It’s okay to be an assertive woman.
Growing up, I was told that women should be quiet, kind, and feminine. I was raised in an Asian-American household that can sometimes lean traditional—but I certainly wasn’t the only one to hear this. Women everywhere are taught to be this way from a young age. We’re taught to make ourselves smaller and less confrontational.
This socialization didn’t bode well with me, because at my core, I am an assertive woman who stands up for what I believe in. If there was something I wanted to say, I’d say it. I was an open book and I always wanted to speak my mind. Justice and fairness were of the utmost importance to me. My parents humored these qualities in me, but encouraged me to be more docile.
There are moments in life when that’s been necessary, and I’ve quieted down to strike a much-needed balance. Over the years, I’ve worked on being a better listener and more introspective. I (finally) know when to apologize. I’ve become more tempered and laidback. But in my heart, I’m still an assertive woman and I want to remind other women that it’s okay—and even advantageous—to be assertive. Here’s why:
1. IT’S AN EFFECTIVE WAY TO COMMUNICATE.
According to an article by Alvernia University, “Thought to be the most effective form of communication, the assertive communication style features an open communication link while not being overbearing… Assertive communicators aim for both sides to win in a situation, balancing one’s rights with the rights of others.”
Assertiveness requires a delicate balance of directly expressing your thoughts, feelings, and needs while being respectful to others and practicing empathy. It means being careful to not cross into aggressive communication that disregards others’ needs. When done correctly, being assertive is effective and fair, while passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive communication can lead to more tension or conflict.
2. YOU’RE MORE LIKELY TO GET WHAT YOU WANT.
It’s easier to get something when you ask for it. (Yes, it’s really that simple!) I try to be introspective, self-aware, and reflective; this gives me the clarity I need to be assertive in the ways that matter to me. When it comes to little things, I’ve learned to let them go. I avoid unnecessary fights, and I’ve learned to choose my battles. But if it’s something important to me, like how a story I’m writing is shaping up or how I spend time with my partner, for example, I speak up.
If I need to re-communicate my vision for a story with an editor when something gets lost in translation during edits, I’ll do it. If I don’t feel challenged enough at work, or want to offer a different perspective to my boss, I try to speak up when it’s appropriate. With my partner, being vocal about where I want to eat, what I want to do, what I want to watch, and so on, ensures my voice is heard. More often than not, this leads to positive results and fair compromise. I’m happy to have said something rather than deal with results and decisions that don’t work for me.
3. IT HAS MENTAL HEALTH AND SOCIAL ADVANTAGES.
Asserting yourself means being more honest about what you think, feel, want, and need. It goes further than communication: it reflects your values. Assertiveness means you keep your word; are firm in your decisions, goals, and beliefs; and are honest when giving and asking for feedback.
Exercising this honesty is not only freeing and more genuine, but also helps to decrease social anxiety and stress, increase self-confidence and self-respect, and improve relationships and partnerships, according to clinical psychologist Nick Wignall.
4. YOU CAN HELP OTHERS OUT.
I’ve spoken up for people in sticky situations where they’ve lacked a voice, and they’ve thanked me for it. Similarly, I appreciate it when others speak up for me during those moments. For example, a cashier at a gas station once made a rude comment to me, and I didn’t know how to respond.
I was caught off guard, but a woman in line with me instantly called him out. I valued her assertiveness and reinforced what she said to the cashier, who got the idea, stopped, and even apologized. It was a moment of solidarity between the woman and me. When you speak up for yourself or others in the right moment, even amongst strangers, it can really make a difference.
5. YOU CREATE HEALTHY BOUNDARIES.
According to an article in Psych Central, “Setting clear personal boundaries is the key to ensuring relationships are mutually respectful, supportive, and caring. Boundaries are a measure of self-esteem.”
It’s easy to be passive and sacrifice your needs to others. You have to gauge when to draw a line. Let’s say your friend wants to meet up last minute, but you’re tired. It’s fine to do it if you want to see your friend and know you’ll be happy you did it afterward. But if you don’t think you’ll enjoy the interaction because you’re too tired and it’s too last minute, speak up about it. Make sure you know when to say no, and how to respectfully cancel plans when necessary (just make sure you’re the one to reschedule if you cancel). This will ensure that when you do meet up, the interaction will be more positive and fulfilling.
Assertiveness may come naturally to you, or you may need to work on it. As women, we’re conditioned to keep quiet; it makes sense that not everyone is comfortable asserting themselves in social situations. It’s sometimes easier to be passive and let things go.
But the truth is, the more you practice asserting yourself, the more comfortable with it you’ll become. It’s advantageous to speak up for yourself, to be honest, and to know when to say no. Soon, assertiveness will become second nature to you—and you’ll be happier for it.
What are some ways you practice assertiveness?