Part II : Experiences and challenges in creating and developing a social work with and for men:
It is incredibly important and very relevant that there is developed a gender specific approach towards social work and thereby that there develops a specific approach to helping men to solve their own problems together with professional social workers. This approach has existed for the last 10 years but it has not yet caught on even though those who work specifically with this approach are completely convinced that this approach is both relevant and very fruitful in developing an approach of talking and working with men so they themselves can be involved in the process of change and solving their own social problems. But it has to be a gender specific approach as the problems that men have and those that women have are incredibly different, come from different places and have different positions in men and women’s identity.
The difficulty in developing a social work for men does in no way lie in the lack of subjects, research or relevant academic theories relevant for the development of such a course or a series of courses. Not in any way, as there is an enormous amount of relevant academic literature on masculinities, socialization, and the development of social networks as well as many theoretical approaches to various aspects of describing the development of social problems in men. Even with this abundance of material this approach has a difficult time in being an accepted part of the university curriculum today. This is even though there are more and more competent teachers and professors and an increasing number of students who are writing undergraduate and graduate theses and developing a competence in the field.
Through my 10 years of experience in this field, it is clearly the students who are the most interested and see the enormous relevance of a gender specific approach to working with solving social problems. The real problem is centered on two primary aspects of social work education. The first part, of course, is the culture and the tradition which has been built up on a very specific gender neutral approach to solving social problems. Some of this comes from the fear of discrimination and therefore the development of the desire to make all social work approaches gender neutral. The second part of the problem lies also in the culture of the field, as both the education of social workers and the departments of social work practice are populated by qualified professionals who have no or very little knowledge regarding a gender specific approach to social work. Therefore the culture of the field and the tradition which lies in social work practice is indelibly a gender neutral approach. But if one works for a short time with a gender specific approach, the professional will soon realize a few important aspects of a gender specific approach. One is that the problems that men and women have are incredibly different, are created in different ways and men and women have completely different ways of speaking to and with their social networks. Men have a social network where they very seldom, if at all, speak about problems or difficulties. It is not a respected and accepted masculine approach to accept and tell others that you have a problem in your marriage, at your place of work or even a health problem It is statistically proven that men go to the doctor much less frequently than women do, that they usually wait way too long with an illness before they consult a doctor, and they have a very difficult time in explaining to the doctor exactly what is wrong with them and how long they have had their health problems. If there are not many more reasons, and there are many more reasons, these should be enough to start thinking about a gender specific approach to talking and working with men who have social problems.
The other aspect of men that should convince many social workers that they have to look more closely into the field of a gender specific approach to social work is, if nothing else, is that there over 80-85% of the people who are in jails and prisons are men. This statistic is just about the same all over the world. This in itself has to be an eye-opener awakening an interest in a gender specific approach to social work. Why is it that it is men who are the most violent, the most aggressive, rape and beat women as well as other men, are usually arrested for wreck less or drunk driving, or have a high rate of suicide? This list is very long and very specifically a masculine identity which contributes to these activities. I think it was Connell or maybe Kimmel who wrote that the biggest problem with men is that they have to be men! And here is the connection between social work with men and with masculine hegemony.
In order to be able to develop a gender specific approach to social work it is necessary to define where men get their gender socialization from and who or what is it that makes men so violent, so aggressive, so unable to control their tempers, or likely to develop a life and an income through crime. A great deal of it has to do with the masculine ideal and the mold which has been to form many men. That is to say the masculine hegemony which has been ever present to tell and convince all boys that the way to manhood is through proving to those around you that you are strong, assertive, dominant and that you somehow know what you are doing and how to do it.
/ Richard Lee Stevens
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