A little less conversation, a little more action, please
October 30, 2009 | Benefits,Books,Corporate Voices for Working Families,Economics,Ethics,Leslie Bennetts,Maria Shriver,Media,MSM,Politics,PR,Working Mother
Maria Shriver declares the United States “a woman’s nation” in The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything. Why? Because women now make up half the workforce. That, she says, “changes everything.”
Does Maria Shriver live in the same nation as the rest of us?
The same nation …
… that dropped from 27th to 31st place on the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report.
… where boys and men who “weren’t raised to respect girls” gang rape a 15-year-old girl on school grounds after a homecoming dance.
… where people actually debate whether an adult who rapes a child should be brought to justice.
It’s not clear to me what The Shriver Report’s point is, except it doesn’t seem to be a call to action. It does, however, declare the battle of the sexes over. It’s all rather retro to dredge up a “battle” that saw Billie Jean King defeat Bobby Riggs in a tennis match, which was dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes.” That “battle” was essentially a publicity stunt.
Is that what this is? A publicity stunt? If so, to what end?
Established in 1961, the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women was a compromise by John F. Kennedy, who didn’t want to alienate his supporters who were against the Equal Rights Amendment. Maybe The Shriver Report is a compromise to its sponsors, advisers and the rest of corporate America, which is adamantly opposed to legislation that requires equality and/or benefits of any kind.
- At least 139 countries provide paid sick leave to employees, but this “woman’s nation” does not.
- Almost 100 countries require employers to provide paid annual leave, but this “woman’s nation” does not.
- Women in this “woman’s nation” get the same amount of paid maternity leave as women do in Lesotho, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland: zero.
- Men in this “woman’s nation” get the same amount of paid paternity leave: zero.
- It is legal in most states of this “woman’s nation” for employers to discriminate against mothers.
- While illegal, women in this “woman’s nation” deal with pregnancy discrimination every day.
- At least 84 countries have a maximum length workweek, but this “woman’s nation” — whose workweek length was second only to Japan’s hours among industrialized countries — does not.
- At least 34 countries guarantee discretionary leave from work — Greece and Switzerland offer paid leave specifically for children’s educational needs — but this “woman’s nation” does not.
- Women in this “woman’s nation” still earn less than men do, and mothers earn less than anyone.
Knowing all that, it’s confusing to see Shriver on national television talking about flex time as if that were the most pressing issue American women faced every day. Imagine my surprise when I read the report and saw things like equal pay mentioned.
Even so, what does it mean that American women comprise half the workforce? Nothing. Especially if women have no power (or very limited power) to implement change or write policy. It means nothing until women make up half of Congress, half the boards of directors and half the executive teams that run American businesses.
- Goldman Sachs has 13 members on its board of directors. Two are women. It has nine executive officers. One is a woman. It has 30 members on its management committee. Four are women.
- Hewlett-Packard has 11 members on its board of directors. One is a woman. It has 12 members on its executive team. Three are women.
- NBC Universal has 18 executive officers. Three are women.
- Pacific Gas and Electric Company has 11 members on its board of directors. Two are women. It has 41 executive officers. Nine are women.
- Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati has 12 members on its board of directors. One is a woman.
- Telemundo is owned by NBC Universal and MSN. MSN has 10 members on its board of directors. Two are women. It has 18 senior leaders. Two are women.
- TimeInc. has 12 executive officers. Six are women. However, Time Warner has 12 members on its board of directors. Two are women.
- VISA has 17 members on its board of directors. Three are women. It has 21 members on its management team. Three are women.
- Christie Hefner is former president and CEO of Playboy Industries, which has seven members on its board of directors. All men. It has 10 executive officers. Three are women.
- Cisco has 13 members on its board of directors. Two are women. It has seven executive officers. One is a woman.
So what’s the point?
Last year, I reviewed Carolyn B. Maloney’s book, Rumors of our Progress have been Greatly Exaggerated: Why Women’s Lives Aren’t Getting any Easier and How We Can Make Real Progress for Ourselves and Our Daughters. While I took issue with a few things and especially how she publicized the book, I said it was a comprehensive look at women’s issues. For those who regularly keep up on these issues, however, not much of the information was new.
That’s how I feel about The Shriver Report, only worse. Yes, the Rockefeller Foundation/TIME survey of 3,400 people provided new data, as highlighted in a special report in TIME, The State of the American Woman, What Women Want Now by Nancy Gibbs, Oct. 26, 2009. But the rest of the essays feel so out of date and certainly undeserving of a breathless media blitz. Maybe it’s “news” to someone who hasn’t read a thing on the subject in 30 years. But for others it might feel as stale and out of place as the term “battle of the sexes.”
Oprah Winfrey says in the epilogue that the report’s intent is to start a conversation. Hello? When she and Shriver weren’t listening, the conversation had already begun.
Simon & Schuster published The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything edited by Heather Boushey and Ann O’Leary, with Karen Skelton, Ed Paisley, Leslie Miller, and Laura Nicholson Oct. 20, 2009. The eBook includes an introductory chapter by Maria Shriver. It lists for $20, but I got my copy for $16 with a $4 discount code.
Others weigh in
- It’s Not a Man’s World or a Woman’s Nation by Gloria Steinem, Oct. 15, 2009, The Women’s Media Center.
- Maria Shriver Says It’s a Woman’s Nation. Do You?by Joanne Bamberger, Oct. 20, 2009, on PunditMom.
- Media: It’s a Woman’s Nation While Dad’s on His Knees by Wendy Norris, Oct. 23, 2009, RH Reality Check.
- Maria Shriver Misses the Point by Mona Charen, Oct. 23, 2009, Jewish World Review.
- The Shriver Report – “A Woman’s Nation” Still Has Far to Go by Linda Lowen, Oct. 21, 2009, About.com.
- When We’re Equal, We’ll Be Happy by Judith Warner, Oct. 22, 2009, Domestic Disturbances blog, The New York Times.
- Books: The Feminine Mistake by Leslie Bennetts
- Books: Rumors of our Progress have been Greatly Exaggerated by Carolyn B. Maloney
- Working Mother works for … you?
- What Working Mother magazine won’t tell you: Global gender gap
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