Maria Shriver Says It’s a Woman’s Nation. Do You?

shriver_onpageCalifornia First Lady Maria Shriver says we’re now living in a Woman’s Nation — women make up half the work force, the majority of mothers are the main breadwinners or co-breadwinners of their families and women are in charge of 80% of the high ticket item household spending.  That, says Shriver, is some power we need to grab by the horns!

So why doesn’t it feel like we have more influence and gravitas when it comes to managing our lives? And why does it seem like women are still the ones doing all the juggling and compromising, both at work and at home?  Is it our own fault because we don’t know how to use the power we have or are things tougher than Shriver’s report suggests?

To her credit, Shriver has put together an extensive report on the state of families today — The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything – that examines attitudes of men and women, husbands and wives, and employers and employees, about the state of our lives, with an emphasis on the role of mothers and how that’s changed since her uncle, President John F. Kennedy, commissioned a White House study on women over 40 years ago. The study’s main thesis, which was written in conjunction with the Center for American Progress,  is this — that the simple fact of living in a country where women make up more than half of the work force will ultimately change things for women for the better.

On Monday, Shriver talked about many of the findings in a conference call with 30 bloggers including Julie Pippert from Using My Words, BlogHer’s Morra Arrons-Mele, Mary Kate Cary of  US News & World Report, and Rebecca Traister from Salon, among others (and thank you to Ms. Shriver and the CAP for inviting me to participate!).  She expressed her very heartfelt belief that it’s time for women to stand up and use the power of their numbers, be brave and demand what they need and what her report says employers already know — that it’s in the financial best interests of businesses to allow workplace flexibility of all kinds for men and women.

But I wondered, what prompted such a report now?  As Morra points at the Families and Work Institute Blog:

The report stems from the finding that women are … as Gloria Steinem put it … half of all workers with incomes that are necessary to 80 percent of families—indeed, 40 percent of babies are now born to single mothers—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.

I asked Shriver, if women are still getting paid significantly less than men (77 cents on the dollar), carry the lion’s share of family obligations AND still have voices that are heard less than men’s, how can we move forward and make any real change, even if we have become a majority of workers?

Shriver’s response was surprising and shocking.  She said women felt afraid — afraid to go in and ask for time off to care for someone or ask for the flexibility needed to do their jobs and care for their families. Not hesitant or cautious, but afraid. She hopes that women will overcome that fear, see that there are lots of people in the same boat and find the strength and courage to demand what they need and embrace the power of being the majority in the workforce.

I certainly get Shriver’s point and agree in the abstract, but marching into your boss’ office and making any sort of “demand” these days might not be the best tactic to ensure a regular income.  Finesse might be a better strategy at the moment.  If any worker’s fear is driven by a concern about losing their job, that’s certainly a legitimate concern in today’s economy.

In a conversation on Anderson Cooper’s CNN show, a panel of women, including financial commentator Suze Orman, were vehement in their collective opinion that one of the reasons more women are employed today has less to do with gender inequality coming to an end and more to do with the fact that women are paid lower wages than men and are less inclined to ask for a raise, and, therefore, are seen as more desirable hires in these tight economic times.

While the report is titled a Woman’s Nation, it does seem very focused on families with children.  A fair question was asked by BlogHer’s Elisa Camahort on Twitter while some of us were live-tweeting the call, wondering whether the report shouldn’t more accurately be called “A Mom’s Nation,” since its focus is more on mothers than on women without children who may have other caregiving obligations other than offspring. It was something that struck me and others on the call, too.

So with all the good information and food for thought contained in the Shriver Report, will it spark a real national conversation or will it fade away in a few days after Shriver’s Conference on Women is over? It’s hard for a cynic like me to hold out much hope.  There was a time when I was optimistic about all these things — when I was in my late teens and early twenties I thought that by the time I was a mother and in my mid-life that things would be drastically different.  I envisioned that my nieces and daughter would have much smoother sailing than my generation or the ones that went before me.

During the conference call, John Podesta, the CAP’s president, proudly proclaimed that the results of the report are proof that “the battle of the sexes is over.”  I wish I could believe that, but I have a sense that when it comes to our country truly becoming a Woman’s Nation, we shouldn’t get rid of our body armor just yet.

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22 Responses to “Maria Shriver Says It’s a Woman’s Nation. Do You?”

  1. Becky Says:

    Something’s fishy, but I haven’t figured out what it is yet.

    I understand the “urgency” of the whole media blitz thing. But they can’t seriously believe they can pull off that this is brand-new news that nobody’s ever heard (or lived) before.

    Well, OK. It might be brand-new news to Maria Shriver and her advisers … Oprah and, oh, looky there! Playboy.

    She’s been talking on air about the need for flex time for women.

    Really? She gets this huge platform and microphones stuck in her face and THAT is what she talks about?

    Hmm. I bet that got the OK from her sponsors. But maybe they nixed any talk about, oh, equal pay or paid sick leave. And they’d much rather hear her talk about how AFRAID women are rather than crappy policies they employ.

    Ya think?

  2. leanneclc - Leanne Chase Says:

    Thanks for the post. I think if we want the work world to change we need to stop concentrating on any one demographic…women, families, moms, etc.

    50% of the workforce is women…that means 50% of the workforce is not. So if only 50% want the workforce to change…I don’t think it will. I also think sexism is alive and well in the workplace today and any study entitled “A Woman’s Nation…” is not going to be well received…yet. Maybe in 5-10 more years.

    After all when “Womenomics” author Claire Shipman asked Jack Welch what he thought about work/life and women we heard an earful. There are plenty of Jack Welch’s left at the top.

    Make this a business conversation…not a mommy blogger’s conversation and I think people will listen…but the title and bent of the report is not a business conversation…except to women (and you’re right…mostly moms).

  3. lisa Says:

    I give Maria credit for using her platform to continue this important conversation and for finding such a formidable partner in John Podesta. But let’s call it like it is: Maria’s enthusiasm for this topic stems less from her passion for women’s equality than it does from a need to create a legacy for herself and to have something to do when her role as first lady ends. On the topic of the report itself…it would be nice to say that the “battle of the sexes” is over. It’s far from over — it’s just heading in a new direction with challenges none of us could have foreseen!

  4. tracey Says:

    Like others have said, the battle is far from over. It’s just different. But it’s a battle still. An exhausting one I might add.

  5. Colleen Says:

    We can’t have a Women’s Nation as long as our leadership is overwhelmingly male.

  6. RookieMom Heather Says:

    I agree that women are afraid. I am afraid. I don’t know how many times I have to hear someone bolster me up to “ask for what I’m worth” before I’ll actually do it. It’s so much easier to be a nice girl… less lucrative obviously.

  7. Single Mom Seeking Says:

    I didn’t know that the single mom stats were THAT high today. Thanks for the info!

    I just got back from Blog World Expo, and after downloading 72 hours of information, I realized:

    Being the quiet girl who sits in the front of the classroom and tries to be “good” for the teacher… just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

    I love how @Rookie Mom puts it: “It’s so much easier to be a nice girl… less lucrative obviously.”

    Well said.

  8. Amy Anderson Says:

    I appreciate Ms. Shriver’s comments and her ideas; however if women feel “afraid” to ask for needed time off or fair salary at work then it most certainly is not a “Woman’s Nation”.

    I wish she had gone into the reasons why women feel “afraid”. As a single mother I can tell you I have been terminated for needing that time off one to many times in my employer’s eys. Would that scare you in today’s economy? Maybe if the laws were such that we could go into our employer’s office and get that needed & fair salary increase or receive that time off to care for a sick child without being discriminiated against then it would take some of that fear away. Where I live it’s an “At Will” state. That offers a HUGE loop hole for an employer to fire me for ANY reason at ANY time so as a single mother I truly have no protection under the law. If my sick child or my request for an appropriate salary increase annoy my employer in any way I need to be fearful because I may very well be out of a job (as I am now) in the very near future.

    Maria Shriver is a wealthy wealthy woman who is completely out of touch with the way 99% of American women live. I appreciate her thoughts, but it’s somewhat insulting all the same.

  9. Julie Pippert Says:

    I told Becky I was waiting for this! I can tell you that while I appreciate this extensive effort and the data, my concern is multi-fold:

    - no impel to action. They threw out some incredible data, and I use that word choice deliberately. It’s meaningless without the next step: a mission and action plan.

    - done in a vacuum. The point of the womencount effort was to reachout and engage women to get information and form an action plan.

    - overfocus on parents.

    - top down effort. What’s the plan to involve grassroots.

    It feels like an outdated model and isn’t put together the way JFK did.

  10. Julie Pippert Says:

    PS I didn’t agree with the downlplaying of womens experience in the workplace. I agree with the points you and other commenters have made.

  11. Alamar Fernandez Says:

    I have discussed Maria’s report with a couple of my retired, single female friends. They are disappointed that it seems to address only the ‘Moms’ & ‘families’ and not the professional women, who have chosen to not marry, have children or were married and are now single and their children are grown up.

    I was not surprised to read the following:

    “Shriver’s response was surprising and shocking. She said women felt afraid — afraid to go in and ask for time off to care for someone or ask for the flexibility needed to do their jobs and care for their families. Not hesitant or cautious, but afraid. She hopes that women will overcome that fear, see that there are lots of people in the same boat and find the strength and courage to demand what they need and embrace the power of being the majority in the workforce.”

    We, women. are taught to fear rejection. And the last Bush/Cheney Administration used FEAR to scare the Hell out of all of us, and women were more affected by this tactic, in my opinion.
    The challange will be to teach girls and older women to stop letting FEAR, stop them from asking for what they want, need & require.
    I have been in Sales & Mktg for over 40 years. Going into Sales was the best teacher for me…it taught me self-confidence…because I had to learn to ‘ask for the order!!!’ And that helped me in all areas of my life…When I was turned down, I did not die.

    My motto: “It’s not possible, to know what’s possible…so stop fearing, what you don’t know!”

    It’s a daily challenge!

  12. PunditMom Says:

    You know, I really wanted to be upbeat, optimistic and on board with this report, but I have to agree with the points Julie, Becky and others have made. Bringing more attention to issues is great, but someone with the political star power of Maria Shriver could do so much more to create real change. Heavens, her husband has been the governor of California for almost eight years — there should have been some pillow talk that could have helped us out.

  13. Amy@UWM Says:

    Man, SO jealous that you, Morra and Julie got to talk to Maria in person. Love her. All of the issues outlined in this report are the very reason I became a blogger. Blogging offered me a platform to talk about my frustrations with being a working mom and the societal barriers that have to change if my daughters have any hope of having an easier time of trying to balance it all. And of course, I blogged about this new report tonight too which simply confirmed everything I’ve been blogging about for nearly three years.

    I’m glad someone with clout and credibility has taken the opportunity to shine a light on the issues in a big way. I think it’s good timing, particularly after our tanking economy has stirred an appetite for greater balance and things that will truly improve quality of life beyond compiling material wealth. And like Valerie Jarrett said on Meet the Press, bringing these issues into the national dialogue is the first step.

    But like you, I wonder if it will turn into anything more than just some good TV. And like Julie, I’m wondering what the action plan is and where Momsrising, the one of the major netroots organizations that has made some headway on these issues in recent years, is in this report given that it outlines the core issues that are the foundation of momsrising’s mission. I’m surprised they have not even commented on the report or the NBC series.

  14. Julie Pippert Says:

    All right, all balls on the court…

    Everyone here has expressed all of the various points of my concern so well — brava all!

    Joanne, you and Alamar pointed out the “moms — currently parenting” focus. Melanie Notkin, Elisa Camahort and others discussed this (as much as one can) on Twitter and I was happy to join in that conversation. I got some incredibly valuable points that are extremely relevant:

    1. The benefits mentioned would benefit all women, not just working mothers, but the overall effort is exclusionary of women who are not currently parenting (whether they are mothers or not). This excludes women who do not have children (of various ages — so some might be engaged because they plan to become mothers, but others may have chosen to not have children or do not have children) and women who no longer have children in the house.

    2. Changing the language to be more inclusionary is not the correct response. Elisa wisely said that the better response is to correctly identify it for what it is “a mom’s nation.”

    3. Non-parenting moms have different needs that also need to be addressed. Not to mention, it’s time to include them in the conversation. The brief mention of “moms and caregivers” hit in a tiny way on the fact that there is a sandwich generation taking care of people on both sides. That’s as close as it came, and again, it seemed to target women who are moms.

    Amy brilliantly said, “And like Julie, I’m wondering what the action plan is and where Momsrising, the one of the major netroots organizations that has made some headway on these issues in recent years, is in this report given that it outlines the core issues that are the foundation of momsrising’s mission. I’m surprised they have not even commented on the report or the NBC series.”

    I’m wondering and surprised too, until a little niggling thought occurred to me — having caught wind that netroots groups such as MomsRising and WomenCount were making headway and taking action, is this a pre-emptive retention action?

    Hence my last bullet point.

    Plus, it sets up a nice segue into why women are afraid: so often their very empowerment is in name only, and gets snatched away from them by the Powers That Be.

  15. ilinap Says:

    What’s funny is that my dad told me about this report and is keen on seeing her findings actually come to fruition. I have been preaching the (purchasing) power of women for years now. I worked specifically in this segment while at a major financial services firm. The powers that be handed us a tiny piece of the budget to shut us up and demonstrate their embrace of “diversity.” We skyrocketed sales within a year, and revenues from women investors stayed steady while male counterparts declined. Women do have power. We simply have to feel comfortable with it, leverage it, and stop stepping on and judging each other.

  16. PunditMom Says:

    Not feeling comfortable with our power is the flip side of the fear coin. I fight every day with being comfortable with it vs. thinking that I wasn’t raised to think about it.

    As for an action plan? Yeah — we definitely need one!

  17. Cayce Says:

    John Podesta, the CAP’s president, proudly proclaimed that the results of the report are proof that “the battle of the sexes is over.”

    Aww. That’s cute. And we’re in a “post-racial” America, too.

  18. Bella DePaulo Says:

    I read every word of the Shriver Report and was disappointed with the marginalization not just of women who were not mothers, but also those who were not married — or worst of all, not mothers and not married.

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/living-single/200910/shriver-s-woman-s-nation-is-actually-wife-and-mother-s-nation-the-evidence

  19. Kristi Says:

    To Amy Anderson, and other women out there like her, I offer this: http://www.youtube.com/bethatwoman

    The day of the woman is here, and it is not motherhood, or whether or not she has pursued a professional direction that defines her. It is her ability, as a woman, to rise from her current challenges and circumstances to be that woman who inspires, who contributes, and who pays it forward. That is a woman’s power.


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  1. [...] and programming, they have also been working the bloggers for attention.  One of my regular reads, PunditMom, featured a post on the report and included details of a bloggers-only conference call where [...]

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