Media Ignores Women's Health Disparities in Shriver Report
The "battle of the sexes is over" claims the much-heralded Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything on American work and family life. Go ahead, take a victory lap.
Unless, of course, you're among the millions of women who still earn 23 percent less on average in wages, pay 38 percent more for gender-rated health insurance or fear losing their jobs while trying to juggle disproportionate family responsibilities without flexible work schedules and reasonable family-leave policies.
The year-long study initiated by California First Lady and former NBC News correspondent Maria Shriver and published by the Center for American Progress, has generated celebratory headlines in the media about women's advances in the workplace while ignoring the many stark realities in the report.
And what is all too true of complex and contradictory issues, the joint investigation is being whittled down to factoids lacking in context and emotional anecdotes by the media though many of the statistics packed into the 454-page report are hair-raising.
• Women spend 68 percent more on their health care than men during the prime childbearing years.
• Women who suffer domestic abuse spend 42 percent more on their health care than non-abused women.
• Employers lose $3-5 billion dollars annually from the lost worker productivity of domestic violence survivors, perpetrators and colleagues.
• One in five women delay seeking medical care because they can't get time off from work.
• 53 percent of college graduates breastfeed their babies, while only 29 percent of high school graduates do so.
One citation not likely to see the light of the day on your favorite morning show is the third rail of women's health issues — the effects of class and race discrimination on childbearing:
"Popular culture tends to blame women for “selfishly” focusing on their careers when they delay having children, but a complex set of incentives pressures white, affluent women to reproduce more and work less—among them the “opt-out” myth, the “mommy wars” debate, and the celebration of multiple births by white, married women—while pressuring low- and middle-income women and women of color to reproduce less and work more.
Women of color in particular are concentrated in low-wage occupations at the bottom end of the labor market that intensify the work-family tension. The low-skilled jobs most commonly occupied by women offer few benefits, irregular hours, and minimal time off, rendering them the least conducive for care giving."
Shriver gets credit for being willing to make such an unabashedly frank statement on an enormously controversial issue in the report. But that and its equally important findings on health disparities are undermined by several breezy and unsupported claims that "the gender war" is over and women's equality has magically been achieved merely by reaching 50 percent parity to the number of men in the workforce. A notion that is being happily parroted by a sound bite-driven news media to the exclusion of other relevant data.
That's not to say that there isn't good news in the study.
An exclusive public opinion poll conducted by TIME magazine and the Rockefeller Foundation offers an encouraging glimpse of historically more enlightened personal views on gender relations.
• 77 percent of Americans believe the rise of women in the workforce is a net positive for society
• Women who have children are just as committed to their jobs as women who do not have children. 83 percent of women and 73 percent of men agreed, respectively.
• 85 percent of women and 79 percent of men said that compared to previous generations, it is now more acceptable for men to be stay-at-home dads.
• 78 percent of women agreed that it is possible for a single woman to have a fulfilling life, while two-thirds of men said so.
• 89 percent of men and women are comfortable women earning more money than men in a household.
Unfortunately, few of these modern work-life perspectives have penetrated the private workplace and public institutions which continue to perpetuate unfair work practices, advance multitudes of other disparities that create barriers to true equality between men and women and seriously compromise women's health.
For all of the fanfare arising from Shriver's recent media blitz, starting with a plum appearance on the venerable political show, "Meet the Press" as part of NBC News' week-long series of feature stories, surprisingly little attention has been devoted to the practical realities of transforming outdated workplace and public policies, especially on the hottest topic in the nation right now — health care reform.
The study details the usual workplace barriers to obtaining affordable health insurance, routine policies of charging women higher premium costs and rationing coverage, and chemical and toxic hazards in the workplace that can affect reproductive health, fertility and fetal development.
The American Association of University Women takes a stab at making a broad range of health care, workplace and educational policy suggestions to complement the report.
Of particular note are AAUW's calls to ban gender-rated health insurance premiums, increase Title X funding for reproductive health care, expand prescription drug coverage for contraception services and to end ineffective abstinence-only sex education programs.
But while the ongoing health insurance reform debate in Congress is at the forefront of the public's mind, the complete media blackout on women's health disparities in the report is troubling.
Print and broadcast news gleefully reported the enormously ignorant statements about maternal health, abortion funding and end-of-life care that nearly derailed the recent U.S. Senate discussion on health care reform.
But not one major news outlet has covered the Shriver Report's section on reproductive health disparities, since its Oct. 16 release, with the exception of TIME that made a passing mention in its most recent issue.
All the while, the American public remains in the dark about the stark new realities of health care — women, as a greater proportion of primary breadwinners, are have difficulty securing insurance, their workplace risks are largely unaddressed and their medical care is overtly politicized.
But one thing is certain, the remaining publicity tour over the course of this week will either elevate the Shriver Report as a critical tipping point in history to help pass needed health care reforms or, as Gloria Steinem notes in her essay at the Women's Media Center, it will meet "the dusty fate of so many other reports and opinion polls."
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