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Home Economics Reduced to Economics

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Maria Shriver is no "wife of," even though she's married to the governor of California. She's no "niece of," although her uncle was president of the United States. She credits her late mother Eunice Shriver for encouraging her "to believe we had the ability to change the world," and as the inspiration behind "The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything."

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Her report won't change the world, but it does a good job of bringing together statistics demonstrating the progress of women in education and work. It's receiving lots of positive attention from men who have discovered the advantages of being husbands of working wives.

Male sensitivity joins post-feminist sensibility. But how you see the impact on society and the family, with fewer moms at home for the kids, will probably depend on your politics. An independent poll finds that 80 percent of Republicans see that impact with concern if not skepticism. Only a little more than half of the Democrats do. Family-values politicians, take note.

Wins, losses and trade-offs are amply documented. Women now earn 57 percent of the bachelor's degrees, 60 percent of the master's degrees, half of all the professional degrees and 49 percent of the doctorates. The numbers for women in medicine, law and business are up sharply. If women do not yet comprise majorities in politics and science, their numbers are growing. Almost 40 percent of women make as much or more than their husbands, and mothers are the major breadwinners in 40 percent of American families.

Shriver listens to the voices of different women, but her bias favoring working women slights the richness of the voices of women who work primarily at the tasks of mothering. "The Shriver Report" blames discrimination in education for pushing women into the "helping professions," traditional female-dominated fields such as "health care," instead of higher-paying male-dominated fields of engineering and technology. The implication is that this is caused by male chauvinists, but could it be that women enter those occupations simply because that's where they want to be?

For a half-century, the cultural focus in home economics has been on economics, not the home. Shriver's report insinuates a new stereotype -- the woman not with stars but dollar marks in her eyes, a stereotype as narrow-minded as the old one of the "gold-digger" who marries for money and ease. The report claims that the battle of the sexes is over and has given way to "sexual negotiations." Women have not "negotiated" with men before?

The terms have changed, but the war between the sexes continues because the conflict is rooted in biology. With the invention of the pill, women achieved greater control over childbirth, the timing and the number of their children. Expanded opportunities in education and work followed, enabling women to build on strengths in different stages of their lives. But the fundamental "facts of life" haven't changed at all.

Women still carry the babies, and who gives birth strikes an immutable difference in the outlooks of men and women. Men can attend childbirth classes with their wives, but it's still the wife's "labor" that delivers the baby. Working men and women say they wish they could spend more time with their children, but it's mothers who invariably make the changes to make it happen. Survey after survey suggest women want it that way.

A recession makes earning enough money for the family more difficult no matter the sex of the breadwinner. The government can provide a safety net, but not the affection of emotional support of a two-parent family. Women will soon make up the majority of workers in America -- 70 percent of job losses are in male-dominated businesses. A recession is an especially difficult time to expect employers to provide more money for maternity leave and flextime for full-time jobs, as urged by "The Shriver Report."

The saddest unintended consequence of the sexual revolution is that it gives men the procreative advantage: Women remain at the mercy of their biological clocks. This inevitably coarsens the rites of courtship. Shriver's conclusions suggest that men are less emotionally vulnerable to their wives earning more money than they do, but the report only condescends to women who choose to be mothers first.

This encourages smugness toward women who want to make the economic sacrifices to be the primary nurturer of her children. Such smugness diminishes the maternal contributions that many of us received from devoted full-time mothers, enabling us to become successful working women.

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