We’re lucky that “A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back From the Brink,” the rich and fascinating new report by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress, is appearing just as conservatives are once again pushing marriage as a panacea for poverty.
In recent days, several Republicans have rediscovered George W. Bush–style compassionate conservatism, acknowledging poverty as a problem while promoting traditional values as the solution. “The truth is, the greatest tool to lift children and families from poverty is one that decreases the probability of child poverty by 82 percent,” Senator Marco Rubio said in a much-hyped speech last week. “But it isn’t a government spending program. It’s called marriage.” On Sunday, former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer made a similar case in a Wall Street Journal piece titled, “How to Fight Income Inequality: Get Married.” Cleverly hijacking gay rights language to talk about poor people’s failure to wed, he wrote, “Marriage inequality is a substantial reason why income inequality exists.”
On one hand, given recent right-wing attacks on the poor as overindulged layabouts, there’s progress in the fact that some conservatives are now talking about poverty as a crisis. That does not mean, however, that marriage promotion is a serious solution, for reasons that the new “Women’s Nation” report makes clear.
Shriver and CAP deserve enormous credit for putting “A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back From the Brink” together. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen unprecedented attention to issues around women, work and power. Ann Marie Slaughter’s 2012 Atlantic article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” set a readership record for the magazine. Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” was a number-one bestseller. Everyone from my old boss Tina Brown to Politico to Gucci is promoting women’s empowerment. But these efforts have often sidelined the needs of the majority of American working women, focusing either on elites shattering glass ceilings or on heroic women in the developing world. The new “Women’s Nation” report, studded with essays by superstars like Beyoncé and LeBron James as well as Slaughter, Sandberg, Barbara Ehrenreich and Stephanie Coontz, represents an effort to channel this momentum toward American women living in poverty or clinging to the lowest rungs of the middle class.
The mainstream conversation about women’s leadership, “while important, really ignores the challenges that the vast majority of women are facing,” Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, told me.