The good ol' gals network! Kind of nasty, isn't it?

No one had the ovaries to explain the proper vacuuming procedure to me.

I totally enjoyed Anne Nugent Guignon's article, "A funny thing happened on the way to the podium" (October 2001 RDH). It is very refreshing when we can laugh at ourselves and even sprinkle some empathy among hygienists for continuing-education speakers. It made me think, though, about the more serious topic of hygiene sisterhood. Before the XY-chromosomed hygienists send me nasty e-mails — proclaiming that I am insensitive to the plight of my hygiene brothers — wait. If you'll read this commentary to the end, male hygienists will thankfully conclude that the reason I am not including them in this particular topic is because, well, you guys are not the problem. In fact, I will intentionally lift you up and keep you far away from this plea, because you guys do not trash other guys like gals can trash other gals!

The hygiene sisterhood is not about us sitting around swapping periodontal therapies or trading production vs. commission recipes (those subjects all hygienists can share in); sisterhood is about the need to develop more positive ways of building networks and friendships professionally.

It is evident that, starting before kindergarten, girls judge other girls based on hair, clothes, toys, etc., all to serve the unwritten mantra of the "importance of conformity." If you want to be accepted and remain in the crowd, the message is to be not too pretty, not too brainy, not too big, not too small, not too athletic, etc. If you happened to miss, or chose not to read, the memo stating that you are not to stand out in appearance or voice, then someone will happily knock you down.

It continues during hygiene school with the understood "look" of a hygienist. We will ostracize a fellow student who aces all of the tests, or challenges the faculty, or we will even chastise the classmate who gets all of her requirements done before the Thanksgiv-ing break! Do we lack self-confidence so much that we always have to go for the jugular?

Fast-forward to the dental office setting. A team of professional women working together for the betterment of client care would never dream of back-stabbing or making fun of a fellow team member, right? Come on, I've been there and done that! I have been on both sides of the vicious attacks. On one such occasion when I was the focal point of the heat-spewing venom, you might have been prompted to ask, "Was it because of your client communication skills, your clinical ability, or your lack of knowledge about office procedures that stirred up the covert mission of search and destroy?"

No, it was because I was vacuuming the clients' welcome room incorrectly. This went on for weeks until the doctor finally told me that the other "girls" in the office were upset with the way I was vacuuming. You see, after I vacuumed, I walked over to the light switch to turn it off, hence leaving behind sneaker prints on the newly vacuumed rug. I was supposed to vacuum with the light off while leaving the hallway light on, because that switch was easier to turn off without "re-infecting" the carpet.

Yes, this little act was feeding the gossip mills for weeks! Why? Because no one had the ovaries to explain the proper vacuuming procedure to me.

Some smug readers probably are thinking, "That would never happen in my world." If so, just think back to what fuels the many "parking-lot gripe sessions" after an unproductive or a divide-and-conquer staff meeting. It may not have been the "rules of vacuuming," but I will bet my chocolate and beer that it's the "rules of something" that were violated and used against either a newcomer or a perceived female threat.

I am not proud of the fact that I, too, have bashed colleagues from time to time. Admittedly, it happens a lot less now than earlier in my career. I am fortunate enough to have a strong-minded inner circle of professional friends who do not need to put down other colleagues in order to build themselves up. But when one of us does ignite the slanderous inferno, someone is always there to drench us with reality. The reality is that talking trash about others only serves to make us seem small. And there is no magic potion that says, "Drink Me," that will restore our dignity or regain the respect lost from others.

It has been said many times that clinical hygienists work in isolation from each other. If you say it, take a crack at being a speaker or practice-management consultant. We stand directly in front of the bull's eye while presenting a continuing education program or being an in-office consultant. Try surviving with your professional confidence intact after hearing comments about your outfit, makeup, hairstyle, and fingernails (polished or not, professionally manicured or not — very important parameters for judging someone's intelligence or contribution to the profession, don't you think?).

I once spent four hours giving a stellar continuing-education program (if I may say so myself). Then, I read the evaluation forms. No, the criticisms did not include "there was not enough research to back up your hypothesis," "the slides were illegible," or "you spoke too fast (slow, low, high)." One comment simply said, "How did you keep your lipstick on all morning?"

Come on, my lipstick is what this listener concentrated on? How is that comment going to help me grow as a presenter or give me insights into the needs of the audience for the meeting planners? On another occasion, an audience member made fun of a speaker's brilliant suit by writing, "What mirror did she stand in front of that told her she was the fairest of them all?" Evaluation forms are not for fashion or social judgments; think before you write!

Remember that we have enough outside influences attempting to destroy our livelihoods. We do not need to swing at another hygienist who speaks her mind, is assertive, wears a size 2 or a size 22, dresses unfashionably, comes from another part of the country, or whose message is not your cup of tea, etc. Instead, why not lead a cheer for a hygienist who has overcome a professional challenge, is succeeding in an untraditional role, or someone who has presented original research/CE program? Why not be happy for the hygienist on the dance floor who can "shake it all night long."

Let's ignore our schoolgirl jealousies and let's forget the "chicken-dinner syndrome." The latter is derived from Susan Jane Gillman, the author of Kiss My Tiara. The chicken dinner syndrome is when women pick, not only ourselves apart, but also other females apart like a chicken dinner, criticizing bodies, clothes, style, age, and so forth.

So I request that the next time you are at a continuing education meeting, an office team session, working with a management coach, or just sitting at a park with your children, stop picking other women apart. Let's start giving it up for each other and build up the sisterhood of hygiene!

The author of the Esthetic Hygiene column appearing monthly in RDH magazine, Kristine A. Hodsdon, RDH, BS, presents seminars nationally about esthetic hygiene. She also has developed Pre-D Systems, a pre-diagnostic computerized clinical checklist for oral health professionals. She can be contacted through www.pre-d.com.

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