This month marks one year from the massive shift in our way of life.
March 2021 marks a milestone of trauma, sickness, political unrest and social justice movements.
March 2021 marks a year of mask-wearing, social-distancing and adaptation.
March is a month dedicated to celebrating women’s history, marking the 8th as International Women’s Day.
March is a month also dedicated to acknowledging and celebrating social workers.
As a proud female social worker, this is my month! I am moved to reflect on the change in being female and being a social worker in middle of so much pain, fear, sadness and exhaustion during a year that a world pandemic has forever changed my way of life.
Interestingly enough, social work is a female dominated profession with 86% of MSW (Masters in Social Work) graduates in 2015 being women (Council on Social Work Education, October, 2017). Before I began the study of social work, I had a vision of an older white woman with a clipboard, glasses and poorly manicured hygiene standing at a front door waiting to escort a child as she removed him or her from their family. This skewed image had me believing I would end up far from a social work graduate program, but here I am proudly, today 13 years post-graduate from the University of Louisville Kent School of Social Work. And today, I realize how wrong that picture in my head was.
As a social worker during a life-threatening pandemic and a massive social justice movement I have been challenged how I practice and how I approach individuals. This year has challenged me in every aspect of my life, but a common theme that continues to show itself is authenticity. I am required to show up in all my roles authentically. I do not have all the answers. I do not have a magic wand to make it better. It’s impossible for me to understand the struggles of every person I come in contact with. However, when I show up authentically with empathy I have the ability to help because all people really need is someone to witness their story. Witnessing is the most powerful gift we can share with someone.
As a woman, during a time of shifting roles in the workforce and lawmaking regarding the rights and workings of my body, I am reminded constantly the differences in my experience simply on the basis of sex. I continue to make less than my male counterparts with less experience and education, in a female dominated profession. I’ve had to balance and manage the best, safest situation for my family compared to what is required for maintaining my career. The healthcare necessary for my femaleness is questioned and debated in the highest court of our land. I continue to function from the baseline of the likeliness I will be attacked when walking to my car at dark, going for a bike ride in the park and how populated a gas station is when I am alone with my kids. Explaining the need for pepper spray on a bike ride with my daughters was a conversation I had before they turned 10, because the female experience is different.
As a Caucasian female social worker, I can only experience life through my experience. (Not a dynamite drop-in, huh?) That does not prevent me from educating myself and showing empathy to others and their individual experiences. My profession gives me the honor of witnessing the experiences of so many different people with so many different lenes. I cannot put myself in their shoes, but I can examine and empathize with how their shoes may feel. I can ask questions and learn from their stories. I can validate their narratives by not dismissing it just because I may not understand it. We all deserve to be heard, so we all have a responsibility to witness. Take the opportunity to learn from someone else’s experience. Witnessing does not require you to agree to fully understand, just listen.
After a year of division and noise, I challenge each of you to witness for someone different from you. Someone who does not look like you. A different sex than you. Living in a different place than you. I challenge you to learn from someone else. It takes a little humility, but the benefits are well worth it. If we pause, be quiet and listen maybe the noise will become peace and we can find healing as we move forward from this milestone month.
I am so grateful and proud to call myself a woman and a social worker. These are core, defining pieces to who I am. I am thankful for the women who came before me to fight for the rights I take for granted today. I honor my fellow social workers, past, present and future – thank you for your dedication to the human race and for doing the work no one knows about. I see you & I celebrate you!