But I’m sure you all thought nothing less.
I was raised by two staunch feminists. No, really, men can be feminists. They should be, in fact. Feminism is defined as “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.”
Oh heavens, I am scandalized!
I have both my mother and father’s last names. I grew up reading Ms. Magazine. I got in an argument in kindergarten, advocating the view that there was no such thing as boy and girl colors. I also firmly believed that my Peanut league coach would not let me play first base because I was the only girl on the team. (I stand by that. I was a remarkable five year old athlete, meaning my shoes were generally tied and I knew right from left.)
But I digress. What does this have to do with social work?
Social workers work with the marginalized. We work with people in need. By and large, these people are women. And their children.
I currently have a caseload of twelve families. Of those families, ten are headed by single mothers, one by a single grandmother. Only one has an involved father. (And I use the word “involved” loosely.)
Women, very often young women, are the one raising these families. They’re the ones working, paying for day care, taking care of those damn kids day after day. When they can’t do it, it’s most often the grandmothers that step in.
Where are the dads? Sometimes they’ve just taken off. Other times, they’re around. They pop in now and then, drop off some cool sneakers, and go on their way. A lot of the mothers are surprisingly understanding. “Well, he’s not working right now, so how can he pay child support?”
Right. Give him time to find himself while you sacrifice your education and dreams to work a menial job to care for your child. I mean, it’s not like he had anything to do with the pregnancy. It’s only fair.
At what point do you explain that you will have to smack him for hours, until he comes over with Pampers and actually puts them on the kid?
I started this off talking about feminism for a reason. These women, as strong as they are, believe that this is their lot in life. They don’t see options. They don’t think that the men they had children with owe them, and those children. They might ask the guy to bring material things to the child, or to spend some time with the kid. (That’s fun, daddy time. Go to the park, play video games…not the serious mommy stuff of potty training and time outs.)
But they rarely think that the father has a role as a parent. And the men seem to think this as well. Most of them didn’t have a model father to show them the way. By the time they have their own kids, though, they need to figure it out.
These women already expect a lot from themselves. They need to expect more from men. The men need to think about what a father is, and what kind of a father they expect themselves to be.
Oh right, that’s where we come in. We need to come at these issues from a framework that will benefit our clients, and help them to make those difficult changes.
Not pro-choice? Fine. (Well, not really, but that’s not the point.) We need to be for our clients. The social work
mantra value of self-determination kind of insists on it. I’ve had two clients in the past year come to me, telling me about their plans to seek abortion. One was a 15 year old child, one was a 24 year old raising a disabled son.
I asked if they needed anything. They both told me they were fine, knew where to go and what to do. They both knew I was there if they needed anything.
And that was my role. It was not my role to look shocked, act like this was a tragedy, or try to talk to them about options they weren’t interested in.
Most social workers, I’m sure, wouldn’t intentionally do this. But some do, and don’t even realize it. Because they start thinking as if they were the ones with the decision to make, when in fact they are not.
Again, I bring up feminism. Because this is an issue of trusting women. Of having enough respect for them to allow them to make their own decisions, and to understand that they are capable of this.
Whatever you would consider yourself to be (and I really hope that you would consider yourself to be a feminist) it’s something we owe to our clients.