The New Feminized Majority: How Democrats Can Change America with Women’s
reviewed by Erika Bachiochi
Democrats have ceded discussion of values to Republicans and their Evangelical base in recent elections, and it has cost them greatly, according to social critic Charles Derber and his former student Katherine Adam.
In The New Feminized Majority, they contend that not since the New Deal have Democrats based their party platform on a compelling moral philosophy; the party has run on interest-group issues alone and has suffered for it. But they don’t suggest that Democrats follow John Kerry in trying to Christianize their progressivism, which would simply dignify the popular but misinformed idea that moral values must be based upon a Christian or religious worldview.
Instead, they should look to the views of the majority of Americans. Democrats will win if they rally the majority of Americans—mostly women, but also some men—whose personal beliefs are based on “feminized” values.
For the authors, feminized values—cooperation and community, compassion, a preference for nonviolence and peace, a belief in equal rights—inspired the Great Society, the civil rights movement, and even the Declaration of Independence.
They blame masculinized values—competition and aggression, efficiency and competency, autonomy and individualism—for corporate power and America’s “hegemonic” dominance of the world. Indeed, they argue, the Founders relied on masculinized values when they included private property in our nation’s founding documents. Masculinized values explain all that’s wrong with America.
The idea of sexual polarity (and later complementarity) goes back to the ancient Greeks, and has been catalogued brilliantly in Sister Prudence Allen’s The Concept of Woman. The authors’ claim to originality is their politicizing of a human reality acknowledged by any but the most hard-core gender deconstructionist.
What may surprise Derber, who teaches at Boston College, a Jesuit institution, and Adam, a recent graduate, is that the most vocal proponent of the sort of values they are claiming for progressivism was Pope John Paul II. What they call “feminized values,” he called, in Mulieris Dignitatem, “the feminine genius.”
Criticizing the West for its materialism, consumerism, and focus on efficiency and productivity at the expense of human dignity, the late pope called upon the women of the world, and especially of the West, to “re-humanize” the world, to bring attention to the humanity and worth of each individual person, regardless of his utility in the world.
Yes, men must work with women in this re-humanizing process, but those women who have embraced their propensity for empathy, for peace-making, for self-giving love, must lead. In addressing “the serious problems of the future: leisure time, the quality of life, migration, social services, euthanasia, drugs, health care, the ecology, etc.,” he wrote in 1995 in his Letter to Women,
But the philosopher John Paul II would part with the sociologist Derber and social activist Adam in understanding the genesis of these feminine or feminized values. Though John Paul would allow that, to some degree, feminine values may arise from socialization, Derber and Adam reject entirely the commonsense view, corroborated by countless biological and sociological studies, that these values are, for the most part, born of nature.
Instead, they offer a bizarre theory of feminization: Men forced women to appropriate these values so that they would accept their oppression, yet we now think them so superior that men should appropriate them for themselves.
We must appropriate them, the authors insist, because the cure for greed and materialism, for the growing gap between the rich and the poor, and for the current threats to the environment is “feminized populism,” a new New Deal, since “government is better able to handle problems than is the free market.” John Paul II understood how the market can tempt people to see their self-worth as inhering in their possessions and to elevate material acquisition over human development, but he reserved his harshest words for socialism—the economic system required by Derber and Adam’s “feminized populism,” but one that fundamentally distorts the essential freedom of the human person.
The pope saw how the market relied upon the natural creativity, initiative, and cooperation of individuals to create the wealth that families and societies need in order to develop and prosper. The trouble with a market economy is not the market itself, so long as it is properly circumscribed by law. The trouble is a culture so bereft of the truths about life that it allows the quest for possessions to overtake the quest for solidarity, for virtue, for love.
Where Derber and Adam want to “feminize” the economy itself by transforming the federal government into a social welfare bureaucracy like those of Western Europe, John Paul II urged a transformation of culture powerful enough to soften the hearts of the players in the economy. The real solution to social problems lies not in drastically reducing the capability of the market to produce jobs and create wealth, but in building up a culture that ennobles self-giving love, concern, and self-sacrifice for those in need, and that upholds the dignity and worth of the human person whatever his occupation, status, or race.
It is in arms of the family, not by the hand of the state, that these humanizing values are learned—values that at-home mothers especially, in their decision to sacrifice market work to raise their children, both epitomize and teach.
And, it might as well be explicitly acknowledged that, whatever the authors’ claims to the contrary, the “feminized” values they laud—compassion for the oppressed and suffering, the preference for peace, and even a penchant for equal rights—are Christian values. After all, it was the “feminizing” effect of Christianity that compelled Nietzsche to call it a religion for the weak.
The greatest of all ironies in The New Feminized Majority is the writers’ attempt to fit abortion into their scheme of feminized values. They offer little discussion of the issue, and for good reason. There is no legitimate argument in favor of abortion rights within the “feminine” values of peace-making, human rights, and compassion for the weak.
Like slavery before it, abortion is most properly situated in their list of excessive “masculinized” values. This is why “feminized” pro-life women who reject the feminist (read: masculinized) quest for radical autonomy are so dreaded.
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“Miss Americans” first appeared in the September 2008 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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