling into bed with extreme right-wing racists and white supremacists, that glorifies slavery and would, as one Republican lawmaker put it, bring it back if that’s what constituents wanted, that is actively seeking to stop them from voting, that makes racist comment after racist comment, that is trying its hardest to stigmatize them and work against their interests? How is it even possible to support a party that deeply entrenched in racism? What possible benefit could there possibly be to outweigh such a disgusting display of bigotry and bias? I admit, I completely don’t get why any minority person would ever support this party. (The webpage of one of these groups seems to indicate that their support of the Republican Party centers around their not understanding that while yes, Democrats were really bad in the 60s while Republicans were fairly egalitarian, that situation did a 180 later.)

This is what I think about whenever I hear about black Republicans.

Of course, as a recent Rachel Maddow “Debunktion Junction” segment (on 12/9/13) illustrated, at least some of these “black outreach efforts” are actually attended not by black Republicans but by white Republicans. So that segment really should have mostly white people in the audience, I guess.

So we’ve got all sorts of people who are actively campaigning against their own best interests. But why?

There are all sorts of reasons why people might aid a group that is actually oppressing them. In the case of poor and ignorant white people, they might not realize that the major funders of the Tea Party are actually die-hard super-right-wing Republicans who stand to profit significantly from the rollbacks to consumer and worker protections, not to mention from the peeling back of the payroll taxes and insurance payments that go toward helping the disadvantaged, that Tea Partiers usually advocate. Nobody thinks it’s weird at all that the reptilian Koch Brothers, some of the wealthiest and allegedly least scrupulous men on the planet, are funding a government drive toward goals that disenfranchise all but rich white men and entrench the poor into poverty–but which simultaneously stand to put more money in their pockets and power in their portfolios. Nobody in the Tea Party even thinks that’s weird or wonders why these men are so interested in them.

In the case of other groups like women or minorities, these dancing bears might know that Republicans are a serious danger to their rights and liberties, but may become convinced that the GOP’s fiscal policies or something else are more important. In the case of one political race I heard about today, a newspaper in Wisconsin that took a pro-choice stance came out in support of a candidate, Scott Walker, who had a long history of working against women’s reproductive rights, because that candidate’s other platforms were very appealing and he made it sound like he was going to be concentrating on other things besides assaulting women’s self-ownership. Of course, that’s not really what happened once he got into office; he’s now a well-known opponent of women’s rights and seems to care a lot more about that than he does about those other platforms that once so impressed that newspaper. So sometimes people think that another position that group holds is more beneficial than the oppressive ideology would be. Me, I think there is absolutely nothing the GOP could ever promise that makes up for its assault on women’s rights; until that platform is ended, I’ll never even look at their other ideas. I value my liberty too much to sacrifice it for any other ideal. I can’t even understand people who would do that.

Or maybe the bears will think, as I very nearly did long ago, that this is how their deity thinks things should be. I’ve heard plenty of women who didn’t seem all that thrilled about their religion’s take on women’s rights or equality, but were resigned to it because they thought that was what their god wanted and if they wanted to go to heaven and avoid Hell, that was how they were going to have to roll.

Or, sometimes, undeniably, that dancing bear gets a significant reward from buying into the dominant group’s oppressiveness and promoting that group’s agenda even at the bear’s personal expense. It may baffle me a lot when I see women fighting against women’s rights, but it seems clear that they’ve reaped a lot of rewards from this system by falling into line with it. If a woman values an illusion of protection and security enough, even when that illusion is purely false, she might well decide to cling to an oppressive ideology to try to get even an illusory sense of protection and security. That it will cost her dignity and integrity might not matter as much as protection and security do. We all do what we think we must to get by in this world.

I really think that most dancing bears are where they are because of this last reason. And that’s where we’re going to zoom into the picture to examine the case of one particular dancing bear.

I caught this bit of news over at Jezebel about a Suzanne Venker piece making the rounds lately and couldn’t help but immediately think of how well it would illustrate this blog entry I’d been meaning to write about this subject.

Suzanne Venker is a Christian Republican mouthpiece who writes fluff pieces about how women really need husbands and children to be happy and about how there’s some kind of “War on Men” going on to oppress and disenfranchise men and about how women’s rights are really very bad for women. That she’s wrong is beyond dispute; her arguments aren’t even logically consistent with themselves. For example: she writes about how women shouldn’t want to work full-time, but I notice she seems to do her thang full-time. She also heads a group called Women for Men, which you would swear is some kind of Manboobz social experiment by its blatant pandering to the Men’s Rights crowd, but no, she’s serious: men need “support” and coddling and sunshine blown up their skirts so desperately much that she’s got a totally for-serious group devoted to telling them what they most want to hear.

And indeed, that’s her entire livelihood in a nutshell. She tells oppressors what they want to hear: that all this “women’s rights” stuff is actually terrible for women. That women all need husbands and babies to be happy. That women shouldn’t want to work at all because that leads to “imbalance” in their lives. That they should be propping men up even more, not trying to take their toys away, so these men will want to support them and be the strong-jawed breadwinners in the popular right-wing fundagelical Republican imagination. That women aren’t actually happy at all unless they’re fulfilling their “god-given” role as mothers and homemakers–maybe with a part-time job, if that, because she’s not mean or anything here. She tells men that all this angst they feel is really women’s fault. That women caused their problems by getting all uppity. That the solution is–yes, I know this is shocking–for women to quit being all uppity and get back into the kitchens and demanding stuff like respect and fair treatment from men. That women need to get married to one of the very few good, strong-jawed provider types left from the Culture Wars and treat those men like solid gold-pressed latinum.

She spins these poor widdle patriarchy refugees tales of how it isn’t their fault, but rather women’s. She tells women that they need to be nicer to men and to quit wanting stupid stuff like self-determination and self-ownership because look, it’s scaring all the good men away (we’ll ignore that genuinely good men aren’t scared off by a woman who expects fair treatment). She tells people things that will hold them in the illusion perhaps just a little longer. She says things that perpetuate harmful stereotypes and she does it without a single glimmering of self-awareness. Certainly she cites figures, but she’s misusing them in self-serving ways that I’ve seen fly in the face of larger studies regarding what women want and expect. It’s not hard to see that she’s contorting facts to fit her very narrow worldview, and she’s doing it in a way that makes super-right-wing misogynists feel like they’re doing just fine, that they’re all right, and it’s not them that must change but rather everybody else who needs to change back. She tells them that their world is just fine and any problems they’re having are the fault of evil feminists. She not only enshrines and worships male privilege but tells her male audience that they deserve that privilege–and she preys upon women’s fears by telling them that if they resent that privilege or seek to lessen it, they will be alone forever and will deserve their loneliness. So naturally she is welcomed in the hallowed halls of Fox News.

It’s such a shockingly pandering campaign and so brutally detrimental to her own interests that if she hadn’t been doing this for such a long time, I’d think she’s totally punking the entire target demographic of Fox News.

The Jezzies got a real kick out of pointing out how hilarious it was when Ms. Venker went on Fox News to inform the female host that she really should be angling to “quit and squirt out babies.” I wonder how the single, non-parent host felt to have her entire livelihood maligned by this chirping misogynist–to be told that really she should “learn to embrace that side of yourself that isn’t about work” and that the only way to do that was to “let your husband bring home that full-time income so you can have more of a balanced life.” This was said with a side helping of fearmongering: that this host’s greatest enemy wasn’t men, or employers, or the husband she didn’t even have, but rather time. The sheer hypocrisy of Fox News inviting this particular speaker onto their show to speak to this particular host was not lost on the readers at Jezebel.

And that’s the problem with dancing bears: there’s this cognitive dissonance that seems utterly lost on the oppressors enjoying the performance. They don’t even comprehend how weird it is that this person who really shouldn’t want to support them at all is supporting them and making up more reasons why s/he should be getting oppressed and should be enjoying that oppression. Nope, they’re being told stuff they secretly believe anyway, and not only are they not being challenged on it but they’re being told that these things are their proper right and due as the oppressing class.

People like being told they’re right; they’re not so wild about being told they’re in the wrong; they’re really not enthused about being told that they need to change; they downright hate being told that some unwarranted privilege they’re used to getting as a matter of course is going to be removed from their accounts. Dancing bears are a unique type of fake “expert;” they tell their audiences that they are in the right, that those agitating for change or criticizing the old ways are in the wrong, that they don’t need to change, that their privileges are deserved and they should cling to them however they can. They do it sounding like experts and using a lot of high-flown language sometimes, but the results are always weirdly the same: entrenched privilege and the blaming of those who would bring about change or who dare to dissent.

When we see a dancing bear, we need to be aware that this person was brought in specifically to enforce privilege and make oppression seem like the bonus plan again. If by some happy accident of fortune Ms. Venker realizes how very wrong she is and how much damage she’s tried to wreak upon her own gender, do you imagine she will continue to be welcome at Fox News with her newly-enlightened views? Do you suppose the Men’s Rights crowd that enjoys her “Women for Men” group will continue to listen to her? Do you even think for one heartbeat that her audience will grow along with her? If so, then you’re even more optimistic and naive than I ever was.

Ms. Venker makes a living spouting this rubbish. She gets a lot of social approval from the very people who are busily oppressing her. She is reaping a lot of rewards from what she is doing. I don’t seriously expect her to walk away from those rewards. I don’t even seriously expect her to question those rewards–or how she’s obtaining them. I don’t expect any dancing bear to be able to do that.

A dancing bear performing in the United States
A dancing bear performing in the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the end, when I saw the literal version of these bears as a child, I felt very sad for the bears. Confused, yes, but also very sad. If only they could figure out how to escape. If only their owners would let them go be bears somewhere. This half-life they led didn’t look like a proper sort of life for a bear at all even to me as a child (by that point I’d lived, nymph-like, long-haired, and barefoot, among the redwoods of Northern California and had gotten enamored of raccoons and bears alike). I was baffled at just how much training that bear would have needed to repress its nature that much as to do things that were clearly totally out of bear character. I wished I could free those bears–if not to the wild forests that they might not be able to navigate anymore, then to some kind of peaceful sanctuary away from the people using them for their own ends. I wanted to help. I wanted to make it better for those poor twisted souls.

I still feel that way when I see people like Ms. Venker, or the Log Cabin Republicans, or any of those other groups of dancing bears.

But there is hope for all of us. If I could make the roll to disbelieve, she still might. You never know.

Next time we’re going to talk about hope, and what happens when we think hope is lost. I hope you’ll join me.

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