Two Other Voices on The Shriver Report

Home economics reduced

Shriver Report condescends to full-time mothers

Maria Shriver is no "wife of," even though she's married to the governor of California. She's no "niece of," although her uncle was president of the United States. She credits her late mother Eunice Kennedy Shriver for encouraging her "to believe we had the ability to change the world," and as the inspiration behind "The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything."

Her report won't change the world, but it does a good job of bringing together statistics demonstrating the progress of women in education and work. It's receiving lots of positive attention from men who have discovered the advantages of being husbands of working wives.

Male sensitivity joins post-feminist sensibility. But how you see the impact on society and the family, with fewer moms at home for the kids, will probably depend on your politics. An independent poll finds that 80 percent of Republicans see that impact with concern if not skepticism. Only a little more than half of the Democrats do. Family-values politicians, take note.

Wins, losses and trade-offs are amply documented. Women now earn 57 percent of the bachelor's degrees, 60 percent of the master's degrees, half of all the professional degrees and 49 percent of the doctorates.

The numbers for women in medicine, law and business are up sharply. If women do not yet comprise majorities in politics and science, their numbers are growing. Almost 40 percent of women make as much or more than their husbands, and mothers are the major breadwinners in 40 percent of American families.

Maria Shriver listens to the voices of different women, but her bias favoring working women slights the richness of the voices of women who work primarily at the tasks of mothering. The Shriver Report blames discrimination in education for pushing women into the "helping professions," traditional female-dominated fields such as health care instead of higher-paying, male-dominated fields of engineering and technology. The implication is that this is caused by male chauvinists, but could it be that women enter those occupations simply because that's where they want to be?

For a half-century the cultural focus in home economics has been on economics, not the home. Ms. Shriver's report insinuates a new stereotype, the woman not with stars but dollar marks in her eyes, a stereotype as narrow-minded as the old one of the "gold digger," who marries for money and ease. The report claims that the battle of the sexes is over and has given way to "sexual negotiations." Women have not "negotiated" with men before?

The terms have changed but the war between the sexes continues because the conflict is rooted in biology. With the invention of the pill, women achieved greater control over childbirth, the timing and the number of their children.

Expanded opportunities in education and work followed, enabling women to build on strengths in different stages of their lives. But the fundamental "facts of life" haven't changed at all. Women still carry the babies and who gives birth strikes an immutable difference in the outlooks of men and women.

Men can attend childbirth classes with their wives but it's still the wife's "labor" that delivers the baby. Working men and women say they wish they could spend more time with their children, but it's mothers who invariably make the changes to make it happen. Survey after survey suggest women want it that way.

A recession makes earning enough money for the family more difficult no matter the sex of the breadwinner. The government can provide a safety net, but not the affection of emotional support of a two-parent family.

Women will soon make up the majority of workers in America; 70 percent of job losses are in male-dominated businesses. A recession is an especially difficult time to expect employers to provide more money for maternity leave and flextime for full-time jobs, as urged by the Shriver Report.

The saddest unintended consequence of the sexual revolution is that it gives men the procreative advantage; women remain at the mercy of their biological clocks. This inevitably coarsens the rites of courtship. Ms. Shriver's conclusions suggest that men are less emotionally vulnerable to their wives earning more money than they do, but the report only condescends to women who choose to be mothers first.

This encourages smugness toward women who want to make the economic sacrifices to be the primary nurturer of her children. Such smugness diminishes the maternal contributions that many of us received from devoted full-time mothers, enabling us to become successful working women.

Maria Shriver Misses the Point
Mona Charen
Friday, October 23, 2009

Maria Shriver's new report, "A Woman's Nation Changes Everything," has received a full dress media rollout. We are invited to examine the changes in women's lives over the past several decades and to deplore, as usual, the obstacles to full equality that women supposedly face. Published in cooperation with the Center for American Progress, "A Woman's Nation" claims to be reckoning with the new era but arguably fails to grapple with the most profound challenges to women (as well as children and men).

Some of what's in this report is a recycling of long-discredited data. Heather Boushey, for example, regurgitates the statistic that women only earn 77 cents on the dollar compared with men. But as the Hudson Institute's Diana Furchtgott-Roth and other economists have shown, this number conceals more than it reveals. It is only true on average. But when you begin to compare like with like, the discrepancies narrow considerably. Comparing men and women who both work 40 hours per week, for example, reduces the pay gap by 10 cents per hour. You have to look carefully at what is being compared. Among workers labeled "full time," hours worked by men tend to exceed hours worked by women. When men and women performing the same job are compared -- whether supermarket checker or first-year associate at a law firm -- the pay gap nearly disappears.

"A Woman's Nation" declares in one breath that the "war of the sexes is over" but in the next launches a broadside about women's educational opportunities. It requires some ingenuity to complain that women are educationally shortchanged, when, as even the chapter's author, Mary Ann Mason, acknowledges, "Women today receive 62 percent of college associate's degrees, 57 percent of bachelor's degrees, 60 percent of all master's degrees, half of all professional degrees (law and medicine) and just under half of all Ph.D.s." But there is a problem lurking beneath the surface of this evident success. Though they dominate higher education, too many women are still choosing "traditional female majors" like education, health care (including nursing), and psychology.

Some people look at these data and see free people making free choices. The report doesn't see it that way. Some unseen hand (the patriarchy?) is herding women students into psychology class and blocking their enrollment in engineering and computer science. Women shouldn't cluster in the "helping professions," the report complains, because those jobs don't pay as well as some others. That women may prefer these fields anyway is not considered. Yes, Mason admits, women choose fields that offer job flexibility so that they can fulfill family responsibilities. But that just shows how much the world must change to make these tradeoffs unnecessary.

The solution to the educational "problem," the report argues -- and here we come to the nub -- is more government action. "Our government has already started" to tackle these problems, the report chirps, through laws like Title IX. But Big Brother must do more! Title IX must be used "as a tool to level the playing field for women in the sciences, just as it has done successfully for sports." In other words, schools must be coerced into "equalizing" these programs or risk the loss of federal support.

There's so much for benevolent government to do. The U.S., the report laments, "is the only industrialized country without any requirement that employers provide paid family leave." Employers must be required by law to offer generous family leave, flexible working hours, and other benefits. The government must "increase support to families for child care, early education and elder care to help working parents cope with their multiple responsibilities." Would that be the same government that is already trillions in debt?

Hundreds of pages, lots of photos and charts, and it's the same old song. It completely misses the most important fact about modern women's lives -- the decline of family stability. And not just women's lives. The decline of marital stability and the rise of unmarried parenting (currently almost 40 percent of children are born to unmarried parents) has not only been a catastrophe for children, it has also made combining work and family harder than ever. Just at the moment women entered the workforce en masse, marriages -- so essential to providing stability to home life -- unraveled.

The solution, says the Shriver report, is for our "social insurance" programs to "recognize" how family life is changing and increase benefits for a range of domestic needs. See how it works? The more that families disintegrate, the more demands are made upon the government to step in to fill the gaps. That's a downward spiral from which there may be no escape.

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