Men mostly 'forgotten' in researchCheryl Wetzstein
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published January 8, 2003
Social work literature is biased against heterosexual males, leading to "unfair and untrue" stereotypes about men and hampering social workers' ability to counsel men, an Alabama professor has concluded after reviewing articles in two social work journals from the last decade.
Out of hundreds of articles, book reviews and published ads, only "a fraction — about 25" — were about men, Jordan I. Kosberg wrote in an article titled "Heterosexual Males: A Group Forgotten by the Profession of Social Work."
Of the studies Mr. Kosberg found about men, half were about homosexuals and most of the rest were about men categorized as abusers, absent fathers, AIDS victims, prisoners or homeless.
"Most males are not delinquent, neglectful, abusers, AIDS victims or gay," Mr. Kosberg wrote. Yet in the last 10 years, "just a handful of studies at best" addressed "normative issues" of males.
This creates an "unfair and untrue" stereotype of heterosexual males, Mr. Kosberg concluded. It also handicaps social workers, leaving them ill-prepared to handle the needs of men related to adolescence, fatherhood, employment, marriage, divorce and aging.
The profession of social work should strive for genuine sex equity and focus on males "no more, but certainly no less," than females, Mr. Kosberg wrote in his article, which appeared in the September issue of the Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare. Mr. Kosberg teaches at the University of Alabama School of Social Work and heads its doctorate program.
The two journals Mr. Kosberg reviewed for his study were the Journal of Social Work Education, published by the Council on Social Work Education, and Social Work, published by the National Association of Social Workers.
Elizabeth J. Clark, executive director of NASW, said Mr. Kosberg's study was "intriguing" but not convincing.
Only general, "impressionistic" statistics were in the study — nothing scholarly, she said.
Moreover, it was a curious choice to include published ads as part of the study, she said, because Social Work [the journal] merely publishes paid advertisements.
As for Mr. Kosberg's main premises — that there aren't enough studies about men's needs, the few articles about men are creating a bias against them and uninformed social workers can't deal with men's issues — Ms. Clark disputes them all.
"I think there's a lot [of studies] out there" about men, she said.
Historically, she explained, "men controlled the academic side" of social work — including research — while women did the front-line counseling. This led to an abundance of male-focused studies that only recently have been matched with female-focused studies.
"I think women still don't get enough attention. I think there's still tremendous inequity in regards to health care, for instance," said Ms. Clark, who has a doctorate in medical sociology and a master's in social work.
As for the argument that female social workers can't understand certain men's problems, "we have dispelled that, decade after decade after decade," she said.
Female social workers work with many males who are military veterans, gang members, prisoners and husbands in troubled marriages, said Ms. Clark.
Social workers also work with family and marriage therapy, she added. "You can't do that without working with a couple."
To author Warren Farrell, however, Mr. Kosberg's findings "are just the tip of the iceberg."
Social work is dominated by women, and a strong anti-male attitude says basically that the heterosexual male is the problem and the female is the solution, said Mr. Farrell, who addressed the issue in two books, "Father and Child Reunion" and "Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say."
Big problems arise when families — especially low-income families — come to social workers to resolve domestic disputes, he said. The family's goal is to stay together, "but you can't keep a family together when you are trained to view it as solution versus problem or victim versus oppressor," said Mr. Farrell.
In social work, he added, "divorce is usually seen as something that victimizes women and that men do to women."
Matt Modrcin, who teaches at the Graduate School of Social Work at Portland State University in Oregon, also concurs with Mr. Kosberg that "heterosexual males are seldom discussed in the professional literature and when they are discussed, a bias is presented."
Mr. Modrcin further agrees that "social workers are not being prepared to work with heterosexual males," which is one of the reasons he personally incorporates men's issues into his class discussions and case examples.
Still, this imbalance isn't surprising, Mr. Modrcin wrote in an e-mail.
Social work historically has been concerned with marginalized groups in society and "white heterosexual males" have been viewed as being in control of most of the resources and power, he said.
While this may have been true in the past, Mr. Modrcin wrote, "there has been a shift over the last 25 years in terms of where power is located."
The social work profession should acknowledge this shift, he said, and while it need not move away from its history of giving voice to underrepresented groups, it "must also examine how it ignores a group of people because of bias or myth."
copyright © 2003 News World Communications, Inc.