Simmons School for Social Work
Men of Simmons
In early September 2014 another MSW student and I put our heads together and decided to form a men’s group at Simmons. We both had questions around whether or not sexism was being sufficiently covered in the school’s curriculum, we both took an interest in the fact that as males we were minorities on campus, and I in particular felt that one of the best ways to deconstruct notions of masculinity rooted in patriarchy and sexism was to encourage healthy alternatives of what it means to be a man – to not just find what is wrong with masculinity as it has been socially constructed, but to also find aspects of masculinity worth kindling, worth celebrating.
We tossed around ideas until we finally coalesced around a couple of core principles and agendas we agreed upon for the group. This paper will discuss the thinking behind the group, the current status of the group, and my hopes for the group moving forward. I will be using Mizrahi and Rosenthal’s (2001) 4 C’s as a lens through which to analyze the men’s group project.
The poster that we ended up putting up on campus read as follows:
Men of Simmons is a new process-oriented support group for men at Simmons School of Social Work.
How do masculinity, sexism and feminism challenge or augment our experience as male social work students?
What isn’t being discussed in class? What else can we do to best prepare future social workers to confront gender-related practice issues?
An initial draft had included my ideas about finding a version of masculinity worth celebrating – along the lines of not throwing out the baby with the bathwater -- but this idea was ultimately rejected after consultations the administration. The idea was that by using the language that I had initially suggested we were coming too close to resembling the mainstream men’s movement that sees itself as oppressed and therefore flies in the face of what we know about the many unearned privileges that come with being male and the oppressive forces women are up against. I reconciled this outcome with thinking that my initial idea had more to do with pedagogy than actual substance – men are more likely to buy into the group if they feel welcomed and hear that there are aspects of their male identities worth celebrating – it’s not all bad. It was these words spoken by Paolo Freire (1988) that went through my mind at this time: “Social work practice, whether case-work, group work, or community organization, is inherently and substantively educational-pedagogical” (Freire, 2009, p. 93). I felt strongly that it would help men buy into the group if they knew there were aspects of their masculine identities worth cherishing. Bowing to the powers that be, however, the aforementioned wording became codified.
What do I hope to accomplish with this men’s group and how potentially effective might the project be in meeting the goals? Why the focus on gender/sex? Mimi Abramovitz, in speaking to the importance of gender, writes, “Gender, like race and class, structure the organization of social life” (Abramovitz, 1996, p. 13). As male social workers on the front lines of client-services we are in a unique position as agents of change. We can use our unearned privilege for good, we can begin the process of deconstructing unhealthy gender identities rooted in patriarchy and internalized sexism. For this to happen, the social work curriculum at Simmons School for Social Work must adequately incorporate readings and other materials that shed light on gender related issues in the clinical setting, and to my thinking, must provide healthy masculine alternatives, not simply find fault. Central to this goal is receiving input from participants in perceived gaps in the curriculum and giving this feedback to the school in the hopes that these gaps will be addressed. Furthermore, it’s a fact that females far outnumber males…