The discussions of the personal, which could be categorized constitutionally as those things covered under the "right to privacy," principally things such as abortion and gay civil rights, have come up repeatedly as the things that people are willing to throw overboard in order to save the Democratic party. But I would urge no surrender on any of this.
Maybe you think that abortion and gay marriage don't matter. Maybe you think they're things we're distracting ourselves with. But my argument, nay, my plea, would be for us as progressives to consider the personal issues as political issues and realize that if we take away anyone's right to privacy, eventually, we will lose our own.
We need to reclaim the body. If we claim the body, then we are able to say categorically that torture, capital punishment, sexual repression, gender inequality, are not part of the progressive agenda. If we claim the right to privacy, we are able to say that illegal search and seizure, religious indoctrination in schools, public prayer, refusal to sell Plan B, abstinence-only education—all of these things—are not acceptable. If we claim gender as power differential, we are able to see how the sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners is tied into notions of dominance—the same notions of dominance that will be used against all of us.
And it’s gender studies that have allowed us to see these things. Gender as defined by Joan Scott:
Scott’s definition of gender has two parts and several subsets; they are interrelated but analytically distinct. Her definition rests on two propositions:
1. gender is a constitutive element of social relationships based on perceived differences between the sexes;
2. gender is a primary way of signifying relationships of power.
Riane Eisler had this to say about the personal as political and our reluctance as progressives to discuss it:
Today, it's regressive fundamentalists, not progressives, who are more comfortable talking about the personal as political. They, not progressives, dominate the debate over "private" life and "family values."
Yet family relations directly influence what people consider normal and moral in all relations -- public as well as private. We must challenge the reactionary, increasingly fundamentalist "traditional family values" agenda. We cannot build a healthy democracy on a foundation of authoritarianism and intolerance -- in the home and outside it."
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 violent and oppressive.
Slogans like "traditional values" often mask a family "morality" suited to undemocratic, rigidly male-dominated, chronically violent cultures. They market a "traditional family" where women are subordinate and economically dependent, where fathers make the rules and severely 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.
How can we expect people raised in authoritarian families -- where men are ranked over women and children learn that any questioning of belief and authority will be punished -- to vote for leaders whose policies promote justice, equality, democracy, mutual respect and nonviolence?
It's not coincidental that for regressive fundamentalists -- whether Christian, Hindu, Jewish or Muslim -- the only moral family is one that models top-down rankings of domination ultimately backed up by fear and force. It's not coincidental that the 9/11 terrorists came from families where women and children are terrorized into submission.
You do not have to be a woman to recognize that gender and feminism are inextricably tied to the progressive agenda. You do not have to be a woman to recognize that when progressive males start shitting on so-called women’s issues, they are missing the point. If you do not understand how power works, how it is rooted in the binary oppositions that we ascribe to the sexes, then you will continue to focus on saving one tree while the entire forest is being razed.