The "battle of the sexes is over" claims the
much-heralded Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything on
American work and family life. Go ahead, take a victory lap.
Unless, of course, you’re among the millions of women who
still earn 23 percent less on average in wages, pay 38 percent more for
gender-rated health insurance or fear losing their jobs while trying to juggle
disproportionate family responsibilities without flexible work schedules and
reasonable family-leave policies.
The year-long study initiated by California First Lady and
former NBC News correspondent Maria Shriver and published by the Center for
American Progress, has generated celebratory headlines in the media about
women’s advances in the workplace while ignoring the many stark realities in the report.
And what is all too true of complex and contradictory
issues, the joint investigation is being whittled down by the media both to factoids lacking in
context and to emotional anecdotes, though many of the statistics
packed into the 454-page report are hair-raising.
Women spend 68 percent more on their health care than men during their prime
Women who suffer domestic abuse spend 42 percent more on their health care than
Employers lose 3 billion to 5 billion dollars annually from the lost worker productivity
of domestic violence survivors, perpetrators and colleagues.
One in five women delay seeking medical care because they can’t get time off
53 percent of college graduates breastfeed their babies, while only 29 percent
of high school graduates do so.
One citation not likely to see the light of the day on your
favorite morning show is the third rail of women’s health issues — the effects
of class and race discrimination on childbearing:
culture tends to blame women for “selfishly” focusing on their careers when
they delay having children, but a complex set of incentives pressures white,
affluent women to reproduce more and work less—among them the “opt-out” myth,
the “mommy wars” debate, and the
celebration of multiple births by white, married women—while pressuring low-
and middle-income women and women of color to reproduce less and work more.
of color in particular are concentrated in low-wage occupations at the bottom
end of the labor market that intensify the work-family tension. The low-skilled
jobs most commonly occupied by women offer few benefits, irregular hours, and
minimal time off, rendering them the least conducive for care giving."
Shriver gets credit for being willing to make such an
unabashedly frank statement on an enormously controversial issue in the report.
But that and its equally important findings on health disparities are
undermined by several breezy and unsupported claims that "the gender
war" is over and women’s equality has magically been achieved merely by
reaching 50 percent parity to the number of men in the workforce. This notion is being happily parroted by a sound bite-driven news media to the exclusion of
other relevant data.
That’s not to say that there isn’t good news in the study.
An exclusive public opinion poll conducted by TIME magazine
and the Rockefeller Foundation offers an encouraging glimpse of historically
more enlightened personal views on gender relations.
77 percent of Americans believe the rise of women in the workforce is a net
positive for society
Women who have children are just as committed to their jobs as women who do not
have children, 83 percent of women and 73 percent of men agreed, respectively.
85 percent of women and 79 percent of men said that compared to previous
generations, it is now more acceptable for men to be stay-at-home dads.
78 percent of women agreed that it is possible for a single woman to have a
fulfilling life, while two-thirds of men said so.
89 percent of men and women are comfortable with women earning more money than men
in a household.
Unfortunately, few of these modern work-life perspectives
have penetrated either the private workplace or the public institutions which continue to
perpetuate unfair work practices, advance multitudes of other disparities that
create barriers to true equality between men and women and seriously compromise
For all of the fanfare arising from Shriver’s recent media
blitz, starting with a plum appearance on the venerable political show,
"Meet the Press" as part of NBC News’ week-long series of feature
stories, surprisingly little attention has been devoted to the practical
realities of transforming outdated workplace and public policies, especially on
the hottest topic in the nation right now — health care reform.
The study details the usual workplace barriers to obtaining
affordable health insurance, routine policies of charging women higher premium
costs and rationing coverage, and chemical and toxic hazards in the workplace
that can affect reproductive health, fertility and fetal development.
The American Association of University Women takes a stab at
making a broad range of health care, workplace and educational policy
suggestions to complement the report.
Of particular note are AAUW’s calls to ban gender-rated
health insurance premiums, increase Title X funding for reproductive health
care, expand prescription drug coverage for contraception services and end
ineffective abstinence-only sex education programs.
But while the ongoing health insurance reform debate in
Congress is at the forefront of the public’s mind, the complete media blackout
on women’s health disparities in the report is troubling.
Print and broadcast news gleefully reported the enormously
ignorant statements about maternal health, abortion funding and end-of-life care that nearly derailed the recent U.S. Senate discussion on
health care reform.
But not one major news outlet has covered the Shriver
Report’s section on reproductive health disparities, since its Oct. 16 release,
with the exception of TIME, which made a passing mention in its most
All the while, the American
public remains in the dark about the stark new realities of health care —
women, as a greater proportion of primary breadwinners, have difficulty
securing insurance, their workplace risks are largely unaddressed and their
medical care is overtly politicized.
But one thing is certain, the remaining
publicity tour over the course of this week will either elevate the Shriver
Report as a critical tipping point in history to help pass needed health care
reforms or, as Gloria Steinem notes in her essay at the Women’s Media
Center, it will meet "the dusty fate of so many other reports and opinion