What are...family values?

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In this post I want to briefly discuss feminist values/family values and how I have organized this section. Before getting into that, here's a pdf of my reading notes for the Patricia Hill Collins' essay. 

The essay that we are reading for Monday's class (4.4) is partly responding to a particular moment within American popular/political culture when rhetoric about family values was frequently used to critique feminism and to position feminists as against the family and family values. One oft-cited example of connecting the promotion of family values with the critiquing of feminism is Pat Robertson's remarks in a 1992 letter opposing Iowa's equal rights initiative*:

The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.

Another notable (and perhaps the most popular) example of connecting feminism/feminist goals with the erosion of the family and its values is Dan Quayle's (in)famous comments about the fictional character, Murphy Brown in May of 1992:

It doesn't help matters when prime time TV has Murphy Brown -- a character who supposedly epitomizes today's intelligent, highly paid, professional woman -- mocking the importance of fathers, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another `lifestyle choice'. I know it is not fashionable to talk about moral values, but we need to do it. Even though our cultural leaders in Hollywood, network TV, the national newspapers routinely jeer at them, I think that most of us in this room know that some things are good, and other things are wrong. Now it's time to make the discussion public. -- Vice President Dan Quayle addressing the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco and criticizing Murphy Brown's decision to be a single (highly successful) mother, 5/19/92.

Important to note is that Quayle's comments on Murphy Brown are part of a larger speech in which he claims that one of the primary causes of the LA riots (which happened in the summer of 1992 right after the police who beat Rodney King were found not guilty) is the erosion of traditional family values. Here is a transcript of the entire speech and a news clip with an excerpt from the speech:


As an aside: Did you watch the entire clip? What do you make of the juxtaposition, by the newscasters, of the clip about Dan Quayle and his description of Murphy Brown as mocking the importance of fathers with the clip about Robert Reed (Mr. Brady) and the revelation that he had died of AIDS and not cancer? Is this merely coincidence that one clip leads to the next? Or, is some connection being encouraged in the viewer?

It would seem that for both Robertson and Quayle, feminism poses a serious threat to the family and its values about "right and wrong"? But, why is feminism such a threat? Why does feminists' desire to work for an equal rights amendment (Robertson) or a feminist's choice to be an unwed mother (Quayle) elicit such extreme responses? What anxieties/fears about white masculinity do these feminists claims tap into (see Chloe's post for more on this)?

In her essay, "It's All in the Family," Patricia Hill Collins focuses her attention on "the family" part of family values by exploring "how six dimensions of the traditional family ideal construct intersections of gender, race, and nation (63) and produce/reinforce gender/race/nation hierarchies. She argues that it is crucial for organizations --feminist or Black Nationalist, for example--to be critically aware how they use/invoke  'family.'

In their various contributions to the Feminist Family Values Forum, Lloyd, Jimenez, Steinem and Davis focus much of their attention on the "values" part of family values. Indeed, the purpose of the forum was to bring a wide range of women together to talk about what values actually mean and what values feminists want to embrace and promote.

In bringing all of these readings together, I want us to be curious about:

  • What are families? What are their values?
  • Is feminism bad for families and their values?
  • What sort of values do feminists promote?
  • What does it mean to value something?
  • Why is language about values (and morality) so exclusively linked with one particular vision/version of the family?
  • What differences do you see between the phrases "family values" and "families values"?

1 Comment

Wow. I am now officially curious about family values. The Collins reading set me up pretty well, but this post pushed further. Bringing up the highly publicized/analyzed/referenced Quayle/Murphy Brown incident brings family values back down to reality (more or less). Granted, this happened in the early 90's and some might argue that feminism has gained some significant ground in broadening acceptable family values since then, it is important nonetheless in providing historical context for this debate.
The juxtaposition in the clip of the Quayle/Murphy Brown story and Mr. Brady dying of AIDS as the potential to really shake up the idea of fatherhood, family, and the AIDS epidemic. Yet another famous straight man dies of AIDS in Hollywood and the public continues to question their assumptions and ghettoing of AIDS to the gay community. Not to mention, this man who played the nation's ideal father. The Brady Bunch did a real number in assigning/enforcing the popular narrative of family values. Putting this next to Murphy Brown's 'mockery of fatherhood' effectively convinces the viewer that fatherhood is going to shit. Essentially we have a woman who doesn't need a father for her child and then a father dying of AIDS. Surely rocks the image of the ideal father.
I would also like to add one question to your 'being curious about' list: What would it mean to work outside family values/structures? Collins proposes at the end of her article that we re-articulate and reclaim the rhetoric of family and family values to work for us in our social justice frameworks. Why not do away with the thing all together? Why not focus our attentions on the social circles or communities as a whole? Is that even possible and what might it look like?
Also, one example of family rhetoric framing social justice/human rights movements from "Egyptian gays join the people's revolt against Mubarek" by Paul Canning, published by LGBT Asylum news.

"Egypt's gay and lesbian community has had enough of years of police brutality and torture and GayEgypt.com call on all lesbians and gays to join their brothers and sisters on the street to peacefully express their demand for immediate change." (emphasis added)

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