This is part of a long series of posts, which will be known as Feminist Fridays. Because individuality is at the heart of feminism, I’m going to open up this space to different people each week to share with us a little portion of their unique journey.
I only met Melody a few months ago but I’ve known her long enough to know that she holds so many personality traits that I’ve been trying to grow within myself. She is aggressively compassionate with a fiercely empathetic heart. She also has an infections passion for what she loves! I’m so happy to have the opportunity to introduce you to her, today.
All right, Melody! What do you want to tell us about yourself?
I am woman chasing and living her dreams of learning about social work and living out those values and principles in my professional life. I am currently studying social work at the University of Kansas, but that will soon come to an end with an auspicious walk down a well-known hill. I love what I am learning more than I can say, and I also love the practice of that work. I also just love the little burg of Lawrence, Kansas, and I think it is one of the greatest places on earth. But I know that anywhere I go will end up filling my heart, too. So the thought of graduation and endings and beginnings has a lot of happiness and sadness all wrapped into one for me.
While getting my education, I have been working in the field of sexual and domestic violence for the last several years. One of my all-time favorite experiences of working in this field was my volunteer experience of several years with the Sexual Trauma and Abuse Care Center here in Lawrence. I learned so much about rape culture and how to respond to people in crisis through working with the wonderful and truly rad staff there. However, much as a I loved being able to be, sometimes the only person, being with, advocating for, and supporting a survivor of rape after one of the most traumatic moments of their lives, I realized that wasn’t the solution to the problem of sexual violence. Getting into an area where I could work with people who have offended with sexual violence became important to me, which is what I currently do. I have been doing my social work practicum this year (just finished up this week, actually *takes a deep bow*) working in a men’s correctional institution facilitating in a treatment program for men who have committed sex offenses.
What does feminism mean to you?
Feminism, to me, means not only radical celebration of people but close inspection of systems and ideologies that affect the ideas that we have. That close inspection means many things to me. It means looking closely at the “why” behind differences in treatment, chances in life, and goals achieved. It means asking questions of how our ideas of certain roles affect outcomes in life. It also means being really thoughtful about how the things we say and the ideas we have affect who we can become and may affect vastly different outcomes in life that would not be there otherwise. It is so important to my own practice of feminism that those differences be analyzed on many levels including gender identity (including trans or gender non-conforming folk), race, sexual orientation, income level, class, body ability, mental health, appearance, and the list goes on and on and on. Basically, the inspection of ideologies piece of feminism means being aware of how oppressions affect the lives of real people.
My favorite part of feminism to put into action, though, involves its radical celebration. But it can also be the most challenging one for me. Sometimes, if a person seems to have a view that women’s purpose is to serve men in some way or some other perspective that I can’t endorse, I have a hard time separating that person from their views and just celebrating that person as valuable, themselves, with valid needs (even if they believe that women are created to serve men!) But that is what my own practice of feminism would call me to do. Celebration of all bodies, abilities, appearances, gender presentations, and identities means everything to me to be able to give and receive, and I think that it is one of the best ways that feminism is changing the world.
(I just had a light bulb moment. I was just thinking this through and realized that the term I was using, “radical acceptance”, doesn’t mean what I want because the idea of acceptance implies, to me, that there is something wrong that needs to be accepted. I was trying to think of a better word that actually captured what I meant, and I realized that the concept of “radical celebration” does exactly that. I know. I’m sure many others have come across this concept before, but it was new and powerful for me!)
I love that, Melody! I do believe that there’s a notable difference between “acceptance” and “celebration”.
What does feminism look like in your everyday life?
In my everyday life, feminism means that I ask questions that address how people are socialized or treated or somethinged. (Yes, I just made up a verb. So deal with it.) The person I most like to ask questions of, though, (and, weirdly, with whom I am most effective) is myself. These are the kinds of questions that I love to challenge myself with all the time, and this is one of the ways that I practice the awareness that feminism calls me to.
Perhaps most of all, though, feminism in my day-to-day means that I live up to highest ideals as a woman or, even more, just as a person. Because while I identify as a woman it shouldn’t have to constrict me in how I live my life. I will be a scientist or a mechanic or a CEO if I want to be. I don’t want. At all. But likely that want (or lack of it) has been shaped by societal expectations. In my own life, I try to empower myself to live up to my truest and best version of myself, despite others’ expectations of what that looks like or any societal perceptions. Doing that has meant that I continuously check in to see why I am doing things or how things feel when I am doing them. And in that, I have found true inspiration. I become empowered and I note how—while there are times when I don’t like how I just blindly tow the line, don’t speak up, or whatever—there are so many moments I have done what seemed best. Maybe, in those times, I waited until the perfect and most effective moment for me, or for the world, to do the beautiful thing that I most needed to do despite any other societal expectations.
Would you like to talk about social work?
You might as well ask if I would like to breathe. Because, yes, social work is my favorite topic. I can usually talk about something else at least once a year or maybe it’s every other year… definitely every other year. Back in my more judgmental days, I thought that someone being completely taken up by her work was, well, a bit much. But now I can’t imagine anything better. (That is not to say that a person shouldn’t have a life outside of social work; that is actually unbelievably important. But I see social work as an ideology, much like feminism, that informs my life and who I am.) I have met so many people who are doing wonderful and inspiring things in all kinds of different professions or areas of life from stay-at-home parent to CEO, but this is it for me. And I knew I had found the profession that was for me when I read our Code of Ethics with its focus on six core values (service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence) and how it asks each of its workers to be their highest ideals of professional in regards to those values and knew that this was not only me but more of who I wanted to be.
I got into social work to change the world, and I have already made the most enormous difference. And that difference is all me. While I think that I likely do better the lives of people that I come in contact with (I certainly try on the daily) the most important person for me to impact is me. I have become more understanding as a person, and I have found my voice through my education. I am constantly learning how to take better care of myself as a whole person, and I have found a work that fulfills me deeply. To me, that is one of the most powerful ways of inspiring hope and giving it to others to help empower them: to show it myself. Along that note, I constantly find my world enormously bettered by seeing other people and clients do incredible and great things and what they most wanted to do despite enormous odds. I am so inspired and changed by seeing that, and I love it. This work—it has already changed my world, and I can’t wait for it to change even more. And, well, if I get to change others’ worlds along the way, that’s just an added bonus.
Social work has taught me about not letting my judgments affect how I treat people. Even if I disagree with people’s perceptions or actions, I don’t want to let that affect how I treat them as people. For example, I work with people who have committed sex offenses, but I don’t let that affect my view of them other than that I know they made mistakes.
Integral to social work practice is having hope in and for people. I tend to have an incorrigible hope and optimism about people, and I come across so many people who have been in this field who tell me I am cute and unjaded and just like they used to be with my belief in people. (In my head I’m thinking, “Well. I may be cute, but I am also right!” says the know-it-all, still-in-school social worker.) I have to have hope for people to reach whatever goals they deem best for themselves in their own time, and that belief helps buoy me in my work.
What are the ways that social work and feminism are tied together?
Social work and feminism are actually integral to each other. Social work knows that accepting who people are and having unconditional positive regard is one of the cornerstones of a solid relationship between clinicians and clients, and reminds me so much of the radical celebration of people that is a part of what I see in feminism.
Social work is a deeply introspective profession when it comes to analyzing how the words we use and the attitudes we have affect everyone, and I think that feminism also does that. In social work, we look closely at the intersectionality of oppressions, and that is a deeply feminist idea. We also look at different ways that we might unknowingly perpetrate those oppressions, and guess where we learned that??
Social work also examines the power and control dynamics of relationships, but we especially spend time on those dynamics in the helping relationship. For example, we ask questions about how we can manage the power that clinicians have to alleviate the differences in the relationship and make it more helpful to the client (while maintaining professional boundaries and all that). That inspection of the power and control within a relationship is something that feminism also excels at.
The personal as political is a feminist ideology that is applied within much of social work. For example, in the early days of domestic violence, specific people would be battered and would tend to find themselves being dealt with as individuals rather than as a group of people who are being battered because of messages that make it socially okay to do things like that. Once that issue was looked at on a larger scale, people began to take steps to combat the broader ideology. Social work is especially good at trying to get to the solution on an issue through looking at it more broadly rather than just putting a Band-Aid on individual people’s problems.
Social work also looks at radical change on a systemic level as well as individual level in order to combat oppressions, and feminism does exactly the same things and informs social work in how it does that.
Perhaps my favorite value of social work, self-determination, is one that is also cut from the feminist cloth of personal agency. As I see it, while it is always valuable to have input from others, personal agency or autonomy means that people’s perspectives and choices are valid in themselves, and they can be free to make up their own minds, especially without needing the approval of a person of another gender identity. Self-determination is similar to that in that it values the voice of the client, their own goals and progress rate without holding the perspective of the professional as more important or better in some way. Having this ideology not only empowers the client but lends itself to the self-care of the social worker. If I feel that it is my job to get the client to achieve the client’s goals, well, that is going to be one worn out, burned out Melody!
Speaking of self-care, in practicing social work, self-care is one of the most vital pieces to practicing our work and doing it well, and I think that the same could be said of feminism. After all, both social work and smashing the patriarchy are some kind of exhausting work and don’t happen overnight. Doing what we can in these areas can be so empowering, but we can’t do diddly if we are not taking care of ourselves first and over anyone else. And doing that is so important to feminism, social work, and life.
In short, I don’t think there is much room to argue that feminist principles and social work ideology are not closely married. In fact, I think that even if a person does not identify as a feminist (which let me be clear: that is okay and no judgment from me because I am a feminist, and a social worker, and a person) that person will find that if they are in social work and doing it according to the ethics and values of the profession, they are practicing in deeply feminist ways.
Thank you so much, Melody!
Melody’s passion for her work is invigorating and contagious and I love it! I hope that you enjoyed our conversation.
Please, let’s keep the conversation going!
While Melody and I were conducting this interview (over the course of a few weeks), I’m sad to say that her 91-year-old grandmother passed away. Melody told me, of her grandmother, “She didn’t identify as a feminist, but she celebrated people well. Which maybe just gets at the heart of feminism and humanity both.” We are grateful for the life of your grandmother, Melody, and the way that she contributed to the woman that you are, today.