July 19, 2008

Feminism and Egocentrism

I've already talked about that Social Policy class where we discussed feminism and my problems with that, but there was so much wrong with that class, that I just have to go back to it.

In this class, the discussion turned to single mothers and the issues that they face. The instructor, a male, brought up how the incidence of lone parent fathers was on the rise. This was dismissed by more than one student. After stating that lone parent fathers now make up more than 20% of lone parent families, someone commented, "we'll talk when the numbers are equal". At the time, there was a lot going on in class and I didn't think too much of it, other than "what an idiot" kind of things. Later on, it started to bother me.

I can see the point of "we've been through so much oppression, that we can only think of ourselves right now", but this was more than that. There was a sense of gender-centrism that pervaded the comments. I'm not sure some of the people in there understand what feminism is supposed to be about. It's about equality. If we're ok with some inequality based on gender, then we're pretty much okay with inequality in general, are we not? I had prepared a whole speech on the topic as a rebuttal of what was said, but I called it off.

I really don't think that in practice, any of these people will be oppressive towards men. I think, even know, that they understand that it's all people we're serving, not just those like us, and they just wanted to be all "girl power"-ish. That's fine. When I was planning my outrage, I felt I had to teach, but looking at it more critically, I think I just wanted a soapbox to stand on to rant about something. Looking like the feminist male social worker to the extreme would have been just been an added bonus.


cb said...

This is actually something that is fairly close to my heart as I was raised (along with my sisters - plural(!).. by a single parent (male!).
I remember at the time some of the difficulties my dad faced when everyone made assumptions about him, his parenting abilities (wonderful for the record - although that's not what the assumptions were :)) and that any single parent would necessarily be a mother. Of course, it's the majority, but I know he was excluded from some of the support he might otherwise have received - or at least was judged on a different level. In some ways, I think it can be harder for male lone parents - due to gender stereotypes.

Back to the feminism though, for me, it is about an equality of opportunity rather than a more pure sense of equality. You can argue - or I could argue ( :p) that in our culture, white men have the predominant power and therefore a more vocal female presence (this argument would work across race lines too but we're talking about feminism here) is not able able to exclude men because they can't - by definition, be excluded as they hold the power base. The 'oppressor' cannot be unequal.

On a micro level - on a service level for example, a practitioner could show a prejudice against men but I would argue that this is simple prejudice rather an inequality (and quite wrong) but it is not about putting men down for women to be more equal - it is about giving women a voice than men already have.
I hope this is making sense..

Reas Kroicowl said...

I can understand the anger there, because realistically, the numbers for single parents (male vs. female) will never be equal. Women around the world are oppressed and have been for centuries. And when there are websites out there entitled "Men are Better Than Women" (I kid you not) then it just crystalizes for us how far we have to go. Women remain under represented in all areas of government, remain under represented in business, and in the higher education realm as well. Women make less money across the board and are more likely to be living in poverty in old age. And sorry, but single women raising children are overwhelmingly poor. So yeah, I get the hostility. (Stepping down now. Sorry!)

That being said, that the numbers are on the rise for male lone parent families is interesting to me and should not have been dismissed out of hand by the women in your class. Obviously women are capable of being trolls and leaving their kids high and dry just like men. Really, it should have been an opportunity for some great discussion about current family trends. Are these numbers relevant to only Canada or North America?

LA Lady said...

From the perspective of a foster care caseworker...in only one instance have I returned a child to the father. But then the times the mother got the child back were also few and far between. Whether the parent got their child back had more to do with the effort, not gender. I would speculate that applies to parenting as well - but stereotypes are hard to change.

And you were able to get some dialogue going, even if it wasn't in class!

kiwiofknowledge said...

I consider myself pretty much a feminist, but some of that stuff honestly really irks me. Unfortunately, a lot of feminism ceases to be about equality and moves more into female superiority. A lot of that feminism of the 70's is like this. I find a lot of it hard to swallow. It seems to enter a lot of disciplines too. I was just reading a lot about this from a Theological point of view, and this facet was annoying too. I think instead of focusing so much on 'feminism' we need to take the route of focusing more on equality and looking at the person as a human being.

antiSWer said...

I'm aware of the oppression of women. This whole class was on that very subject. I get the anger. As the brother of three sisters who are all single mothers, I feel the anger. I know what they go through. And I also know my privileged. I'm a married, white, soon to be middle class male.

Having said that, this was a social work class. We're supposed to be integrating our lives with our thinking with our practice. Yes, feel the anger, but look at things critically. By excluding all single fathers from the debate, you lose out on allies.

Also, I'm not sure whether these stats are applicable to the US, but I would imagine so. I think it's just a trend of the times...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. Greatly appreciated. :)

bluejeansocialwork said...

Four years ago, when my husband was in his first year as a middle school special education teacher, one of his students tested him by kicking him squarely in the testicles. Clearly the student was hoping for an extraordinary reaction, and clearly my husband would have been justified in giving him one. But my husband knew what he was up against. Using self control that I will never fully understand, he provided this child with no response whatsoever. He told him in a completely calm manner that "we don't kick teachers" and that the student must go to the principal's office.

Now, believe it or not I'm not trying to say that you got kicked in the balls. But I have been in social work class rooms myself where the conversation became more angry than logical, more about venting than problem solving. It is maddening, especially if some of the stats used as ammunition are unreliable or flat out wrong. To my fellow social workers, I apologize, but some of our science is awfully soft.

I described this episode mostly because the way my husband reacted worked miraculously. He modeled how to be the more mature person, how to not let anger escalate from the offending party to the offended party. He won the respect of that child. I would encourage you to bring up your perspective, especially if you can do it by modeling how to respond to their anger and transition it into constructive discourse.

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