Sunday, October 5, 2008

Cyber Stories

A recent report in The Journal of School Health offered some new insights about online relational aggression. Teens say they often know who's tormenting them but don't report it or use filters or blocks to screen it out.

In a separate article from The New York Times on Friday, the suicide of a 39 year old Korean actress was linked to web rumors about her behavior. Apparently, South Korea has one of the world's most active online communities as well as one of the highest rates of suicide.

A third article on "baby blogs" described sites such as Totspot (a private page for your child) or Kidmondo (a personalized and secure online baby journal), touted as even more junior versions of Facebook than Club Penguin or Webkinz.

Look for problems to increase as we rely on computers and cellphones to communicate--especially among women, who tend to rely on body language (eye contact, tone of voice, posture, etc.) to decipher what's really being said. Even the nurses and residents at the medical center where I work tell me texting about a patient's status (standard practice) can lead to miscommunications!

Look for a future post on How to Avoid Cyber Misspeaks where I'll share solutions on how to effectively get your electronic message across.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

New Developments in the Nice Office

I did not explain in my last post that I have an intermediary boss between me and Marmie, the big boss. I will call her Beth. Beth is also extremely nice to the point of detrimenting her herself and her family. She and Marmie are very close outside of work. Marmee went to Beth’s house at least once a week during work hours to see her and the new baby while she was out on maternity leave.

Beth quit her job last week - she chose her real family over Marmie’s work family. She said she was feeling like she wasn’t a very good employee or a very good mom. Beth has three children under the age of five, her youngest less than a year old. She was having trouble with reliable childcare, like I was over the summer. I see this as a bit of a crack in Marmee’s armor, not Beth’s.

Our jobs require being on call 24 hours, so we carry Pocket PCs. This is a device is a smart phone that can do email and take calls. I think there is a lack of boundaries on the use of the Pocket PC, which causes a lack of respect for personal boundaries. For example, if Beth couldn’t find a sitter, she worked evening hours, then emails or calls during the evening to ask questions or ask me to do something for her. I wouldn’t mind this so much if we were on the same schedule. I have had to nicely say no, or I will get back to it when I am in the office.

The purpose of carrying these devices was to be able to support our clients and employees after hours. In other words, in case of emergency. Unfortunately, I have been supporting my bosses more than anyone else. This is a real problem for me, especially since my job is only part time. When I took this job, I had plenty of naysayers who said part time management is impossible. The term part-time management is an oxymoron, they said. I worked hard to prove to them that it can be done. I am finding out that they might be right. I’m not ready to give up on it though.

Part-time management could be done better with a few more boundaries added to the job description, especially concerning the use of the Pocket PC. We need some criteria that define an emergency. I like the emergency management definition in Bismarck, SD – it would fit well where I work. After all, the reason that most people choose part time work is a boundary in itself. They can’t work more than the hours that were advertised for the position. There are lots of part-time management jobs out there, but I haven’t seen any part-time management jobs that are also on-call jobs.

Usually I have put in my hours for the day when I get these evening emails. I put out a schedule on a Monday for the week. I try not to bother anyone at home before sending an email or making a call on the Pocket PC to another manager, by looking at their schedule before making a call or asking a favor. If they are supposed to be off, I ask myself can it wait until tomorrow. Usually it can wait a while longer.

Beth is going to stick around at Marmee’s plea to do some analysis and reporting and phase herself out when she is ready. She will continue to work evenings while her husband cares for their children. Meanwhile, the person who I used to supervise is now going to be my new boss. I will call her Denise.

Denise should have had Beth’s job (and mine) a long time ago. Denise is very knowledgeable and organized. Denise does not have a college degree, but she has been doing the job for a long time and is the natural choice for a leader. She is also extremely nice and has trouble saying directly what is on her mind. She often goes to the supervisor to complain about something that could have easily been said directly to me. I think it is because she feels inferior that she doesn’t have a degree. I think I will tell her a lot how much I value her knowledge and that I am very comfortable with her being the supervisor because of her expertise.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Camp Ophelia 2008

I have a summertime tradition of camping with girls--my kids can tell you about the year we traveled to Florida and lived in a dorm so they could attend a swim camp and I could work as a combination coach and nurse. This summer I really didn't think I would be doing my own camp, but when the local YWCA contacted me to help out, I couldn't say no.

Camp was in a "rustic" (i.e. no air conditioning) setting that nonetheless had a swimming pool where the girls could cool off. We had a great time together, and on the last day when we finished projects and said good-bye I realized how much I love the energy and creativity of middle school girls. The privilege of being part of their lives for even a short time makes my heat intolerance trivial.

As always, the mentors were incredible, and gave me great faith in the ability of the next generation to continue making the world a better place.

(Note the deficit in my photography skills--I still haven't figured out how to reset the date on my camera!)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My LA Moment

This past Monday I was honored to be part of the YWCA's Beauty at Any Cost launch in Los Angeles, California. They've prepared a great discussion guide and suggested activities that you can access for free at the hyperlink. Did you know the YWCA is the country's oldest organization for women? Not so ironically, as soon as I flew home on the red eye Tuesday night I went to help direct the Camp Ophelia being offered by the Harrisburg YWCA, but more on that later!

At the discussion panel before a tie-in screening of the movie America the Beautiful I met the producer of this thought provoking documentary on the beauty industry. Guess what--he tells me he's turning down an offer to appear on The Tyra Banks Show because she represents everything his movie is against.

You be the judge--here's a summary of one episode: "Super-image-maker-guy (Simon Doonan) commented then on how the girls have to learn to be very critical of themselves, particularly miss super-American-girl (Catie). He saw that she had had a hard time with the critic he had done of her style, she turned red and was irate, in his opinion. Then, she started talking back to him. She said how he said that she was a "ho". He replied that this was not true. He didn't call her a "ho", he said that her style was and it's a big difference. She then complained that if it would have been just him and her talking... He interrupted asking her if she really thought that there was no work involved in becoming a model, if she thought that she would be served tea that she would sip with her pinky in the air. No. It's hard work and she better understand that if she wants to succeed. She started crying. Meanwhile, you could see that Tyra was not at all pleased with super-American-girl. Tyra had this frown on her face and she looked almost ashamed of the conduct of "one of her girls". The other girls commented on how they thought that super-American-girl (Catie) was an actress and was playing the crying card."

If nothing else, Darryl Roberts, the producer, seems like a genuinely humble and committed person, trying to do the right thing by women. I encourage you to see his movie and then watch the daytime talk shows--he'll be on many, but whether Tyra and he meet up is yet to be seen.

Monday, August 18, 2008

America makes a big splash in Beijing

On 8/8/08, at 8:08pm in Beijing, China the 2008 Summer Olympics began. Even before they started there was a buzz in the United States about Michael Phelps being a powerhouse swimmer and that he may even win 8 gold medals in one Olympic games, breaking the previous world record of 7. If he could do this he would be considered the greatest olympian of all time. On Saturday, August 17 around 10:30pm Eastern Time Michael Phelps won his 8th gold medal. I believe just as much as the next person that Michael Phelps deserves all the praise that he is getting, in fact, I was sitting on the couch anxiously clapping and cheering as he approached the finish line in the Medley Relay (an event which the USA Men have never lost). I have no doubt that almost every American knows about this great accomplishment and I bet they are proud. And if you only know about this accomplishment but have seen no coverage on his wins, dont you worry because he is appearing in commercials, mini-interviews, late night interview specials, and I am sure you can even catch a show ALL ABOUT MICHAEL.

I wonder how many people know about Natalie Coughlin's achievements at this years Summer games. Natalie is a member of the 2008 USA Women's Swimming Team. She accomplished two firsts at this Olympics -- she is the first woman to ever win a 100m backstroke gold in two consecutive Olympics, but even more notably she is the first American female athlete to win six medals in one Olympics! The only time I ever heard this mentioned was as she stood with her team after a relay and it was only mentioned in passing by the interviewer. Also, Dara Torres, a 41-yr old swimmer competed in her 5th olympics making her the only swimmer to ever compete in 5 Olympics, and did I mention she was 41?

The point I am trying to bring out here is that woman continue to be underrepresented and overlooked. There has not been one special that I have seen about Natalie or Dara. Sure, the Olympic coverage will mention there accomplishments, but typically only when they are about to race. Michael Phelps plastered every station and website. I want to know more about Natalie and Dara and I want them to get credit where credit is due. Ever since Title IX was passed many people assumed that women were beginning to get the rights they deserved. This is not the case, and many women's sports still get less funding that men's sports in high schools and colleges across the nation. 

So, in the next few weeks when you are having a conversation with someone about Michael Phelps just casually ask them if they have heard of Natalie Coughlin and her accomplishments. You may just be surprised how few people actually do. Until next time....

"We can do no great things. Only small things with great love." -Mother Teresa

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wonderful in Wisconsin

Okay, I admit it--the first time I went to Wisconsin I had my doubts, but they only lasted until I got an airplane overview of the lakes and gorgeous landscape. Last week, I made trip number three and could seriously imagine myself living there. As you can see, the people are uber friendly, and even the air feels clean.
I was there to give a talk to health care professionals about the kind of relational aggression that occurs from nurse to nurse, doctor to nurse, and yes, even doctor to doctor. The problem is so serious one article reports that as of January 2009, the Joint Commission is going to require hospitals to have policies in place to deal with it.
Who suffers most? Of course, everyone! Just as all girls feel the fallout of an ongoing word war, doctors, nurses, and patients are impacted by nastiness in the workplace. According to another report, "A 2004 study of workplace intimidation by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) in Horsham, Pa., found that nearly 40 percent of clinicians have kept quiet or ignored concerns about improper medication rather than talk to an intimidating colleague."
How discouraging--and all the more reason to start lobbying for change before it's forced upon us!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Uncomfortably Nice - Marmie's Girls

Have you ever had a boss who seems uncomfortably nice? Does she think you need to change? Is this a situation unique to women because of their management style?
I am a new manager working for the first time in an all-female office. For years, I have worked in the technical world and have developed a certain way of behaving toward my managers. Now for the first time, I don’t know how to behave. I am constantly getting “in trouble” because of my communication style. I think my style came out of assimilating to the male technical world, and I don’t any other way. Working in a “girly office” has been difficult for me to adapt to because I feel like I am breaking all the rules of professional conduct. It is extremely uncomfortable sometimes.

Emails are returned with excessive thank yous, and you’re welcomes, and Replies To All. Men I have worked with don’t do this. I write short, to the point emails. I am careful about my tone, but don’t hesitate to be direct. In this office, long wordy emails are the norm. When someone has surgery, we make casseroles for the person who is out. In short, we show that we care, often to the detriment of ourselves and our own families. Keeping up the effort to be so extremely nice is exhausting.

Check out the Microsoft link to email etiquette rules. Rule #2 specifically says, “Keep messages brief and to the point. Just because your writing is grammatically correct does not mean that it has to be long. Nothing is more frustrating than wading through an e-mail message that is twice as long as necessary. Concentrate on one subject per message whenever possible.” Ladies, we are not being mean by being short and to the point.

If you have ever read the book Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, my boss reminds me of the mother character, Mrs. March (aka Marmie) to her daughters. Marmie lets her daughters be themselves but doesn’t hesitate to give moral advice to her girls to help them correct their moral flaws. What seems like a friendly suggestion is really a command. At my office, compliance with the boss’s polite suggestion is necessary if you want to advance in the organization. The parallel here is that the daughters must correct their flaws in order to achieve their ultimate roles in life: mothers, wives, sisters, and citizens.

We managers in the office must work out our personal flaws in order to become better managers.

A questions that my boss asked me in the initial interview was, "how do I feel about constructive criticism?" I know it’s all in an effort to guide us to being the best work family possible. What if I don’t want to be a family at work? What if I just want to do my work and go home without having to play the role of the boss’s daughter?

The boss seems like mom and we are her daughters. When we have been bad girls, we get the cold shoulder for a short while but she’s always right back with a big smile and a hearty good morning. I am sure this is because of her moral sense of this being the right thing to do. It is nice to have forgiveness, but it is tiring and uncomfortable to not have direct confrontation about what is not going right.

Marmie too was indirect. As Wikipedia describes, she “engages in charitable works and attempts to guide her girls' morals and shape their characters, usually through experiments. She confesses to Jo after her big fight with Amy that she has a temper as bad and volatile as Jo's own, but has learned to control it to avoid hurting herself and her loved ones.”

Am I playing the unfeminine Jo role here? Will I arrive at the higher level of Marmee-type consciousness in my job? What if I like myself the way I am? I would like to just be accepted with all my "flaws."

Thursday, August 7, 2008


If you're ever in Ft. Worth, Texas put the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame at the top of your "to-see" list. It's definitely a place to take any young woman who needs positive role models--you'll be surprised at what you find there (including adorable and functional cowgirl hats for the little ones in your life.)

Despite chronic neck problems, I took a chance and rode the bucking bronc which is also a must-do. I confess the little kids right before me had better technique, but like to think I channeled Annie Oakley in a way they couldn't!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Positive Confrontations

The word "confrontation" can sound inherently negative, but I like one of the definitions offered by "a bringing together of ideas, themes, etc., for comparison." Both girls and women ask me how to approach someone they feel is being relationally aggressive toward them, and while there are no cookie cutter answers, there are a few guidelines I can offer keeping in this spirit:

1. Calm down. Trying to confront someone when emotions are running high can actually make the situation worse, rather than better. Walk away, take a few deep breaths, or wait for another day.

2. Choose a neutral location to meet. Plan to talk things out when you're not in the midst of a crisis and find a place that's private and safe.

3. Focus on the facts. Avoid accusing the other person of not liking you or teating you badly. Instead, share a list of observations that lead you to feel relational aggression is occurring, i.e. "When you invited everyone but me to be part of the planning session, it made me wonder why?" or, "In the team meeting last week, you asked me four times to write down what you said so I would 'get it right.' Have there been times when I haven't met your expectations?"

4. Meet one on one. If you're trying to talk things out with an uber aggressive person who already feels threatened by the world, taking a posse along with you is going to make her even more defensive.

5. Monitor your body language. You'd be surprised how your posture, facial expression, and tone of voice can add to or detract from the message you hope to deliver.

6. Practice. Enlist the help of a friend or your mirror, and rehearse what you plan to say.

7. Use assertive, not aggressive communication techniques. In a nutshell, you want a win-win conversation, not a lose-lose confrontation.

8. Avoid cyberconfrontations. The computer and cell phone have a long memory and a wide reach.

The goal of a positive confrontation (ideally) is to inform and be informed--it can be a powerful conflict resolution tool that will serve you well in many settings!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Do You RA?

In the last two weeks I've had a number of inquiries about relational aggression "on the job." It's interesting to hear about the many situations that arise as four different generations of women interact with each other in the professional environment.

Here's a little self-survey I created a year or so ago when I started speaking to various audiences about this issue--see what your RA quotient might be by tallying those answers that apply to you.

1. I’ve changed jobs a lot because of the people I worked with.

2. Every day on my way to work, I plan what I will say and how I will act around my
coworkers, just to be sure I don’t get taken advantage of.

3. I’m always angry when I’m at work, but rarely tell anyone.

4. I’m sick of watching the other people on my unit bicker.

5. People I work with don’t like me, and I don’t care. None of them are worth hanging around with anyway.

6. I take secret joy out of seeing another coworker “get what she deserves” for poor performance.

7. Secretly, I think I am more competent than most of the people I work with. It’s a shame.

8. I work harder than everyone else on my unit.

9. No one gets the last word with me; even if I have to respond later, I’ll make sure they know I can’t be pushed around.

10.At least once a day when I’m at work, I listen to gossip, pass on gossip, start gossip, or am the subject of gossip.

11. If I’m angry, I sometimes ignore or act rude to my coworkers as a stress reliever.

12. I get excluded from joining others in breaks or meals, or I do the excluding.

13. The emotional climate at my workplace contains a lot of “drama”

14. My feelings are often hurt by women I work with.

15. I can’t say “no” to my coworkers without worrying they will be because I know they will be upset with me.

(Developed by Cheryl Dellasega, PhD, October 25, 2007)

Some of the items describe aggressors, others the target or victim, and others those who watch or facilitate from the sidelines (bystanders). A few could qualify for each category! The bottom line is, if you found yourself agreeing with many of the behaviors, your work situation may need an RA overhaul.

Monday, July 21, 2008

"The Green Eyed Monster"

I had an interesting interview with a Canadian reporter today where we discussed (among other things) the uniquely female connotation of jealousy. Imagine a middle school boy coming home and telling his parents that he's being tormented at school. How often do you think his parents might respond by assuring him, "Oh, those kids are just jealous!" Yet girls tell me this is often the knee-jerk response they get from well-intentioned adults.

Cruise around a bit online and you're likely to find words like "jealousy" and "envy" associated with romantic relationships. (For an interesting evolutionary twist on the topic, check out how height and jealousy might be related.) In reality, friendships and work relationships and acquaintanceships can also be poisoned by this emotion, as Paris Hilton describes in a song
by the same name--supposedly written about her onetime VBF.

Are women more likely to allow jealousy to creep into all types of relationships? Or do we stereotype ourselves by labeling a feeling that that might be as innocent as admiration, as simple as curiosity or the equivalent of good old boy rivalry--turning it into something negative and wrong?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bringing Out the Best in a Bully

Is there a "best" to bring out in a bully? I think so! My work with girls and the many experts I'm lucky enough to work and collaborate with convince me that aggression is driven by inner fear. It might be a fear of being attacked by others as you walk to school, or fear of not "measuring up" to expected standards. It could even be fear of losing your popularity or a misguided response to the societal message that "cruel is cool." (See Megan's post for more on that.) If you think about it, most victims and bystanders are operating from a similar perspective--they're (legitimately) afraid of something.

The anti-bullying programs I'm familiar with focus on punishing the aggressor and empowering victims and bystanders. In reality, all three "players" in the dynamic of relational aggression (RA) need as much support, empathy, and encouragement as we can give them.

Victims need to resolve the hurt of past traumas and find alternative responses they can use when they are targeted. Bystanders need to recognize opportunities to change the RA dynamic and then step up to the plate and take action to end the aggression they watch or even facilitate. Aggressors need a vision of other possibilities, too.

Punishment isn't a helpful strategy. It uses fear to try and change behavior--something no girl needs or responds to well. Instead, here are a few strategies from my programs that have helped girls were self-identified bullies:

1) brainstorm ways to transform "leadership abilities" from hurtful to helpful
2) create opportunities for positive role modeling within a group of peers
3) learn more about how bullies impact on the lives of others (role plays or the story of Olivia Gardner can be very powerful)
4) expose to older girls who can give feedback on relationship skills
5) encourage expression of emotions through art or writing as well as speaking (this does not include rude blog posts!)
6) focus on and reward acts of compassion and kindness
7) videotape and watch (with permission) interactions with other girls (It's amazing how often we don't realize what our body language or tone of voice conveys!)
8) provide new opportunities outside the normal comfort zone to build confidence
9) avoid labelling! Although the word bully can be a helpful adjective, it's not productive to call a girl a bully or tag her with that description.
10) discuss the difference between assertive and aggressive communication style

Thursday, July 17, 2008

When Your Daughter Is the Bully

Today I got this email, which raised a question I've been asked before:

"Hi. I have found an overwhelming amount of information about the victims in a bullying situation. Being that I have the bully, I am interested in finding out more about handling her. She is a leader who could be destined to be powerful, assertive, and ambitious. I am determined to help her grow into these qualities with the most important quality surrounding them, kindness. I would love it if you could direct me toward books and information that could help us."

I have lots of thoughts on this request--but before I jump in with my suggestions, what do you think? I know some of you have dealt with the same issue in your own family or within yourself.....please share!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Queen Bees- Episode 1

Hello! My name is Megan Whitehead. I am a 22 year old college graduate living in Hershey, PA. I am going back to graduate school in the Fall at Temple University in Harrisburg, PA to work towards a Master's degree in Social Work. I am love spending time with children, listening to music and learning about up and coming musicians, and going camping!

For those of you who are reading and have never heard of the show Queen Bees, it is a new reality television show on The N network. The seven "queen bees" were referred to the show by their family and close friends because they are mean and their loved ones are fed-up with their behavior. The purpose of the show is for the seven girls to change and the bee who is most successful in changing their behavior will win $25,000. If the show doesn't seem wrong to you yet--it will soon. The girls thought they were going to be on the show because they were divas, and they do not find out until the end of the first day that the true reason they are on the show is because their closest friends think they are mean.

The first thing that bothered me about this show is that the motivation to change is so completely faltered. It almost breeds the very problem that this show aims to get rid of. Some of the girls immediately discussed how easy it was going to be just to pretend to have changed. But, then I wonder what the appropriate reward would be for girls who have gone from mean to nice. It would not surprise me if the producer of the show decided to added a little zing to that $25,000 reward-- they girls may have won $25,000, but they have to donate it to their favorite charity! Another shocker like that is the last thing that these "mean girls" deserve.

I also wonder how this show will affect these girls lives after the show. If they change, but not quite enough to win will they still have the same relationships with the friends they left behind? Isn't it entirely possible that a majority of the crowd they hung out with had similar attitudes and ideals? If this is the case it may happen that the queen bee will not be accepted back into that old social circle. In this situation it is likely that many other social circles would not accept her either because of her attitude and personality prior to the television show. Where does that leave all of these girls? Will they have the resources at home to help them succeed in maintaining their new beliefs and values or will they simply go back to their old ways?

Lastly, imagining how these young women felt when they found out that their closest friends and family think they are mean is beyond comprehension. They probably each experienced at least some level of shock, betrayal, sadness, anger, and frustration. It may be difficult to manage all of these emotions at once when you are in your "normal" home environment, but to be in a foreign place surrounded by people you just met must add an additional layer of complexity to the plethora of emotions flying around. It will be interesting to see how this show plays out, but it really is such a shame to see these girls being publicly exposed on their unconventional journey to becoming better individuals.

Here are the girls...

You can also watch some clips of the Queen Bees on The N. If you are interested you can catch the next episode of Queen Bees on Friday night at 8:30PM on The N and tell us what YOU think!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Welcome to the Ophelia World

Welcome to one more blog! Hopefully you'll find something here that helps you navigate the world of women at all ages and stages of life. Relationships, identity formation, body image, femininity, and any other topic that happens across my desk or the news is fair game, and from time to time I'll have blogguests who share their own spin on all this.

So who is Ophelia and why would I possibly use her name in my many projects, programs, and even one book? After all, she (Recently a middle schooler put it even more dramatically: "Hey, she was the one who [cutting motion across her neck with appropriate sound effects]!")

If you're familiar with Hamlet, you know that by the end of the play, this young and apparently motherless woman drowned, either by intention or accident. There's much we don't know about Ophelia, but it is clear she never really exists as a person in her own right. She lives to fulfill the wishes of others--the famous "Disease to Please" women of all ages still both suffer and benefit from.

Whoa--benefit from being a doormat? Yes, that's part of the "Disease to Please"--doing for others at the risk of your own well being. At the same time, as I watch little girls (the teeny tiny kinds under age 4 who are still relatively untainted by the pop culture, school environment, and all kinds of other negative influences out there) their sweetness and kindness impresses me. They respond first to cries of distress (if you doubt me read Susan Pinker's new book, The Sexual Paradox), and throughout life gravitate toward the "Tend and Befriend" response. (Check out Shelley Taylor's excellent book by the same name, or just go to Wikipedia to read more about that.)

I think women are inherently kind--but I've seen and heard about horrible behaviors, some of which are exploited by the media. Tomorrow, a young woman who watched the new reality show Queen Bees, will sound in on her reactions to the program. From what I know (and I've been in correspondence with the producer for months suggesting this is one of those VBIs (Very Bad Ideas), these young women are classic Ophelias--reacting to what the world suggests they should be.

But Megan will have more on that later.....

Friday, June 27, 2008

Welcome to the Everything Ophelia Blog

This page is coming soon. Please check back for postings from Club and Camp Ophelia founder Cheryl Dellasega, current Ophelia mentors, and other guest bloggers!