Welcome to the Sisterhood
Welcome to the sisterhood
Early in my social work education, in 2012, I was introduced to a preceptor at a hospital internship site. The female social worker enthusiastically said to me, “Welcome to the sisterhood!”
One source reports that of licensed social workers in the United States (U.S.) during that time, 86% were female and 14% were male. Per a separate source, in 2020, “The majority of baccalaureate social work students were female (87%).”
Whether new to the field or fully licensed, social work in the U.S. is heavily dominated by women. Hence, my preceptor’s sex-based welcome was an accurate reflection of the field.
Social Work Month
Women’s History Month, said to highlight the contributions of women regarding historical affairs and within contemporary society, occurs annually in March. This suspiciously coincides with Social Work Month.
According to the news page of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), “Social Work Month in March is a time to celebrate the great profession of social work. The theme for Social Work Month 2023 is Social Work Breaks Barriers.”
Though I generally abstain from recognizing months dedicated to the celebration of identity groups, I’ll make an exception herein. After all, who am I not to shine a light on darkened deeds?
In honor of the greatness of the profession, and to break the barrier of ignorance associated with my field of practice, I present an exceedingly brief history of the sisterhood’s detrimentally sanctimonious historical efforts. Social work has long-stretching roots and tendrils in bigotry.
Per one source, “The connection is undeniable…‘Social worker’ are two of the most horrifying words in the English language for Indigenous people.” This is not without cause.
A separate source states, “Social workers and educators must acknowledge their professions’ role in the painful legacy of boarding schools and mass removal of Indigenous children from their homes.” It isn’t as though similar practices now cease to exist.
According to one source, “The residential school system didn’t end—it just became foster care.” When I became a resident of a children’s home in my youth, I was required to routinely meet with social workers, as there was no opt-out option for such meetings.
Most of the social services personnel to whom I was subjected were women who spent much of their time pushing values on me—values I didn’t ask for and which I rejected. For other children in the home who were taken into custody, I heard of similar disdain for social worker visits.
Aside from forced removal of children from families, social workers were said to have played a role in the segregation of social settlements and neighborhood houses in the U.S. during the Progressive Era. One may dismiss such behavior as common practice for the time.
However, a number of social work entities currently promote critical race theory (CRT) that also divides people. Per one source, “Critical Race Theory begins by asserting the importance of social significance of racial categories, rejecting colorblindness, equality, and neutrality, and advocating for discrimination meant to ‘level the playing field.”
Of course, those who support CRT initiatives may disagree. After all, these are significant incentives to promoting programs informed by CRT.
During my social work education, I was taught about how men, white people, and wealthy individuals were inherently oppressive. These groups were said to be incapable of overcoming their allegedly oppressive nature, though they could participate in activism as silent allies.
One social work source states, “Critical race theorists are encouraged to critique social institutions and offer solutions to eradicate racial injustice in those institutions, and social workers should feel empowered to use their skills and knowledge to design solutions to problems in their practice environment.”
However, as one critic of CRT states:
It is bad psychology to tell people who do not believe that they are racist — who may even actively despise racism — that there is nothing they can do to stop themselves from being racist — and then ask them to help you. It is even less helpful to tell them that even their own good intentions are proof of their latent racism. Worst of all is to set up double-binds, like telling them that if they notice race it is because they are racist, but if they don’t notice race it’s because their privilege affords them the luxury of not noticing race, which is racist.
Social work that swapped from oppressing non-whites during the Progressive Era, only to regress towards afflicting white people in the current day, is failing to function as a helpful resource. Racist mistreatment of people is the issue, not simply righting historical wrongs through further oppression.
As though removal of children, segregation of social settlements, and promotion of CRT isn’t enough, social workers are said to have been involved in “eugenics theories, propagation of the Tuskegee experiment, participation in intake teams at Japanese internment camps, and more.”
The NASW acknowledges these matters and adds that “since the founding of the profession, bias among some social workers has limited delivery of health care, mental health treatment and social services to people of color.” One may add that men may also be detrimentally impacted.
Welcome to the brotherhood
If one is to use a bigoted and divisive description of social work as akin to “the sisterhood,” what identity rests on the other side of the coin? I now briefly turn to the impact of social work on males—the brotherhood.
According to one source, “After a long teaching career and a systematic review of a decade’s worth of journal articles and textbooks, Jordan Kosberg, a professor of social work at the University of Alabama, concluded that ‘social workers do not receive necessary preparation for understanding and working with heterosexual males.”
During my social work education, I learned intersectional principles which largely demonized heterosexual men. White men, in particular, were especially unappreciated. Information presented to me was as though it was a self-evident, universal truth.
Another source reports, “Compared to the hundreds of title references to females in social work literature, over the past decade there has been a fraction (about 25) that focused upon males in the title, and about half of these focused upon gay men.” Why might this be?
In grad school, one major fault of reliability and validity I observed while engaging with social work literature was the sheer amount of inherent bias assumed to be factual. Feminist-leaning resources permeated most of what I read.
For instance, a 2012 paper addressing intimate partner violence (IPV) stated, “From 1994 to 2010, about 4 in 5 victims of intimate partner violence were female.” Given this startling statistic, one may infer that additional funds are needed to help women.
However, a 2013 paper was honest enough to report, “Most data collected to date have focused on IPV perpetrated by men against women in heterosexual relationships.” This leaves a significant gap in the data, as funds may also be needed to support men.
How would anyone know that men are also victimized in IPV settings if the literature turns a blind eye to this unique population? Preferential legislation such as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), introduced in 1990 by Joe Biden, functions as a sex-based standard derived from biased research.
Nonetheless, per one source, “According to Biden’s own words his sister regularly beat him in his childhood and adolescence. ‘And I have the bruises to prove it,’ he said, at a senate hearing on violence against women, December 11, 1990. To make sure the audience knew this wasn’t a joke, he added, ‘I mean that sincerely. I am not exaggerating when I say that.”
In fact, in a 1990 hearing before the Committee on the Judiciary, Biden stated, “In my house, being raised with a sister and three brothers, there was absolute-it was a nuclear sanction, if under any circumstances, for any reason, no matter how justified, even self-defense—if you ever touched our sister, literally, not figuratively, literally.”
At no point in his biased testimony did Biden advocate equal treatment regarding VAWA. Rather, he implicitly stated that even in a self-defense scenario he was taught—and still believed—that males were to endure abuse from females, and he bragged about having the “bruises to prove it.”
During the hearing, Biden further boasted about teaching his children similar principles—essentially instructing that members of the brotherhood are violent and the sisterhood is free to behave with impunity while perhaps lacking agency. Biden’s daughter, Ashley, would later become a social worker.
Discussing the dreadful influence of social work in relation to IPV shelters, one source states, “We know from the research of Denise Hines that when males do seek help as victims of domestic violence [DV] at these female only services for victims they are not only turned away, they are often told they are the abusers.”
I recall when I sought assistance from a social services victim advocate after having experienced IPV. I was berated by the woman who shouted at me and made false accusations related to my alleged abuse perpetration, maintaining that the woman who abused me was the actual victim.
This is what feminist social work has wrought. Dear reader, I invite you to conduct an experiment to test what I’ve stated herein about IPV. Contact your local DV shelter and see if there are vacancies for men—not transmen, biological men.
Contact your local police department and ask what resources there are for men experiencing IPV. Inquire as to whether or not law enforcement uses the bias and blatantly bigoted Duluth Model.
Ask the boys and men in your life whether or not they’ve ever been physically battered by a girl or woman, and how these members of the brotherhood were treated if or when they reported the abuse. Also, ask them if social service professionals were available to assist them.
As one purported social worker states about such inquiry, “The visitation workers, the in-home therapists, the psychologists, the case managers, the probation and parole officers, the occupational therapists and the human resources representatives. And yes, especially the social workers: they hate you because you are a man.”
Welcome to the brotherhood!
While undergoing social work education, I was introduced to systems theory. Associated with this idea was systemic oppression, described as “[s]ystemic mistreatment of people within a social identity group, supported and enforced by society and its institutions, solely based on a person’s membership in a social group.”
This form of oppression has been thoroughly discussed by various media sources over the past several years. In a blogpost entitled My Ni, I stated, “I recall during the so-called ‘summer of love’ 2020, when reportedly $1 billion-plus in property damage and arguably over 20 deaths resulted from ‘fiery but mostly peaceful protests’ and gatherings.”
During the 2020 protests and riots related to racism, a Harvard sociology professor asked, “Is the element of white supremacy and chronic racism so deeply rooted that no amount of not just protests, but reform and institutional change is going to make a difference?” Might it be so?
If the U.S. is thought to be a racist hellscape due to proposed long-stretching roots and tendrils in oppression, how is the field of social work any different? Sexism, misandry, and bigotry of the past don’t appear to have mysteriously faded from the field in which I work.
Jane Addams, considered to be the “mother” of U.S. social work, is credited with having stated:
I am not one of those who believe - broadly speaking - that women are better than men. We have not wrecked railroads, nor corrupted legislatures, nor done many unholy things that men have done; but then we must remember that we have not had the chance.
So it isn’t that women are better than men, though the brotherhood is collectively responsible for the terrible, horrible, and awful deeds while the sisterhood is immune from such characterization. Imagine making a similar argument about black people:
I am not one of those who believe - broadly speaking - that whites are better than blacks. Whites have not burned down neighborhoods, nor corrupted legislatures, nor done many unholy things that blacks have done; but then we must remember that whites have not had the chance.
Reframing Addams’ quote through a modern perspective, applying a systemic oppression lens associated with activism during 2020, are you prepared to make the claim that black people are systemically oppressive? If not, are you comfortable with claiming such a thing about men?
Are you prepared to allow the U.S. amnesty for historically systemic injustice? If not, why allow reprieve for social work when it has a history of systemic discrimination against the brotherhood?
Perhaps I’ve missed something. Maybe I simply fail to understand. You might claim that women lack agency, have no personal responsibility or accountability, and that social work has advocated the soft bigotry of low expectations regarding females.
Welcome to the sisterhood!
For the rest of us—those who aren’t bigoted in our approach and who refrain from the irrationally dichotomous division of the sexes—reliance on intolerance and injustice simply will not do. From stem to stern, social work as a whole has been contaminated with misandry.
Though this claim doesn’t apply to any single person, nor is it meant to castigate all who bear the title of social worker, I consider it a worthwhile endeavor to call out transgressions of my field. For this Social Work Month, I offer the truth rather than feel-good deception while reinforcing oppressive actions of the field.
Are you someone who has been touched by the oppressive hand of social work? Are you searching for a provider who rejects an ideologically-driven framework and serves you as an individual—and not merely as one who has an innie or outie—to help you achieve your goals?
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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