STFU Parents: The Various Types Of Mama Bears On Facebook

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If you try to research the origins of the term “mama bear,” you’ll learn there’s not a go-to instance in which the expression was popularized. According to Wikipedia, “mama bear has been used in the sense of “a woman who is extremely protective of a child or children” since at least the 1990s.” But many point to the term “mama grizzly” as being directly associated with the 2008 run by esteemed U.S. politician Sarah Palin, who used the term to refer to herself, and whose philosophy of fierce mama pride trickled into the psyches of thousands of mothers across America. It was around this time that I began hearing the term more regularly in popular culture, and soon enough it made its way into STFU, Parents submissions. If there’s one way to quickly describe your stance on motherhood — particularly on the internet via a mom blog, a parenting forum board, or on social media — it’s by identifying as a mama bear. (Or a momma bear, mamma bear, or mama grizzly, depending on your geographical region and/or proximity to actual bears.)

The expression is used so often now, it almost comes off as satire when a woman uses it. It’s the “boy who cried wolf” of parenting terminology, being tossed around regardless of any real or perceived danger. Forget about the notion that a mother might fly into a rage if someone tries to harm her child; the term “mama bear” now tends to refer to a state of mind. Would you rip the limbs off a criminal who attempts to kidnap your child? What about an old man who doesn’t smile back at your baby at the grocery store? For a lot of moms in 2014, associating with mama bear-ism establishes that you’re a good mom. Being ready to pounce, nonretractile claws freshly sharpened and manicured, means you don’t take any shit from anyone, especially if a situation involves your child(ren). Nowadays, it’s typical for a woman to post something on Facebook like, “I’m about to go full-force mama bear on the person standing in front of me at the bank!” No threatening scenario must first be presented; rather, a person can simply be standing in a quiet, uniform line and deserve the fury of a mama bear’s primal rage for some nondescript and potentially unknown reason.

Therefore, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that the majority of comments in response to mama bear posts on social media are overwhelmingly supportive, if not downright provocative. “Rip her hair out, mama!” might be exclaimed alongside comments like, “Nobody messes with the mama bear!” or, “Take charge, mama! Grrrr!” For all the progress that’s been made to de-popularize jokes about female “cat fights” in popular culture in recent years, it’s a little ironic that women are leading the pack, if you will, to normalize the stereotype of the modern mama bear. The term may make some mothers feel empowered or united, but to me it comes across as a tired trope that’s rooted less in “motherly instinct” than the idea of mothers being rabid, irrational, violent attackers.

Yet despite this shift in how mama bears are perceived, the term still resonates with a wide range of women, from crafty, “docile” Pinterest moms to aggressive, Type A moms who might appear on the local news. The meaning has been blurred by the Sarah Palins, the “mama grizzlies” who encourage mothers to react on behalf of their “cubs” (something the Palin family continues to prove to this day), but the expression’s popularity is decidedly on the rise. Even Mariska Hargitay’s character Olivia Benson on the long-running cop drama “S.V.U.” is now being positioned as a mama bear to appeal to young women and presumably boost ratings. At this point, the average woman likely responds (instinctively, of course) to the words “mama bear” with the feeling of either intense kinship or reflexive laughter, as though she’s just heard the punchline to a joke. I clearly fall into the latter category, but for the sake of exploring the former, let’s take a look at some different types of mama bears. After all, only eight species of bears are extant in the Urisdae family, but who knows how many species of mama bears there are in the entire animal kingdom?

1. Exhausted Mama Bear


The exhausted mama bear has no time to hibernate. She is folding, washing, cooking, driving, and cleaning. She is up all night with her precious cubs, and she is stressed with work and life. She has no patience for your stupid, selfish bullshit. Are you in the exhausted mama bear’s way? Well, then, get OUT of the way. This Mama Bear is one snarly step away from marring someone’s face. Consider yourself warned.

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