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 did...um...die. (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.....

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