The NASW Social Work Code of Ethics is a very helpful but demanding document. It asks us to live a life that stays aware of our surroundings both at work and at home. If we are to take this document seriously we will need to continuously examine the possibility that the things that are going on around us might not be in concert with the Code.
Think about a southern town in the early 1950’s. Imagine you are there to give a workshop to the townspeople on racism. Can you guess their reaction to your words about racial equality? Their daily habits and way of life is based on something far from what you are describing to them. What do you think they would say and do? My guess is they might politely listen but after leaving conclude that you were some sort of nut. A black lover or even more likely, someone who hates them and their way of life. Someone who was trying to ruin things for them.
In some ways I feel like that person right now. I can see a form of discrimination that is potently hurtful and yet most of those around me are blind to in a similar way to the southern townspeople. They just don’t and won’t see it. Most of us believe that our culture is striving to be fair to all, and works towards equality. They would be at least partly correct, except like the southern townspeople there are things that most people simply can’t see and if you mention them they call you the equivalent of what the townspeople would have called you.
Who is the group that faces discrimination that no one sees? It is Men and Boys. Let me explain.
We live in a culture that has flourished for thousands of years. One reason for our success is that for eons men and women have made gynocentric agreements about roles. The man’s side was that he would provide and protect and would risk his life if needed in order to provide the necessary resources and protect women and children from harm. The women, on the other hand, agreed to take care of the children and the hearth. This arrangement worked wonderfully for a long time. With the advent of the industrial revolution and now the 21st century we have far fewer needs for the old roles. Women’s roles have been changed and shifted but men’s roles are pretty much the same.
A very important byproduct of the male role is that men are seen as disposable. Men have died in wars and done the often dangerous work of hunting and of protecting women and children. Men’s roles threw them into positions where people just didn’t know if the men would ever return or not. When we don’t know if someone will be returning we tend to detach from them and for our own psychological benefit we see them as more disposable. We basically prepare for their possible demise. Let’s take an example. Those who are designated to die in war are treated like heroes if they accomplish the miraculous and survive, but are seen as disposable if they do not. It is expected. Imagine that the war dead changed overnight and was suddenly only women who were the ones dying. Would people be upset? Absolutely. You would see a huge outcry. Why? Because women are not seen as disposable and are seen as needing protection.
When something or someone is seen as disposable we tend to detach from their pain and hardship. This is why there is no similar outcry when so many men die at war. That is expected of the disposable sex. It also explains why in the 1980’s and 1990’s when I worked as a psychotherapist with so many traumatized men and women that it was crystal clear that the world wanted to help the women with their emotional pain from trauma and wanted to avoid the men’s. I found out very quickly that a man’s emotional pain was taboo. No one wants to hear it, people want to run away. It took me some time to connect that it was men’s disposability that was driving this important difference. This same detachment from men’s pain and hardship can be seen in nearly all of the examples that will be given in this article.
I am sure you are wondering what sorts of discrimination men could possibly be facing so we will take them one by one. We will first quote from the code and then explain the areas where men and boys face discrimination and hardship. Let’s start with discrimination by laws.
Here’s what the code says:
4. SOCIAL WORKERS’ ETHICAL RESPONSIBILITIES AS PROFESSIONALS 4.02 Discrimination Social workers should not practice, condone, facilitate, or collaborate with any form of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status, or mental or physical disability.
Areas where men face overt discrimination based on sexist laws
We know now that men are a significant portion of the victims of domestic violence. The latest CDC research confirms this and in fact states that in the past 12 months men were 53% of the victims of domestic violence. However, the services for domestic violence are astoundingly built to serve only women. This is overt discrimination.
We know from the research of Denise Hines that when men seek help as victims of domestic violence at these female only services for victims the men are not only turned away they are told they are the abusers! Men face a profound discrimination in today’s domestic violence system since they are often the victims and usually have no services since everything has been built for women. Social workers have said very little about this but the courts have started to acknowledge the discrimination that men face as victims of domestic violence. In the Woods et. al. vs California case in 2008, a Superior Court in Sacramento, ruled that male domestic violence victims had been unconstitutionally denied services. The court held that state laws violated men’s equal protection rights by excluding male victims from state-funded domestic violence services. The court found: “domestic violence is a serious problem for both women and men” and that “men experience significant levels of domestic violence as victims.” Then, in October 2009, a West Virginia judge struck down state rules for regulating domestic violence shelters because they operate “on the premise that only men can be batterers and only women can be victims” and “exclude adult and adolescent males from their statutory right to safety and security free from domestic violence based only on their gender.” It’s clear that this problem is now widespread in the United States.
People are detached from men’s pain and hardship due to the default disposability of men. People simply don’t care as much about the hardships of men when compared to how they see women. If you are a social worker working in the area of domestic violence are you aware of this discrimination? Are you speaking out against it? Remember, being aware and doing nothing is what the code calls “condoning and facilitating.” As social workers we need to stand up for those who are facing discrimination and in this case it is men and boys. If you do see this and say nothing you are a part of the problem. You are like a southern townsperson. Will you follow the code and stand up for these men who face discrimination?
Social Workers in hospitals pediatric or OB/GYN units should be aware that there is severe discrimination going on right under their noses, a discrimination that is built right into our laws. Baby girls are protected from having their genitals mutilated by law. No exceptions for cultural or religious differences. Penalties for breaking this law are severe. At the same time genital mutilation of baby boys is one of the most popular surgical procedures in America. This is not a minor prick of the skin. Some experts estimate the foreskin that is surgically removed has nearly as many nerve endings as the entire female clitoris. The adult male equivalent in terms of amount of skin removed is the size of an index card, about 3 x 5 inches. It is also a profitable venture since the foreskins can be sold for around $400 each depending on how they are used. Some are used for research while some are turned into very expensive women’s facial cream advertised on Oprah. We are now aware that these circumcisions, the majority of which are without anesthesia, are causing psychological problems and physical problems for the boys and men who are unfortunate enough to have been mutilated. Alexithymia and PTSD have both been connected to male infant circumcision and it is doubtless that many more negatives will be found. In fact much of what we know about girls who have faced genital mutilation is also being found true for the millions of little boys and the men they become. People are rightly very concerned about the girl’s genital mutilation but are detached from boy’s pain and hardship due to the default disposability of men. If you are a social worker are you following the code and speaking out against this obvious discrimination?
The law demands that young men at age 18 sign up for the selective service. Girls have no such requirement. Some argue that this is not such a big deal since we have a volunteer army. However, if he fails to sign up he can be fined up to $250,000 and face up to five years in prison. Even if not convicted he will forfeit the possibility of student financial aid, federal job training, a federal job, and in some cases citizenship. This is clearly discrimination based on sex and based on the laws of the land.
We all know about the idea of her body her choice. But have you thought about the man’s side? Most people have not. She has reproductive rights but he has none. We work hard to insure that she has every right to decide about the newborn but give him no similar rights. I have worked as a psychotherapist with numerous men who have come to me traumatized by the abortion of a child they wanted. He had no rights. Only she could decide. Even though he was half of the couple that created the child only she has the decision making power. He has to simply go along with her decision. Think about the reverse of this. Imagine we lived in a world where men had all of the reproductive rights, they could tell women when to and when not to have children. Would you see that as fair? If not, can you see that the same unfairness is being played out in today’s world towards men? People are detached from men’s pain and hardship due to the default disposability of men. In today’s world men are marginalized when it comes to reproductive rights. As a Social Worker are you speaking out against this?
Now let’s move to an area where men and boys face discrimination not from laws but from societal ignorance and lack of compassion.
Here’s what the code says:
6.04 Social and Political Action (a) Social workers should engage in social and political action that seeks to ensure that all people have equal access to the resources, employment, services, and opportunities they require to meet their basic human needs and to develop fully.
Places men face discrimination based on ignorance and/or lack of compassion.
Did you know that eight out of ten completed suicides are males? Have you heard that stat tossed around? Probably not. People simply don’t know or talk about it. People just don’t seem to care. People are detached from men’s pain and hardship due to the default disposability of men. NASW studied suicide some years ago, the study focused on girls and suicide. I asked at the time why they didn’t study boys since boys were 80% of the victims and they said the funding requested the study focus on girls. Sadly, this is not uncommon. The focus of the media, researchers and clinicians is on girls and women even though they are a fraction of the victims. As a Social Worker, do you see this discrimination? Shouldn’t a commensurate amount of research be done based on those who are most victimized? Shouldn’t we create services designed for those who are most at risk? We need to stand up for the victims and potential victims of suicide that are being ignored and marginalized. Will you stand up for boys and men? Now that you know about this, not standing up would be a violation of the Code don’t you think?
We all know about maternity leave for women. It is pretty much a standard. But why wouldn’t paternity leave also be a standard? Why is paid leave only given to the mother and not the father? People are starting to wake up to this discrimination. California, Washington and New Jersey have all passed laws offering “family leave” for all, not just for the woman. Why would fathers be an afterthought about leave? As a social worker are you speaking up about this discrimination in your state?
Men and women receive different sentences for committing the same crime. Women tend to get about 20% less than men. This difference is larger than the sentencing disparity due to race but I would bet you have never heard of it. Right? As a social worker are you speaking out against this sex discrimination?
Men tend to live shorter and sicker lives than women. The fact is that white women have the greatest longevity followed by black females, followed by white males, followed by black males. Both black and white men live shorter lives than both black and white females. Some are thinking that black males are at the bottom since they face the burden of both racism and of being male.
“‘Being male is now the single largest demographic factor for early death,’ says Randolph Nesse of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.’ If you could make male mortality rates the same as female rates, you would do more good than curing cancer,’ he says. Nesse’s colleague Daniel Kruger estimates that over 375,000 lives would be saved in a single year in the US if men’s risk of dying was as low as women’s.”New Scientist Magazine, July 2002
Men die earlier and more often than women from nearly every major cause of death except for one. Alzheimers. They simply don’t live long enough to compete for that honor.
Even with the longevity and poor health experienced by men what we find is that the services available to them are considerably less than what is provided for women. The United States has seven national offices for women’s health but none for men. They have web pages for womenshealth.gov and girlshealth.gov but none for menshealth.gov or boyshealth.gov. Why do we discriminate and treat men and women so differently? As a Social Worker are you speaking out and standing up for the men and boys who are obviously be marginalized? If not, are you violating our code of ethics?
The roles in education have been reversed. What was once considered discrimination against women and girls in their 22% deficit in college degrees has now reversed. It is the boys and men who are getting far fewer degrees than the women and girls. The difference? Now we don’t call it discrimination against boys we call it empowerment of girls. The disadvantage and discrimination of the boys and men is simply ignored and reframed as a positive. As a social worker are you willing to stand up against this discrimination against boys and men?