“A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink,” the new release from the Shriver Report initiative led by journalist and author (and John F. Kennedy grandniece) Maria Shriver, arrived earlier this month with a splash of publicity.
Shriver presented the report to President Barack Obama; the president’s erstwhile rival and possible successor, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is among its contributors. But what is the product behind the fanfare? The report, produced with a leading liberal think tank, the Center for American Progress, aims at a discussion of the challenges facing American women. Unfortunately, it misses the mark again and again.
The report’s most promoted feature is a short piece by singer Beyonce Knowles titled “Gender Equality Is a Myth!” It focuses on the fact that American women still earn 77 cents to a man’s dollar.
There is an irresistible irony in this complaint coming from a woman who is one of the world’s highest-paid entertainers. The piece shows no awareness that the pay gap is a result of many factors, including women’s family-related personal choices. Instead, it is treated as a simple injustice, and both women and men are urged to demand that women be “granted equal pay and equal respect.”
Clinton’s essay starts with the declaration that “women are not victims” (so far, so good), stresses the importance of the fight for women’s rights worldwide, and acknowledges the strides American women have made in the workplace.
But it also includes a particularly bizarre example of how America supposedly shortchanges women: the fact that women in the United States have a lower life expectancy than in other industrial nations. How is this a women’s issue when American men, on average, die five years earlier than women?
This startling omission is typical of the report’s attitude toward half of the U.S. population. There is extensive discussion of women and poverty — but not of the fact that, according to education, health and criminal justice statistics, low-income men are far less likely to complete high school or college and far more likely to end up in prison or dead.
There are a couple of welcome exceptions to this one-sidedness. The report’s main chapter on children and marriage, which emphasizes better opportunities for single mothers, is accompanied by a response from Brookings Institution scholar Ron Haskins, who cautions not to give up on the two-parent family as the best environment for children.
The essay “What About the Fathers?” by public policy expert Kathryn Edin challenges the view of low-income unwed fathers as feckless deadbeats, arguing that they are often unwillingly pushed out of their children’s lives.
Sadly, this is followed by a misinformation-laden chapter on male violence toward women, which repeats the inaccurate claim that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to American women (in fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, it lags far behind accidental falls and car accidents).
In the end, the flaw is in the report’s premise of “a woman’s nation.” Women’s lives, for the most part, are inextricably linked to men’s — and male problems in the workforce, education and family life should be vital national concerns.
If the Democratic Party establishment embraces this female-centric view of America, we’re in for another cycle of partisan politics made more toxic by gender politics.
Cathy Young is a regular contributor to Reason magazine and the website RealClearPolitics. She wrote this for Newsday.