iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Jesse Kornbluth

Jesse Kornbluth

Posted: October 19, 2009 06:50 AM

Maria Shriver's Report on American Women: After the Cheery Headline, Gloomy Trends

What's Your Reaction?

I never watch Meet the Press, but I tuned in to see David Gregory kick off NBC's coverage of "The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything." Instigated by Maria Shriver, this year-long study is the centerpiece of a week of programming on NBC and a cover story in Time magazine.

You'd better believe that Shriver's researchers looked for good news -- and found it:

For the first time in our history, half of all U.S. workers are women. Mothers are the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of American families. And that changes everything. Not just for women but also for men...


Together, the results of these efforts provide a fascinating window into the changing American landscape. What we heard loud and clear is that the Battle Between the Sexes is over. It was a draw. Now we're engaged in Negotiation Between the Sexes.


A 50/50 nation? Parity between the sexes? The lion lies down with the lamb?

I don't think so. While I respect the research in The Shriver Report -- in a minute, I'll show you how gloomy it really is --- I was uneasy about the NBC/Time hype as soon as I heard about this alliance.

First, some low-hanging fruit -- Gregory's visible enthusiasm for the subject. He said:

This reflects my life. I'm blessed to be married to my wife, Beth, who's a prominent trial lawyer, and so some of these realities I've been living with all the time that I've been married. But these are profound changes.

Sorry. No. I'm willing to believe that David Gregory, father of three, was sincere when he talked about making adjustments in parenting with his wife. I also believe that Gregory (who must earn at least $1 million a year) and his wife (a lawyer who reportedly made about $3 million a year when she was a vice president at Fannie Mae) have a very different idea of what those adjustments are than 99.9% of their fellow citizens.

So Gregory made happy talk. It wasn't until the last minute of the discussion that Shriver put the numbers in perspective:

A very important point is that 70 percent of the job losses this recession have been in male-dominated businesses, and therefore, the women are the primary breadwinners and they make less than the man.

Let me underscore this: Women have half the jobs in America now in large part because so many men have lost theirs. And women make only 70 percent of the salary that men make in the same jobs. Is this not a picture of a country moving...backwards?

Now to the findings.

SEXISM

There's still plenty...Women told me that male co-workers ask them all the time to give pep talks to their daughters, but never to their wives. They marveled, "They want us to inspire their girls to great achievement, but don't you go giving their wives any big ideas!" In fact, the poll shows that a substantial majority of women feel that men resent women who have more power than they do.

HEALTH
The competing demands of work and home often have greater adverse health effects on women than on men. Caregivers, the majority of whom are women, are almost twice as likely to report having chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or arthritis. Women also are more likely to suffer chronic stress that can lead to headaches, sleeplessness, irritability, and depression. Indeed, a recent poll showed that women are more likely than men to feel the psychological effects of the Great Recession and to report physical symptoms of stress.


Domestic violence is the number one cause of injury to women. Once thought of as a purely private matter, intimate violence is now recognized to have far-reaching public health and financial consequences that extend to the workplace. Perpetrators often try to threaten the stability of a survivor's job, in order to further control her and make her more financially dependent on the perpetrator. Domestic violence contributes to a job loss for a quarter to half of all survivors.

MEDIA

Because of the privileged position that rich, successful, or exceptional women now hold in the media, there exists a blackout, however unintended (or not), of how the majority of women, and especially those whose median earnings are about $36,000 a year or less, live their lives.


The most telling case in point: the top five jobs for women in the United States are not surgeon, lawyer, police lieutenant, district attorney or cable news pundit. In fact, the top five jobs for women in 2008 were, in first place, secretaries, followed by registered nurses, elementary and middle school teachers, cashiers and retail salespersons. Further down the list? Maids, child care workers, office clerks, home health aids, and hairdressers.

The media rarely portray women as they really are, as everyday breadwinners and caregivers. Men outnumbered women by a four-to-one ratio on the Sunday-morning talk shows in 2005 and 2006. Of the 35 hosts or co-hosts on the prime-time cable news programs, 29 were white men.

Is the solution to these problems more state-funded childcare? (Gloria Steinem points out that "childcare is still nowhere on the list of priorities in Congress, and we have also become the only industrialized country without any requirement of paid family leave.")

Must employers become more sensitive to family/job conflicts or they'll lose their best workers? (I hadn't realized so many women were willing to lose their company-paid health insurance.)

And what about the "confused" men who don't know how to adjust to new, ever-changing roles? Excuse me, but many of them aren't confused at all. There is a sizable part of this country --- shall we guess 20-25% --- that wants to roll back Roe v. Wade and return women to their "traditional" (that is, second class) status. From the report: "As recently as 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a statement declaring that 'A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband, even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.'"

Over at Time, there are more brutal statistics:

Poll after poll finds women even more anxious than men about their family's financial security. While most workers have seen their wages stall or drop, women's earnings fell 2% in 2008, twice as much as men's. Women are 32% more likely than men to have subprime mortgages, leaving them more vulnerable in the housing crisis. The Guttmacher Institute found that the downturn has affected the most basic decisions in family life. Nearly half of women surveyed in households earning less than $75,000 want to delay pregnancy or limit the number of children they have.

Time concludes, "The argument about women working is over."

Translation: Women would rather leave their homes and work than see their children starve.

To buy the Kindle version of "The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything", click here.

To read the Time Magazine story, "What Women Want Now", click here.

[cross-posted from HeadButler.com]