Should self-declared misandrists be social workers?
A few weeks ago, I discovered that a woman calling herself K @sheabutterfemme had posted a tweet on January 24, 2020 declaring her commitment to hating men. When I found out that she isn’t simply a loon on social media—but a woman with an advanced degree and the potential to have significant power over men’s lives—I could hardly believe it.
“Hating men isn’t a meme for me,” she stated. “It’s not an online persona. It’s a commitment. It’s a way of life.” She followed this up with a tweet saying that the declaration “wasn’t a game” and, the next day, a taunt to “Eat your heart out MRAs.” Though her tweets were reported to Twitter as hate speech, they remain viewable to this day, along with many other comments showing K’s tendency to categorize others negatively according to their race and sex. Alarmingly, the tweet about hating men received close to 190,000 Likes.
Anyone who cares about men’s issues knows that there are a lot of women out there (and men too) who have made lucrative careers saying hateful things about men. We’ve seen “Why Can’t We Hate Men?” in the Washington Post by a feminist academic and “How many men must we kill until men stop raping us?” by a feminist author, and many similar mainstream statements about why men are expendable, obsolete, contemptible, and despicable.
What was disturbing about K’s tweet was her self-identification on her Twitter profile as an “Abolitionist MSW + organizer.” By “abolitionist,” she is referring to the abolition of prisons, a social justice cause that, while (in my opinion) dangerously utopian, is not in itself repugnant or even particularly unusual for people with her educational background and outlook. MSW, which stands for Master of Social Work, is the part that stands out. The MSW is an advanced university degree in a profession that is supposedly about helping vulnerable people, people struggling with mental illness, addiction, poverty, and violence; a Master of Social Work qualifies the degree holder to be employed in supervisory, clinical, and specialist roles.
One wonders why someone who entered a so-called caring profession and imagines herself a social revolutionary would go out of her way not simply to make a dismissive or contemptuous comment about all men, which would be worrisome enough, but actually to declare that one of her greatest life commitments is hating them. This was not a post written in a moment of rage or drunken delirium and then taken down the next morning. This was not an off-hand comment recorded for posterity and immediately regretted, apologized for, or covered up in embarrassment. This was a deliberate taunt made in cold blood and proudly displayed for weeks after the initial posting.
Given the deliberateness and insouciance of K’s statement, is there any case to be made for ignoring the tweet, dismissing it as a joke, or explaining it as an exercise in postmodern irony? Is there any case to be made that it should NOT be taken seriously as an expression of a deep-seated prejudice that will affect at least some, if not all, of K’s decisions and behaviors as a social worker?
K’s name, which she didn’t bother to hide very carefully (there are many selfies on her ‘K’ Twitter page, and references to articles containing her real name), is Kristina Agbebiyi. She received her Master’s degree in 2018 from the University of Michigan, a high-ranked school, and was designated Student of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers. I made a video about her and have written both to the Dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Michigan and the President of the National Association of Social Workers to ask whether they stand by their endorsement of her. I’ve not heard back from them in over a week, and I don’t expect I will ever hear back. Further than that, I am not sure what to do.
I hate “cancel culture” and the puritanical zealots who delight in combing through people’s past statements or associations to find reason to publicly vilify, censor, and punish them. We’ve all known decent people who lost their careers and reputations over a minor slip of the tongue or a groundless allegation. Justice Brett Kavanaugh was nearly denied a seat on the Supreme Court of the United States because he might, long ago, have once jumped on a bed and tried to kiss a drunken girl at a party. Justice Clarence Thomas endured what he called a high-tech lynching because a former co-worker, Anita Hill, claimed he had talked about pornographic films and once joked “Who put pubic hair on my Coke”?
Two close friends of mine who taught at Canadian universities have been fired from their supposedly secure positions and publicly disgraced because they tweeted and posted comments about social issues—including the Indian residential schools and mass immigration—that a few students and colleagues found offensive. My dear friend Bettina Arndt is currently undergoing a months long media blitzkrieg for her anti-feminist advocacy. The Australian senate voted a few days ago to recommend that her Order of Australia be rescinded because she is supposedly a divisive force in society who blames rape victims for what happened to them. I could go on and on. Not one of these people did anything near-commensurate with Agbebiyi’s deliberate, sweeping statement of hatred.
Is it wrong to believe that Agbebiyi should be forced to apologize for her statement and to undergo sensitivity training in men’s issues before she should ever be allowed to work with men? I’m trying to imagine a social worker who tweeted that Jew hatred was an abiding life commitment, or who insisted that hating blacks was “a way of life.” I can’t imagine them receiving 190,000 Likes on Twitter, or being supported in their work—which Kristina Agbebiyi has been and, it seems, will continue to be. So much, once again, for male privilege.