Net Exchange Response


Title: Wanted: A curriculum for a girls' group that stresses supportive rather than competitive relationships

Date Posted: 1/13/2006

Question: The concern is about the anger and struggle seen in girls as they compete for a boy "at all costs." The request states: "I find that girls really don't trust each other, and for good reason. I have been looking for curriculum for this problem. I contacted the authors of several of the best sellers on this topic such as Queen Bees and Wanna Bees, Odd Girl Out, and the Ophelia Project. I'm not finding anything that I can use. I'd like some experiential sessions for a girls group ... the focus would be on female bonding, supporting one another, self -esteem and general 'fem-power'".

Response:

After receiving this request, we sent it to several people who we think might be able to help. Below is our thoughts on this complex matter, followed by the first response that has come in from one of the folks contacted.

  • Generally, we would begin with some process work to enhance the girls' motivational readiness before a theme-focused curriculum is introduced. This phase of intervention is often overlooked when folks move too quickly to specific themes. This seems essential in any case where the girls are highly competitive and don't necessarily see the value in changing to ways that support one another. It is almost always the case that some really aren't interested in changing. That is, it is not their goal; they see it as primarily the goal of whoever is teaching the curriculum. Thus, the first intervention steps often need to be ones that facilitate group exploration of current relationships (competition with each other) and associated feelings, thoughts, and actions. If during such readiness-focused sessions, some girls indicate that they feel satisfied with the state of affairs (e.g., if it is really meeting their basic needs), they are unlikely to engage productively in a curriculum designed to change their attitudes and behavior. Those who are not happy with the state of affairs are the ones to invite into some experiential sessions that have a "transparent" agenda. ("Would you like to be in a group that explores how girls support or don't support each other and why?")

    Therefore, with a view to enhancing motivational readiness, we think it is wise to offer 2-3 sessions and, in doing so, clarify with the girls the processes to be used and the objectives. These sessions might be built around various stimuli that elicit a sequential discussion about:

    1. how girls at the school compete and support each other
    2. why they compete
    3. how this makes them feel
    4. whether they see any advantages to supporting each other instead of competing
    5. whether they want to explore how to change things
    Assuming some are interested in changing the situation, part of the last readiness building session would encompass exploring with these girls various available curricula programs and then involving them in decisions about which to adopt.

  • A response from the field: "The only groups that I am familiar with who cover this issue are The Empower Program (created by the author of Queen Bees and Wannabes) - located here in DC. And one other curriculum created by a local CMHC called 'G-Trem: Love and Life' which is geared at girls with abuse histories. The creators of this program are Community Connections which is run by Maxine Harris, a leader in the field of trauma and sexual abuse. Their contact info is 202/546-1512. I think The Empower Program is a bit more well-rounded though. Those are the only curriculums with which I am familiar on this topic. Neither have a strong 'female bonding' component. Maybe they could supplement the group with an activity like an Outward Bound program or team building ropes course of sorts ."

    Other ideas about dealing with such matters may be culled from the resources included in the Center's Quick Find online clearinghouse. See, for example, the topics:



Feedback

Here's a bit of additional information from the colleague who made the request:

"For the past 3 years girls have asked for something, some group or club that helps them bond instead of 'eat each other alive' as they put it. I brought in some therapists to run 'girls groups' but that was on a small scale. The girls have already picked out the staff members they want to be the 'club' or 'group' sponsors. Women they respect and see as role models. They realize there is a problem. The most common fights are among girls who had been close in the past and for competitive reasons are at each other's throats......the fine line between love and hate. We explore the 'button pushing' of someone who you're close with.....only someone that close can get to you in such a way, but it needs to be on a larger scale. The girls have already brought up topics and ideas for guest speakers....I just need some guidelines and experiential stuff to bring to the group."

Suggested resources from Listserv Participants and consultation cadre members.

  1. "I have found that working with girls groups varies across the spectrum - often dependent on many of the social contextual factors involved. One resource I have used and have had success with involves the use of media awareness (social norms approach type) - Jean Kilborne has a great movie, which infertility is getting outdated, with a curriculum you can download called 'Killing us softly.' http://www.mediaed.org/videos/MediaGenderAndDiversity/KillingUsSoftly3
    I have had success with it working with high school females bringing a bonding level of understanding of women in society and the ways they are exploited. Worth checking out, plus the down loadable curriculum has some good group activities on self-awareness, body image."

  2. "I have found that it is important to have a mixture of group ritual, information/education that is interactive and fun, and time to talk/share with each other.
    • Ritual: Beginning and end of each session that also rewards attendance and reinforces group rules and purpose. education: affirmation, values, diversity, decision making/goal setting, friendship & peer pressure, self-esteem, media influences, health/unhealthy relationships, pregnancy and STI prevention, anger management/stress reduction, and a termination party (affirmation, summary, evaluation, celebration (pictures), and further resources and ways to stay in touch.
    • >In AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project) we find that games can also help bridge mistrust through laughter- 'Big Wind Blows.'
    • Concentric circles- is a good tool for everyone to share with each without having to talk to the whole group- inside circle faces outside circle, each person shares with their partner for 2 minutes then switch and becomes the listener. Outside circle can rotate and a new partnership develops.
    • I feel that follow up 'reunions' can be the most powerful part of the group down the road."

  3. "...explore the Stone Center at Wellesley College, which focuses heavily on issues facing girls and women throughout development."

  4. "Although the curriculum isn't directly addressing competition issues, I think the Choices books are worth looking at for running positive girl groups. http://www.academicinnovations.com/obeq.html

    Equity Curriculum

    Choices and More Choices engagingly address the myths and hard realities young people must face entering adulthood. The books detail the critical choices and challenges they must consider in order to become productive, independent human beings. These self-discovery books practically teach by themselves. Through the use of provocative exercises, charts, interview techniques and other interactive methods, Choices and More Choices help develop skills in the important areas of goal setting, skills identification, decision making, assertiveness and career research.
    For girls 11 to 15 years old, See 'More Choices: A Strategic Planning Guide for Mixing Career and Family' (Traditionally, career planning and planning for a family have been considered separately, as though there is no relationship between these two major spheres of life. More Choices takes a new approach and shows how, with proper planning, it is possible to support a family - and still find time to enjoy it. This is an ideal book for young women about to choose a career, whether they are in high school, college or at re-entry level.)"

  5. "At Girls Inc. in Portland, OR, we have developed a comprehensive curriculum for use in girls groups directly addressing relational aggression. Allies in Action is a nationally recognized curriculum model designed to build positive girl to girl relationships through team building, leadership, critical analysis, effective conflict coaching and skill building.

    Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed, author of "Girl Fighting: Betrayal and Rejection Among Girls," describes the Allies in Action as 'one of the few fully developed, evaluated, and effective programs in the United States that addresses girls' complex social realities and offers the critical vocabulary and tools girls need to confront stereotypes, work together, create safe spaces, and live on their own terms. In a culture that increasingly offers "girl power" in the stereotypical form of nasty fighters or popular meanies, Allies in Action builds on girls' capacity for loyalty, sense of fairness, and pleasure in each others company to develop real power to live well and make the world a better place.' The content outline for the curriculum as well as an order form to distribute to the listserv can be obtained from annette@girlsincnworegon.org."


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UCLA Center for Mental Health in Schools
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