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Friday, April 4, 2008

Feminine Majority - Gender, Values, and the Democrats

As the only group targeted by a political party using a value-based strategy, evangelicals are seen as the only people who match their actions and politics to their values. Values, however, are a universal human phenomenon. In their simplest form, values are socially constructed views about how the world should be. In 1651, Thomas Hobbes wrote about the subjectivity of values and how we shape our values to fit our ideas of what makes a perfect society.

But whatsoever is the object of any man’s appetite or desire, that it is which he for his part calleth “good”; and the object of his contempt “vile” and “inconsiderable.” For these words of good, evil, and contemptible, are ever used with relation to the person that useth them. There being nothing simply and absolutely so; nor any common rule of Good or Evil, to be taken from the nature of the objects themselves.

Looking past Hobbes’s notorious pessimism about the human condition, this idea highlights that everyone acts on values and that values are socially constructed. Therefore, values vary from person to person, and a person has the ability to change his or her values.

Although Hobbes refers to an individual’s values, his message translates to larger community values. Americans, for example, hold American values. Every political candidate, on the right or the left, knows that most Americans respond favorably to the idea that a person should be rewarded for hard work. This is a capitalist, American value. Members of other societies might feel that a person should be rewarded for his or her skin color or family bloodline. Every person is socialized into the values of his or her community or nation, and these values then intersect with other values the person has, such as those based his or her religion, race, and socioeconomic class.

Perhaps the most important set of socialized values, however, is based on a person’s gender. We term these values feminized values and masculinized values. In this book, we will outline how men’s and women’s different value systems create divergent views about what America should be. We argue that Americans carry gendered attitudes into the voting booth and, like the evangelicals, vote based on how these values translate to specific political issues.

Just as some groups’ values fall to the more conservative end of the political spectrum, other groups’ values fall to the left. Evangelicals usually support right-wing candidates, because their moral values are highly conservative. We will introduce a group of voters whose values reflect progressive ideals: feminized values voters. If evangelicals represent the key to Republican electoral victory, then feminized values voters represent the chance for Democrats to usher in a new progressive era.

Feminized values are the values into which women are socialized; a majority of women hold these values, as do a smaller percentage of men, for reasons we will describe shortly. The potential for a more progressive era arises because the women and men who hold feminized values make up today a majority of the country and of voters.

We term feminized values voters the feminized majority. These women and men will not only change election outcomes, but also will transform American values and the American Dream. The feminized majority supports a strong welfare state, views social issues through a lens of egalitarianism, and feels that government should do more in general to help its most vulnerable citizens. Feminized majority voters support stem cell research, comprehensive sex education, and environmental protection. They reject violent imperialism. They worry about their long-term economic security and fear that neither party will provide them with adequate health care. In a much deeper and richer way than American masculinized voters, the feminized majority yearns for a progressive, populist America.

We call these voters the feminized majority because the values they carry truly are becoming majoritarian. We will describe the political and economic changes that have led to this point. It is important to remember that President Bush changed the 2004 election by mobilizing evangelicals, who represent only 23 percent of voters. Now, Democrats have the opportunity to change America in dramatic ways with the support of a much larger part of the electorate. While the general perception is that the United States is a conservative country, we shall show that feminized values are held by an increasingly robust majority of voters in the country who are prepared to support a progressive politics of social justice.

The Democrats can lead the feminized majority if they are willing to abandon their triangulation strategy and create a values-based platform. This approach seems unorthodox, because we usually conflate values and morals with religion and conservatism. However, values are nothing more than socially constructed ideals that provide a moral compass for each person, regardless of where he or she falls on the political spectrum. Once Democrats recognize the power of values in elections, they can begin appealing to values voters.

A noted social critic, Charles Derber is a Professor of Sociology at Boston College. Katherine Adam is the Outreach Director for the Philadelphia GROW Project of the Drexel University School of Public Health. She has been active in Democratic Party politics at the federal, state, and local levels, including interning for Senator John Kerry. Derber and Adam collaborated on the newly released nonfiction title, “The New Feminized Majority: How Democrats Can Change America with Women’s Values” which can be purchased at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com, and from the publisher’s website.

Amazon - http://www.amazon.com/New-Feminized-Majority-Katherine-Adam/dp/159451568...

Barnes and Noblehttp://search.barnesandnoble.com/The-New-Feminized-Majority/Katherine-Ad...

Paradigm Publishing - http://www.paradigmpublishers.com/books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=180321

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