Experiences and challenges in creating and developing a social work with and for men:

Men dominate the statistics with regards to crime, violence and social problems which have to do with alcohol, drug abuse and sexual abuse. There is incredibly little research which is able to show the reasons for this over representation.  One of the theoretical approaches in this explanation is poverty, education or race or ethnic background. Other explanations can be found in gender socialization, masculine dominance and hegemony, combined with the difficulty for some men to find a relevant masculinity in a postmodern society. It is very important that counseling and guidance of men, who have social problems takes its starting point in a gender specific perspective of men’s daily lives and the emergence of social problems. 

Development of a social work for men has two primary challenges today. One of the challenges is to develop a gender specific approach to social work with and for men. The other challenge is to create this approach within a female social work profession, with over a 100 year history and which has primarily a gender neutral professional approach. In order to develop a gender specific professional approach it is necessary to challenge the hegemonic feminist approach developed in the procession of social work as well as in the professional training within the universities. I have worked with this task over many years and I have met both a great deal of interest by both students and teachers. But I have also been confronted with a great deal of resistance. The resistance against developing a social work for and with men and a gender specific approach to social problems, lies primarily within the culture of the field of social work, its tradition and that the profession both within, as well as from the outside, is seen as a female field of professional work. It would be interesting to get some reactions regarding the difficulties and challenges in creating and developing a discipline of social work for men. 

/Regards, Richard Lee Stevens

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Richard Lee Stevens
21-02-2012 10:30

Not to just confirm our own views and opinions, I agree with your comments, of course. The main problem is now how to develop a dialog and a debate where men and boys have a desire and a will to approach the parts of their own masculinity that is not allowed to feel, to criticize itself, to develop an approach to masculinity which is not necessarily dominating and controlling but is interested in developing an approach to human values and communication based on equality, respect and an open dialog. It is amazing, when you gain the possibility to develop a perspective as to how manipulated men and boys are by the traditional culture and the presence of a hegemonic masculinity. This hegemony is able to manipulate and control very many areas of masculine socialization and masculine expression. We are in a world where many do not know how to express their own feelings without having to go through the accepted pattern or model of how men should express themselves. Women in many ways have the advantage on men in that they have learned how to develop social networks and communication techniques which are reflexive, inquisitive and searching. Where many men find themselves in a social grouping where they constantly have to “prove themselves”, their strength and their power to be accepted by those around them including the women around them. There are many younger men who have refused to accept this approach to masculinity and are finding a middle way without having to be a macho man or a controlling man. But the majority of men who express themselves have to illustrate that they are within the pattern of the traditionally accepted male model which is able to reflect and live up to the traditional masculine hegemony. What amazes me incredible is how unreflective many men are in regards to the expression of their own personalities, their own personal expression and their ability and interest to challenge and confront the traditional masculine role models. Unfortunately it is these role models which maintain the dominant masculine hegemony.

Jack Kammer, MSW, MBA
20-02-2012 17:43

Professor Stevens, it is very exciting indeed to read your post. I agree completey with your naming of two main challenges: developing a gender specific approach to social work with and for men, and doing so in the context of feminist hegemony. A third challenge will be for social workers to take our ethically required role in confronting injustice and inequality as visited upon men. If we as a society can do for men and boys anything even close to what we as a society have done for women and girls over the last forty years in terms of confronting stereotypes and notions of gender superiority, and providing women and girls with a full array of options for the ways in which they can live their lives and earn positions of value and respect in their families and communities, we will be doing much to keep men and boys from needing social work interventions in the first place. I very much look forward to working with you. I am happy to share with you the good news that I have been selected as the 2012 Outstanding Recent Graduate of the University of Maryland School of Social Work for my efforts on inspiring social work to take a more creative, progressive and affirmative approach to problems involving men and boys. In my presentations to two NASW state chaptersI have found that there is an unspoken but emerging understanding of the need for social work to do better and more inclusive job where men and boys are concerned.

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