Review by Sue Kennedy
Teaching Gender and Culture as a compulsory subject on the new BA Social Work course has posed new challenges and raised issues for the educators. With passion and a firm belief that the students were getting something I hadn’t as a social work student, I stepped onto the ‘teaching stage’ ready to give my best performance that would offer to students that missing ingredient in their social work education. Expecting an outcome that was undiluted adulation, I was somewhat shocked at the response of lack of interest and hostility in the subject of Gender and Culture. So what was this all about?
As an interesting comparison, while teaching Social Work Methods, Models and Theories, students would nod pneumatically when the subject of social work values was raised, and when asked to produce work for assessment would write about how they aimed to achieve anti-oppressive and anti-discriminatory practice – by being non-judgemental, using advocacy and empowering service users – ‘yeah right’.
How could these students not make the links between everyday workings of gender, race, class and ethnicity and how these interconnect to maintain an unjust world? At this point the way forward is unclear and while I continue to grapple with engaging with the students in a way that helps them make the links the book Female Chauvinist Pigs, by Ariel Levy came, at time when I thought all was lost. It is a provocative read that questions empowerment and challenges the reader to think about how they view ‘their world’.
The book is funny – and also alarming – and takes issue with the ‘revived female bimbo role’ as well as critically analysing how commercialism has mainstreamed pornography and how far women still unfortunately have to go before they have real power and freedom.
For me the book was an oasis of sense that like a magnet gathered together all my arguments which for a long time had been in my head and which I frequently verbalised by shouting at the television – not the students. Ariel Levy is American and therefore this is her reference point. However, anyone reading it can and should be able to make comparisons with the UK. A must-read for all social work students or anyone else for that matter.
Levy, A. (2005) Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, New York, Free Press