The report is an attempt to take back the claim on moral values from the right and make them our own. The authors argue that “values – our deeply held beliefs, the principles
that guide our thoughts and actions – infuse our lives with meaning.” And that “the cry for values-based politics, on both the left and the right, is about a search for inspiration and meaning.” The Challenge to Act is also a call to incorporate a vision into our activism. IWPR points out that
Progressives working for change sorely need such forward-looking vision. We rely heavily on statistics and policy analysis to do our talking for us; we too often assume that these tools alone can convince people to agree with our prescriptions for change.
Data is important but facts & figures are not very inspiring. Instead, we need a vision that is informed by our values (and the facts). Only that can truly motivate and inspire us to fight for change.
What are those values? Based on more than 120 interviews, the authors of the report determined that women activists are driven by this core set of moral values:
- Community, where people from all walks of life gather to define and pursue the common good
- Family, which offers life-giving relationships and shared care-giving
- Equality, which gives us all the opportunity to pursue our own chosen goals and paths
- Power, which ensures that public life includes and responds to diverse voices
- Compassion, which is a sensitivity to the emotions and experiences of others that requires us to eliminate injustice and respect the complexity of others’ life choices
- Balance, which allows us to negotiate the multifaceted nature of our lives without sacrificing our most cherished goals and ideals
- Practice, which enables us to bring our values to life through action
Wow! I agree with those values! It is great to know that there are core values that do not at all sound religious. This is consistent with what the authors of the report found:
This diversity in our values and their sources means that we cannot identify a shared set of “women’s values” that is innate or universally embraced by all women. Indeed, women who come from many walks of life have different experiences, ways of looking at the world, and belief systems. Our research has found, however, that even in the midst of their significant differences, progressive women activists often articulate a core cluster of values.
Maybe these are really progressive values, not (just) women’s values, despite the authors’ claims to the contrary: “our research focuses not just on progressive values but on a particular set of progressive values that often motivate women’s activism.” I have a hard time believing that progressive men are not motivated by this same set of values. The report does not make clear how these values motivate women more than they motivate men. Carol Tarvis has pointed out the danger of claiming that women are somehow morally superior, thus, it is not very likely that women have a set of values that is different than that of men. Our values are likely more informed by our experience as human beings than by our gender. Nevertheless, looking at values is an important part for building a progressive movement that can counteract the religious wrong’s claim on the framing of issues using their regressive values.
Who are the women they interviewed – I am particularly interested in knowing if they included atheists (my radar turned on when the press release mentioned “faith based”) and single women (a group all too often left out)? According to the report:
These women live and work all over the country. They come from every major racial and ethnic group; over half are women of color. They are Christian and Jewish, Muslim and Hindu, Buddhist and Unitarian. Some are atheist. They are rich and they are poor; they are national leaders and grassroots activists.
Okay, so the non-believers are covered. What about the unmarried? Well, they are not mentioned, at least not in the section that gives a top level introduction to the women (p. 2-3). The word “unmarried” does not appear in the rest of the report (although the word “married” does not show up either). The word “single” only appears coupled with “mother,” as if the only single women are single mothers (although, to be fair, the report does point out the fallacy of marriage promotion to “cure” poverty; yet marriage itself does not seem to be challenged). That hardly feels inclusionary. As Page Gardner points out, progressives need to deliver on the hopes for change that led unmarried women to the polls (hat tip to Bella DePaulo. With a marital status gap of 37-points in favor of Obama, the unmarrieds can really no longer be ignored (you’d think). Unmarried women contributed strongest to that gap (with a 44-point gap vs. a 27-point gap from unmarried men). These gaps suggest differences in values by marital status (and gender, though the gender gap indicates only 13-point female preference in favor of Obama). It would be tremendously interesting to find out what, if anything, unmarried women and men value that is different from married people. The marital status gap in voting suggests that unmarried people are more progressive. It also would be important to understand why unmarried women who were undecided flocked to Obama: The marital status gap in polls was smaller than it was based on actual results (of course, this could be a result of differing methodologies). (It’s interesting to note that even when looking at the swing – the change in Democratic votes between 2004 and 2008 – unmarried folks are still clearly supportive of Obama.)
Overall, the IWPR report gives plenty of food for thought, though it’s ignorance toward marital status suggests that the discussion around values has just begun. It would have been nice if their research would have been informed by these statistics because I am sure there are values behind them that would be interesting to explore and are important in keeping unmarried people motivated for a progressive agenda.