As social workers, we are charged with comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable. This phrase has often focused our mission, and for the most part, we have exceled in doing this. But at times it’s hard for us to get out of our comfort zone and confront things that we are unfamiliar with or don’t fully understand.
When I decided to publish my memoir, The Pornographer’s Daughter (Skyhorse, 2014), which details the impact of my father’s federal indictment in the 1970s on obscenity charges for distributing Deep Throat, an adult film, I embraced this idea of making the comfortable feel uncomfortable. I wanted to shatter the stereotypes which came with an association to pornography and banish any shame by sharing my story. I was lucky to have had support from employers, family, and friends along the way.
I was also cognizant not everyone would not be receptive to my book. Regardless of how I comported myself as a professional some would find any mention of “pornography” objectionable. I always did my best to appropriately apply my brand where it made sense for me and depending on the situation. In the end a lack of knowledge, curiosity and deep-seated prejudice in any form is hard to combat.
I have found a welcoming space among fellow social workers who have accepted me for who I am and wanted to learn more about my story but this isn’t always the case. Recently as a partner in the #MacroSW Twitter chats, I worked on a collaborative project with Social Work Today to host topics based on their articles. After our first (and only) chat, I was asked not to promote any future events with my Twitter handle (@porndaughter). “It could create confusion for people who are new to the #MacroSW chats or who do not know you or your story,” stated a Social Work Today editor.
I was faced with a choice, and with the full support of the #MacroSW chat partners, we declined Social Work Today’s request and any further collaboration at the expense of ostracizing a partner. Their decision was puzzling since as a #MacroSW partner I had hosted many chats on @porndaughter interacting with expert hosts and social work organization representatives. And after all, I had written four articles with this publication, two of them cover stories which I promoted on my Twitter handle expressing gratitude for these writing opportunities.
Social Work Today was not altogether unreasonable in their effort to protect their brand. They have readers who may be offended, a bottom line to meet, and intense competition for the distribution for their content. I too have had to make brand decisions and decided long ago to present an integrated persona to embrace my identity and story. Since 2009 I have been known on Twitter as @porndaughter. The greatest benefit of my work with #MacroSW chats is to fully participate, network and host chats bringing to bear the full equity of my brand and everything I am as a person and professional.
This incident raises a bigger question about the social work profession’s ability to live up to the NASW Code of Ethics (1.05 Cultural Competence and Social Diversity): to embrace different points of view, acknowledge and confront bias and seek to understand social diversity and oppression of all kinds (i.e. religion, race, political belief). If a leading publication for the social work profession is uncomfortable with the word “porn” in defense of their brand, what does this say about our profession’s ability to live by our core values? And how can we reconcile bias with a perceived ethical standard which may not match today’s progressive approach to current social problems?
We all may stumble and have different interpretations of the NASW Code of Ethics and in situations, such as this, we can just hope to learn something about embracing a multi-faceted view of the world. If social workers are truly going to work from a strengths based perspective, to understand a person is not just one part of their experience but the sum of a whole host of influences, we must strive to do better in many big and small ways.
When you are learning about the complexities of who you are, whether it’s your gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion or culture, I have noticed the world can be an unforgiving, while at the same time, a surprisingly forgiving place as you begin to share all that is unique to you and integrate this into your work.
I’m not sure what the best outcome should have been with Social Work Today but I share my experience to ask that we be vigilant in keeping our own bias in check and pushing the social work profession to always do better in overcoming discrimination of any type.
My Social Work Today Articles
Evolution of Online Social Work Education, E-News Exclusive, March 2017
The High-Tech Social Worker -- Myth or Reality?, January/February 2017 Issue
Building a Better Practice, May/June 2016 Issue
Social Workers Can Create a Buzz About Their Profession, Web Exclusive, September 2015