When last year’s Women’s Conference sold out in just a couple of hours, it hit me that something profound was going on with women. We’d program a workshop on caring for aging parents, and it was standing-room-only. We’d bring in speakers to talk about how to start up a business, and the rooms were packed. We couldn’t book enough sessions on empowerment, activism, and spirituality. All of them were filled, and people were asking for more. I wondered what was going on.
We decided we needed to learn some new, hard facts about today’s American woman. Who is she? How does she live? What does she think? What does she earn? What are her politics? How does she define power? How does she define success? What does she think of marriage? What does she really think of men? How does she want to live her life moving forward?
The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything breaks new ground by taking a hard look at how women’s changing roles are also affecting our major societal institutions: our government, businesses, religious and faith institutions, educational system, the media, and even men and marriage. And we examine how all these parts of the culture have responded to one of the greatest social transformations of our time. We look at where we are and where we should go from here.
For the first time in our nation’s history, fully half of the American work force is female—and mothers have become the primary breadwinners in nearly half of American families. That’s a sea change from 40 years ago. With more and more men forced to stay home due to unemployment, more and more women are bringing home the bacon. Women are more likely than ever to head their own families. They’re doing it all—and many of them have to do it all. As you’ll read in this report, women have now taken their place as a powerhouse driving the economy.
As we move into this phase we’re calling A Woman’s Nation, women can turn their pivotal role as wage-earners, as consumers, as bosses, as opinion-shapers, as co-equal partners in whatever we do into a potent force for change. Emergent economic power gives women a new seat at the table—at the head of the table.
It’s a transformational moment in our history—much as the opening of the West, industrialization, the great 1960s civil rights campaigns, and the flowering of the Internet age have all irrevocably altered the fabric of American life. With working women now the New Normal, striving and succeeding in areas where they never have before, so many assumptions and underpinnings of our society are cracking open. The rumbling is shaking the ground in every corner of the culture, and many women and men are struggling to get their footing. The effect on every sector of our society will be deep, wide, and profound.
In 2009, women have more choices than they did 40 years ago. We’ve learned that while there’s much to cheer about, we still have a long way to go. Women’s expanding role in families, industry, the arts, government, politics, and other institutions is altering the American landscape. Women are learning they no longer have to shoehorn themselves into one stereotype or another, but they can do so if they choose—or they can make it up as they go along.
It’s in this new world that I’m raising four children. I’m trying to teach my boys to understand that the women in their lives will work and will have independent minds. I’m trying to teach them not just how to hold the door open, but how to do their own laundry and make their own mac and cheese. I’m also trying to teach my girls how to advocate for themselves, be smart about their finances—and to look not for a savior, but a loving, supportive, open-minded partner.
We hope this report will help inform us all about this transformational time and ignite a national conversation about how our institutions need to adapt to the unfolding of A Woman’s Nation.
Here at The Women’s Conference website, we’ve invited influential writers, journalists, opinion leaders, educators and business leaders – men and women – to be part of that conversation. Pull up a chair at Our Kitchen Table to check out what they have to say. Visit The XX Effect: Generation to Generation to learn how women across the generations answer the question, "What Do Women Want?"
The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything is a study by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress.