Social Science Is Tough!

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Oct. 20 2009 9:53 AM

Social Science Is Tough!

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I’m glad you found some redeeming bits of wisdom in " The Shriver Report ," Amanda, because I find the whole thing cringe-inducing in a post-recovery-balloon-boy sort of way. It’s not just that it’s some kind Maria Shriver vanity project masquerading as a progress report on less notable women. (Or maybe a progress report masquerading as a vanity project? Hard to tell, but do check out Shriver’s blurb of her own report , complete with headshot.) And it’s not just meaning-challenged banalities like "the torch is being passed ... to a new gender." It’s that the report, ostensibly aimed at women, is so smothered in saccharine anecdote that I can’t even locate the data. I’m sure it’s there. I just lost the energy to look for it somewhere between "the battle of the sexes is over" and "the footprint of today’s American worker is as likely to be a heel as a boot." (Women don’t wear boots? Boots don’t have heels?)

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The report has a sad way of repeatedly attempting to justify its existence. "This is a report about how women becoming half of workers changes everything for men, women, and their families," we learn, and "now for the first time in our nation’s history, women are half of all U.S. workers," and "quite simply, women as half of all workers changes everything." Really? Everything? It seems odd to get so worked up about the shift from 49 to 50 percent, given that it’s neither a surprise nor a sign that we’ve achieved perfect equity. Woman are 51 percent of Americans. Will there be another report when we’re proportionally represented?

That sounds obnoxiously niggling, I know, but this study drops more condescension in a paragraph than I could manage in a lifetime of blog posts. One of the nice things about living in an age of equity is that even women can read graphs and get excited about social science. We don’t need a Center for American Progress study presented to us as if it were a Redbook photo spread with second-rate copy. But here’s the kind of hard, deep sociological profile Maria Shriver thinks will interest you, women of America, courtesy of report contributor Jamal Simmons:

When it comes to American women, men are a gender full of question marks. Ask 10 men to explain what women want or what is expected of men in a relationship today and in response you will get 10 more questions ... . But it may be impossible for men to know what women want because the question presumes there is a uniform answer. Instead, it appears different women answer the question differently at various points in their lives.

Yes, America, it may surprise you to learn that any given woman may have her own individual preferences. But dear God, I hope not.

Photograph of Maria Shriver in 2006 by Hector Mata/AFP/Getty Images.

Kerry Howley's work has appeared in the Paris Review, Bookforum, and the New York Times Magazine. She is currently finishing a book about consensual violence, ecstatic experience, and the body.

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