The emergence of feminism and its impact on social work practice
This research considers the application of feminist thought in social work practise. Specific areas of consideration include the gap from social workers’ personal acceptance of feminist constructs and their use of such constructs in daily practise, the effects of perpetuation of hegemonic gender roles by social workers, and domestic violence victims perceptions of the effectiveness of social work based on the perspectives of their social workers as considered above. This research further describes a focus group of college social work students who are also domestic violence victims.
It records their perceptions of social workers’ worldviews and the impact of such on service. Conclusions include that there is significant gap between the understanding or acceptance of feminist constructs amongst social workers and its application in daily field practise, that social workers are often likely to perpetuate hegemonic gender roles, and because of such perpetuation view domestic violence situations as individual occurrences rather than part of a greater societal pattern of oppression, and that domestic violence survivors feel best served when work with them uses a feminist theoretical framework.
Feminism and social work have been associated for many years; however, although many social workers personally espouse working from a feminist perspective, the systems of social work still favour work from a traditional or patriarchal perspective. This research, therefore, seeks to first consider findings from previous study regarding this phenomenon and the theoretical frameworks for both social work and feminist thought. In this light of information gleaned from these findings, it became apparent that hegemonic gender roles, a common topic of feminist research, play a relevant part in work with survivors of domestic violence.
Specifically, domestic violence survivors are often directed, either explicitly or implicitly, that their situation is personal and should be considered and dealt with from a personal and pathological perspective rather than applying the tenets of feminist thought that view such situations as manifestations of structural and power problems in our greater society.
This study then seeks to document whether this gap between social work theory supportive of feminist worldviews and social work application of practise exists, and if so, how prevalent a gap it is. This is accomplished through use of a focus group of college students, all of whom have taken at least one course in social work theory and are themselves domestic violence survivors who have been served, to whatever level of quality, by social workers.
Discussions within the focus group involved ideas of gender roles and social worker advocacy of hegemonic gender roles, whether explicit or implicit. The focus group then built on this foundation to consider group participants ‘experiences with social workers and whether they presented an individual / pathological perspective of domestic violence, or whether they presented a perspective that consider the wider influence of society and its systems. This was further related to the effect of such perceptions on the understanding of and service to group participants at the time of intervention.