Heterosexual Males: A Group Forgotten by the Profession of Social Work

By Kosberg, Jordan I. | Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, September 2002 | Go to article overview

Heterosexual Males: A Group Forgotten by the Profession of Social Work


Kosberg, Jordan I., Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare


Social work literature has mainly focused upon females and gay males. A search was undertaken of general references to heterosexual males in published social-work authored articles and appearing in book reviews and publishers' ads in two prominent social work journals during the last decade. The conclusion reached was that heterosexual males are seldom discussed and when they are discussed they are portrayed in a very biased manner. It is believed that social workers do not receive necessary preparation for understanding and working with heterosexual males, especially from minority and immigrant groups, who are facing emotional, physical, interpersonal, and family problems. A stereotypic view of heterosexual males is both unfair and untrue, and precludes necessary attention in the classroom and in practice to their normative needs and special problems.

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"Social work has been a woman's profession. The vast majority of social workers have been and are women" (Weick, 2000, p. 395). Indeed, this is true. However, social work clients are not only females. Despite this, social work literature is female-oriented and provides a negative view of heterosexual males. Such a conclusion has been reached by an antecedent exploratory effort that assessed the titles of articles, book reviews, and publishers' ads appearing since 1990 in the National Association of Social Work (NASW) journal, Social Work, and the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) publication, Journal of Social Work Education. When a title referred to male, female, or gender, the content of the book or journal article was assessed.

It was learned that when males are discussed they were, in the main, discussed as gays or if heterosexuals, discussed in negative ways (such as abusers or absent fathers). Thus, it is believed that social work literature is biased and results in social work students and practitioners often being unaware of the various potential problems facing heterosexual males over their life cycle, such as interpersonal conflicts of adolescent boys, periods of transition to adulthood, fatherhood, marriage or divorce, aging, illness, immigration, widowerhood, employment, unemployment, and retirement, among many others. Social work practitioners may be unprepared to provide sensitive and effective interventions to assist such males facing both normative and unique problems. Included are culturally diverse groups of males, such as immigrants and refugees. The males of concern are not the criminals, abusers, or deviants one can read about in the newspaper. They, rather, are males who face normative developmental, familial, interpersonal and intergenerational, economic, spiritual, and emotional challenges; those who can benefit from social work involvement.

This article emanates not out of an anti-feminist, promasculine orientation; rather, it results from social work values mandating the equitable and non-discriminatory concern for any individual or group in need. Nor does this article challenge contentions made by critics of "androcentrist" knowledge. "The social sciences were developed for the most part by a homogeneous group of white, middle-class, Western men who pursued their search for knowledge by building on shared assumptions and observations" (Figueira-McDonough, 1998, p. 5). However, we ought not dismiss or overlook the needs of heterosexual males in contemporary society as a result of past power inequities. That would replace one past injustice with another in the present. For example, the Preface of a text on practice knowledge for females (Figueira-McDonought, Netting, & Nichols-Casebolt, 1998) states: "This is a book that grew out of a shared uneasiness about the invisibility of women at the core of the curriculum [and] the `after thought' given to women's issues in our classes ..." (p. xiii). One could make a similar statement with regard to heterosexual males in society. …

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