Assertiveness 101: How to Stand Your Ground and Challenge Gender Norms

by | Mar 4, 2024 | Adulting, Counseling, Highly Sensitive People (HSP), Online Therapy, Perfectionism, Self-Esteem

Assertiveness 101: How to Stand Your Ground and Challenge Gender Norms

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Happy March, and happy Women’s History Month! Whether you identify as a woman, have a woman you love in your life, or simply appreciate the amazing things women do every day in our society, March (and always) should be a time of celebration for all things feminine. Women’s empowerment is a huge part of how far we have come in terms of feminism from back in history until now, although there is still a long stretch to go. Being assertive, which can also be described as being confident, bold, and assured in your behaviors and decisions, is a trait that can be so empowering to have. However, it is also a trait that is often frowned upon when present in women, who are unfortunately thought of by many as supposed to be docile, agreeable, and always pleasant.

This blog post will explore why society imposes this view onto women, and some simple steps you can take to be more assertive. Because, despite popular belief, an assertive woman is not aggressive or overly emotional; she is confident, determined, and strong. 

Why is assertiveness in women seen as negative?

Unfortunately, there is not a plain and simple answer to this question. The broad answer would be: because of society. Throughout history, women have had to make great efforts to fight for their rights to do the basic things many men always had the right to do—work, vote, run for office, etc. It’s safe to say that the majority of individuals living in modern-day America have acclimated to women having the same rights as men. However, just because society has gotten used to men and women having more equal rights than earlier in history doesn’t mean that the implications behind why they had to fight for these rights automatically go away.

Many individuals, both male and female-identifying, have subconscious (or conscious) beliefs about genders. These are called gender norms, and they change the way we feel about situations and the way people “should” and “shouldn’t” act [1]. A common gender role is that men should be bold, aggressive, loud, and confident, while women should be quiet, agreeable, pleasant, and “follow a man’s lead.” These norms and beliefs, whether conscious or unconscious, can make one view the same situation regarding assertiveness as positive or negative, depending on whether it involves a man or woman [2]. 

For example, if a man stands up in a business meeting without raising his hand to speak his opinion about a change in company protocol in a loud, stern, and confident voice, he will likely be seen as self-assured, smart, and a leader. If a woman did the same thing, she may be looked at as aggressive, rude, or overstepping. This is because this behavior is what society expects from men, and doesn’t expect from women. 

It’s not fair, yes? The only way we can begin to change these gender norms and create more positive feelings surrounding women standing up for their beliefs is by practicing it and making it more normal to witness. Keep reading for some tips on becoming more assertive!

How to Be More Assertive

  • Understand and value yourself. To stand up for what you believe in, set boundaries, and speak your truth, you have to be the first person who believes what you are saying. Having confidence in your character, thoughts, and needs is the first step in gaining the self-esteem needed to be assertive with others. 
  • Voice your wants and needs. If you want to be the best you can be, you are going to need some help along the way! This means that you will need to ask others for help sometimes, whether that be for something tangible or intangible. Do not wait for others to notice that you need help—take the first step yourself and make your needs known to those who can help. Always speak with respect and appreciation, but don’t be afraid to speak up!
  • Stop apologizing when it isn’t necessary. Do you have a habit of saying sorry for every little thing, even if what happened wasn’t your fault? If you’ve ever said “sorry” when someone else knocked into you, while they simply whisked by without a word, this one’s for you. When we apologize for things we did not do wrong, we are telling others that we are at fault and regret our actions—and sometimes, this is not the truth you wish to put out into the world. For example, you may have apologized and taken the blame for a mistake at work that you did not make, just because you were too scared to be assertive and stand up for yourself. It may be hard to stop altogether if this is a habit but work on asking yourself if you have anything to apologize for before saying it next time.
  • Set boundaries and stick to them. Boundaries are an amazing way to practice being assertive and respect your needs. Many of us overexert ourselves and experience burnout out of fear of letting others down. However, being assertive and expressing your boundaries in a calm, but firm, way, helps others understand that they cannot walk all over you and that you respect your own needs. For example, instead of saying “yes” to dinner plans when you know you have a very busy week and need some free time, say, “Thank you so much for inviting me! I’m not able to meet for dinner this week, but how about we reschedule for next week or a time that works better for both of us?” Notice how setting a boundary and being assertive doesn’t have to be harsh or aggressive, and can instead just look like doing what’s best for you while remaining respectful!
  • Speak up when something is wrong. This goes along the same lines as the other tips, but is endlessly important, which is why it has its section. When something happens that you deem disrespectful, hurtful, inappropriate, or wrong, say something or do something instead of ignoring it. It is so easy to simply ignore things and move on with your day, or push them aside while telling yourself “It’s fine, they probably didn’t mean it,” but that only tells yourself and the world around you that you fully accept disrespect from others. Stand your ground and voice your opinion, even if it is difficult, in a respectful but firm way. If you are in a situation where a disrespectful thing is happening to someone else, and they don’t stand up for themselves, don’t be afraid to help them by standing up for them, and offering your support to them afterward. We are all on separate journeys to self-confidence and assertiveness, and everyone can use a little help along the way. 

Becoming more assertive certainly isn’t easy, but it is a trait that will help you become more confident, brave, and even more respected by others once you practice it more often. You got this!

To discuss how therapy could help you during this season of your life, please contact me or schedule your free 15 minute consultation.

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