If you've been following the news over the past several years, you already know that the status of women in the United States has changed in significant ways. Headlines detailing that more children are born to single mothers than marrieds, others showing that 2/3 of women are either primary or co-breadwinners, and the fact that women still earn less than men—we've been stuck at .77 for women to a man's dollar since I was a kid and first learned this fact—prove in stark numbers that we are in a new era.

Unfortunately, our governmental policies, laws and other institutions haven't followed along or changed as quickly, and so many women have been mariginalized: At this point 1/3 of American women are at or hovering just one paycheck away from the poverty line.  

The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Pushes Back has brought together some big names and some serious scholarship, to determine what needs to be done to systemically improve the lot of women in America.

Shriver should know; her father, Sargent Shriver, was the architect of the War on Povery under Lyndon B. Johnson (which halved the number of poor people in America) and her mother founded the Special Olympics. Now she has taken her parent's example, and her own experience as a journalist, news anchor, author and as former First Lady of California to effect change for women. 

But these issues aren't just about helping women: Maria Shriver writes in the report (which you can download for free from Amazon through January 15th), "This nation cannot have sustained economic prosperity and economic well-being until women's new, central role is recognized and women's economic health is used as a measure—perhaps it should be the measure—to shape common-sense policies and priorities for the 21st century."

The powerful "All In" video below sums up the reports findings and aims: 

Shriver and her research team are not the only ones making this point. 

Beyonce brings her feminism to the table when she writes, "We need to stop buying into the myth about gender equality. It isn’t a reality yet. Today, women make up half of the U.S. workforce, but the average working woman earns only 77 percent of what the average working man makes. But unless women and men both say this is unacceptable, things will not change. Men have to demand that their wives, daughters, mothers, and sisters earn more—commensurate with their qualifications and not their gender. Equality will be achieved when men and women are granted equal pay and equal respect."

Other contributors to the site and report include young women, photojournalists, writers like Barbara Ehrenreich, and celebrities like LeBron James (who penned an essay on single mothers) and Eva Longoria (who wrote about Latina women). 

Shriver hosted MSNBC's All In show (there are a bunch of great videos over there), and the clip below highlights challenges that are specific to women who are unemployed and older, one of the (many) areas of concern for the Shriver Report.  

The report asks some poignant and difficult questions directly to women about how we got to this point in time where so many women are struggling (tell me that some of these don't make you wince a bit):

"What is it with us that we've never been in a position where we've had more impact on this society, yet tens of millions of us are living on the brink?"

"Is it the jobs we choose that keep us insecure? Do we naturally gravitate towards healthcare, home care, education, and public-sector jobs that don't pay enough, but give us some fof the flexibility we need to wear more hats?"

"Is it the men we love, whom we think couldn't/wouldn't/shouldn't do the caregiving that has to be done, so we don't even ask them?"

"Is it because so many of us choose motherhood without marriage, and it's just plain impossible to keep away from the economic brink of one paycheck alone?"

"Or is it because we automatically go along with the old patriarchal propaganda that a woman doesn't deserve to earn as much as a man for the same job?"

"What does power mean to women anyway?"  

It is through asking difficult questions (and accepting that the answers will be complex and maybe hard to hear) that true change can be made. 

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Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

Beyonce, LeBron and Maria Shriver on the state of the American woman
The Shriver Report highlights the significant disadvantages and challenges American women face, and some boldface names weigh in.