The Urgent Need to Reframe and Rethink a Progressive Family Policy Agenda
By Riane Eisler
For progressives, the 2008 election offers an enormous opportunity. It is time to take control of the framing and inject what has been missing from our political platform: an integrated progressive family policy agenda.
Polls such as a recent Barna Group survey show that the most important issue for Americans is the future welfare and education of their children. Yet candidates are not focusing on this issue.
Indeed, progressives have basically ceded the meaning of family life to regressives, who recognize the foundational importance of family and other intimate relations in the establishment of social values and political and economic structures. The reason for their intensive focus on these relations is that the construction of family and other intimate relations directly influences what people consider normal and moral in all relations – public as well as private. Family relations affect how people think and act. They affect how people vote and govern, and whether the policies they support are just and genuinely democratic, or punitive, violent, and oppressive.
Regressives have successfully pushed our culture back by insisting on a male-dominated, top-down structure of family. U.S. fundamentalists stress the “headship” of the father in the family, with women and children subordinate to the will of the father. So successful have their efforts been to establish this model that social values research indicates that in spite of the success of the women’s movement, support for a patriarchal model of the family is on the rise. In 1992 when Americans were asked if the “father of the family is master of the house,” 42% said yes. By 2004 the percentage had risen to 52%. Comparable data demonstrated that less than a third of Canadians and only 20% of Europeans agreed with this “traditional value.”
Slogans like "traditional values" have often marketed a family where fathers make the rules and harshly punish disobedience – the kind of family that prepares people to defer to "strong" leaders who brook no dissent and use force to impose their will.
The task at hand for progressives is to develop an integrated progressive family policy agenda that redefines “family,” “values,” and “morality” in ways based on partnership, mutual respect, and caring rather than domination, top-down control, and coercion.
Progressive candidates can start by changing the terms of the debate:
- Replace the regressive “family values” agenda with an agenda that “values families.”
- Introduce the term “real wealth of our nation” – people and nature.
- Link family-friendly business and government policies with a strong competitive workforce
- Link children’s health, education, and welfare and the future of our economy and society.
Riane Eisler JD, is best known for her international bestseller The Chalice and The Blade and her latest book The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics.