Sarah Palin’s understanding of wildlife appears to be no better than her tenuous grasp of social history. Mrs Palin has been very much in the news over her enthusiastic promotion of a band of crazies thoughtful, conservative candidates who agree with her own views on education and “traditional family values”. The women in this band she likes to describe as “mamma grizzlies”, most recntly Christina O’Donnell in Delaware.
The problem with the conservative view of the “traditional” family and its values is that has little relation to history, and is in fact a relatively modern invention. The problem with her adoption of mamma grizzlies as her model is that they too scarcely embody the “family values” she claims to support. Real life mamma grizzlies do not live or mate in the nuclear families she so admires. Rather, they mate in promiscuous, polygamous groups, then raise their young as single mothers – or in collaboration with other females, as family units headed by two women. The closest human counterparts to real-life “mamma grizzlies” are lesbian couples, with kids – not exactly Christian O’Donnell.
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Bruce Bagemihl in Biological Exuberance describes the family structure of grizzly bears, based on an analysis of 18 published, peer-reviewed academic papers. He notes that while grizzlies (and Black bears) are largely solitary creatures, they do sometimes form short-term social groups around specific food sources. Mating is indiscriminate and polygamous, with both males and females mating with multiple opposite sex partners for conception. After mating, the males have no further part in child-rearing.
Consequently, many grizzly mammas raise their young as single parents – unless (as many do) they team up with another female for co-operative parenting.
The two mothers become inseparable companions, travelling and feeding together throughout the summer and fall seasons as they share in the parenting of their cubs.. ……. A bonded pair jointly defends their food, and the two females also protect one another and their offspring (including protecting them from attack by grizzly males). The cubs regard both females as their parents, following and responding to either mother equally; bonded females occasionally also nurse each other’s cubs. If one female dies, her companion usually adopts her cubs and rears them as her own.
Bagemihl is careful to point out that there are no observations to suggest that these relationships are sexual, but that is not my point. Rather, I want to draw attention to the abundant evidence from history, anthropology and zoology that “natural” sexual and family relationships are far more varied than the simplistic formulations of ”traditional family” propagandists would ever like to admit.
Sexual activity is not always exclusively for procreation and not always between opposite-sex partners; the partners in procreation are usually opposite-sex (not always – some lizards reproduce from female pairs), but the parties in biological parenting and child-rearing are not always the same; and there are instances where same-sex parents have clear advantages over the alternatives, especially where the alternative is not “one mom and one pop”, but a single mother, as in the case of the Grizzlies.
There are thousands of animal species that are known to have homosexual relationships, some even more frequently than heterosexual relationships (for example bighorn rams, female bonobo chimps and male giraffe). Many other animal species, especially birds, form same-sex parenting couples, by adoption or surrogacy. In human societies, there are likewise numerous examples where standard practices include same-sex relationships in addition to opposite sex-marriage – and the evidence from research is that just as in the animal kingdom, same-sex couples are at least as capable of good parenting, and sometimes even better, than opposite – sex couples.
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- New Sarah Palin Ad Welcomes Grizzlies Of All Genders (As Long As They’re Not “Politicos!”) (mediaite.com)
- The Gay Side of Nature (time.com)
- Why It’s OK for Birds to Be Gay (livescience.com)
- Sexual Fluidity Is Natural in Animals (gayrights.change.org)
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- Africa’s Male Wives (It’s a Queer World)
Crompton, Louis: Homosexuality and Civilization
Naphy, William G: Born to be Gay: A History of Homosexuality (Revealing History)
Roughgarden, Joan: Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People