First and foremost, I am a lady

3 01 2011

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.

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13 responses

3 01 2011
Bad Mummy

I am a feminist, but I was not raised by feminists. I was raised by the opposite of feminists. When I married my (now ex-) husband, I expected that he would do more than my father did as a parent, especially since there has been some changes in the 35 yrs that separate their generations. Instead, 3 yrs later I’m taking our 5-yr old daughter to a social worker to assess whether her father is able to really parent our kid, not just play with her and make her mac-and-cheese. Although she lives with him 50% of the time, he can’t manage to buy her clothes when she grows and just can’t get his shit together, but wants to be an equal parent, even at the cost of our daughter’s well-being. Frankly, I’d rather have a dead-beat dad to deal with.

Yes, we absolutely let men get away with less than they are capable of. In an ideal world, we would be able to test their parenting skills and abilities before we parent with them. But there needs to be some influence from the world to give these men some idea that they are capable: include a man in a diaper or formula commercial; stop calling them Mommy&Me classes; don’t let anyone get away with calling it ‘babysitting’ when a man is left in charge of his own children. While we’re at it, let’s highlight the fathers in the media that do it well. The fact that the only one I can think of is Will Smith is an indication that something is wrong. More often we hear of the Alec Baldwins, the Mel Gibsons and the David Hasselhoffs and while we crucify them for their shitty parenting, we don’t give a pat on the back of the dad who is pulling his share.

4 01 2011
socialjerk

Good luck with your daughter. I hope that social worker is of some help! I think the fact that you are not letting it slide is extremely important. I see a lot of women who see it as a given that the father of their children will be clueless, or almost find it to be cute. It was so refreshing to hear one of my young clients recently call out her baby’s father for saying he couldn’t buy the baby clothes on his own, because he “didn’t understand baby sizes.” Hearing her say, “You don’t understand 0-3 months? How do you get yourself to work everyday?” brought a smile to my face, I must admit.

I also agree with you about the media. On TV, and in commercials, it would be nice to see more men as capable parents. (Danny Tanner actually comes to mind, as does Cliff Huxtable…wow I’m old.) Though I think there’s a fine line. We need more good examples of involved fathers, for sure. But I also get annoyed when a father taking care of his children is treated as such a big deal, while a mother doing the same thing is just…doing that she is supposed to do.

Again, I hope things go well with your daughter, and thanks for reading.

4 01 2011
Bad Mummy

I don’t know…Danny Tanner’s reaction to becoming a single dad to 3 kids was to have two man-children move in. I hear you on Cliff tho. I remarked to a friend a few months ago that I’m still waiting for my Cliff Huxtable – the dad with common sense advice for his kids, who adores his wife, has an awesome career (taking care of women and babies, no less), and supports his wife’s career and enjoys her family. Sign me up!

I got a lot of slack from ppl when I agreed to a 50/50 split when M was just 22 months old. One woman questioned how I could do “that” to my daughter. On the other side, the ex gets a medal every time he pulls the single dad, 50/50 custody card. In the same way, we question what non-custodial mothers did to lose custody, but never the same of the fathers.

As a side note, today I was at the bank trying to deal with the mountain of debt that my ex stuck me with. The banker, who was about my age (31), suggested that perhaps I would find a new relationship and be able to resolve the debt then. I believe I asked her whether she thought it was 19-fuckin’-52.

You might enjoy the book Stunned by Karen Bridson. It’s incredibly well researched and well written. She writes a lot about the history of feminism and women and addresses how, in lots of ways, very little has changed for the third-wave/fourth-wave feminists.

4 01 2011
socialjerk

It’s true about Danny, but social workers LOVE to bring in outside supports 🙂
Cliff and Clare were pretty ideal. I feel like TV has gone backwards since then. Everybody Loves Raymond? No thanks. Maybe that explains your bizarro banker. What a helpful suggestion. Definitely go speed dating, a man will solve all your financial woes.
Thanks for the book recommendation! I am always obsessively reading and looking for more.

6 01 2011
Socialwrkr24/7

Cause what women need is to feel indebted to a man to provide for their children! That has never led to domestic violence or child endangerment, right? Yes, let a man’s money solve all your problems ladies!

I am not a feminist… but geesh!

I think Danny is actually the perfect example of single parenthood, guy-style! He brought in two quasi helpful friends/relatives and even though they made some mistakes, they would have done ANYTHING for those girls! Plus, Danny’s father-daughter “talks” were the best. I learned a lot from them… 😉

6 01 2011
socialjerk

None will compare to the Huxtables, but I am a fan of DT. (David Tennant AND Danny Tanner 🙂 ) And Joey brought some excellent toys, though his impressions were a bit…dated. I’ll never forget my dad’s reaction to Danny Tanner’s loving speech to Stephanie after she drove the car into the kitchen. “Seriously? He’s not even going to yell!?”

I also wonder why you stated that you’re “not a feminist.” Not as an attack at all, but I’m curious. Like other people have pointed out, I’ve usually found that a lot of people who say they’re not feminists have more of a problem with the word, rather than the philosophy.

5 01 2011
Mike Langlois

As a man and a feminist I have raised eyebrows at times. I recall working at a school and having a bumper sticker that said “Another Man Against Violence Against Women.” I was asked by my boss (a woman) to remove it as it was too political and there had been complaints by coworkers (90% of whom were women.). I do think that women are socialized and trained to silence themselves and unlearning that is the work we need to do.

One thing that infuriates me is when men confuse child support with enjoying themselves with their children. Getting nice kicks for your kid, dressing them up and enjoying their enjoyment at a gift is not being a provider. They’re your kids, you’re SUPPOSED to give them presents and joy. But that is the perk and privilege of being a dad, the icing on the cake. Child support is consistent FINANCIAL support: Your child can’t eat those sneakers, no matter what brand they are.

5 01 2011
socialjerk

Well, being against violence is a rather controversial position to take…wow.

Somewhere along the lines a lot of people seem to have gotten the idea that dads have some kind of magic powers–they just have to “be there.” Of course, being present is the first step, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Actually paying enough to contribute meaningfully to keeping your child fed, clothed, and sheltered, being a consistent source of support, routine, and discipline…then buying gifts and playing video games.

Thanks for fighting the good fight 🙂

6 01 2011
sarahk

It is such a peeve of mine when “feminist” is used to mean “radical, man-hating she-bot.” Which it usually is. I have pointed out to several men that they are feminists. Do you think that women deserve equal rights, equal pay? Yes? Guess what, you’re a feminist! They didn’t believe me.

6 01 2011
socialjerk

Don’t forget “lesbian!” Because what could be worse?

6 01 2011
Bad Mummy

Feminist: A person who supports the equality of women with men

So, @Socialwrkr24/7, does this mean you don’t support equality between the sexes?

10 01 2011
lastcrazyhorn

I think that you would appreciate the meaning of this post better than some: http://thinkingautismguide.blogspot.com/2011/01/imagine-this.html

I wrote an article. It got picked up by someone else. And then a couple years later, it got picked up by someone else and reposted again. It’s what you get when you a toss an unaware aspie (Asperger’s Syndrome) kid in a public school system that doesn’t give a damn.

Welcome to my life.

10 01 2011
socialjerk

Wow. Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s difficult to read, but I think it’s very important for anyone who works with children.

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