Two weeks ago, Maria Shriver, in conjunction with the Center for American Progress, put out The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything.
a groundbreaking examination of how "women's changing roles are affecting our major societal institutions, from government and businesses to our faith communities." For the first time in American history, women are half of all U.S. workers and mothers are the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of American families. Considering that in 1967, women made up only one-third of all workers, this is a dramatic transformation that fundamentally changes how all Americans work and live, "not just women but also their families, their co-workers, their bosses, their faith institutions, and their communities." Unfortunately, America as a nation has not yet come to terms with what this means. "This report tries to chapter those things out and say all of these institutions have failed to adapt to this change that has happened, and that in order for them to survive and become smart about the American worker they must adapt and must change," Shriver said on NBC's Meet The Press yesterday. "Our policy landscape remains stuck in an idealized past," writes CAP President and CEO John Podesta in his preface to the report. "This report contemplates what a new America should look like after we finally embrace this important new dynamic in our lives and the changes it has caused in our homes and businesses."
Now, while the report deals with mostly US issues -- they have neither the healthcare nor paid maternity leaves we Canadian pinkos do -- there is some relevance to us here. For example, just like in the States, male-dominated jobs have been more affected by the recession than female-oriented jobs.
That doesn't mean that women have escaped unscathed by the downturn. It's just that they didn't have as far to fall as do men. Except if they are in top executive jobs. There, women are crash landing
Men still have many advantages and way better paycheques.
Men never get discriminated against for being fathers the way women do for being mothers, or having the potential to be mothers. While women may be graduating from law schools in equal or greater numbers than men, men have the major share of legal firm partnerships, for example. Although you'd never know that from the media.
The gains of the last forty years--in political representation, reproductive rights, education, combating violence against women--would never have happened without the steady and massive increase in the number of working women and the transformative effects of all those paychecks. Some might be tempted to spin the magic 50 percent to suggest that feminism's job is done. First it was dead because it was a failure; now it's dead because it was such a success.
Maybe too much of a success. As Reihan Salam worries in his article "The Death of Macho," "The problem of macho run amok and excessively compensated is now giving way to macho unemployed and undirected--a different but possibly just as destructive phenomenon." If 78 percent of those who have lost their jobs in this recession are men, that must mean women's gains are coming at men's expense, right? Actually, no. Women may have a bigger slice of a shrunken pie, but because the labor force is still quite gender-segregated, mostly they are not competing with men for work. The top ten jobs for women are, in order, secretary, nurse, elementary- and middle-school teacher, cashier, retail salesperson, health aide, retail supervisor, waitress, bookkeeper and receptionist. Men have lost more jobs than women in the recession because the ax has fallen more sharply in heavily male fields like construction and manufacturing than in female ones like healthcare and clerical work. As economist Barbara Bergmann wrote in an unpublished letter to the New York Times, "An important reason for the failure to reduce the gap between women's and men's average wages is that little progress has been made in reducing gender segregation in jobs that do not require a college degree." Interestingly, according to the Wall Street Journal, on the professional end of the workforce, where men and women are more likely to have the same or similar jobs, as many women as men have been laid off.
The good news in all this, as Gloria Steinem points out, is that this economy-driven revolution in the workplace could result in a revolution at home.
Personally, I'm rooting for The Shriver Report to be right in its underlying assumption that government and business will have to adjust policies to meet women's needs as parents and workers in order to keep the economy going, and also that more men will get accustomed to women as indispensable co-workers and co-breadwinners, and thus increase their share of housework and childcare. Men will still have more to say about the success of this report than women do, so I recommend the essay, "Has a Man's World Become a Woman's Nation?" by sociologist Michael Kimmel. He offers a long list of benefits to men, women and children when fathers are egalitarian. It stretches from better sex for the parents to children who get along better with their peers and have more friends because they learn cooperation by doing housework with their fathers. This alone could be worth the price of admission.
For the record, that last bit is what feminism is all about: egalitarianism of the sexes.