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.....