Whoever said that there’s just a thin line between being assertive and being aggressive needs to think again — the line is very distinct and clear. Being able to stand up for one’s own rights is empowering. Assertiveness hence is a really attractive quality! It speaks of self confidence and power — the right kind. So why is it that when it comes to assertiveness and women the definition gets all warped? It seems it’s hard to decide if it’s good or bad. Society does its best to portray this as “bad’. For example, the recent case of sandal flinging women in the Punjab Assembly makes it easy for some to say ‘this’ is what assertiveness leads to. Not true.
Take another example — a popular talk show recently emphasised the problems of dowry. The programme showed several women and the way this social ill was handled by them. A girl studying for a doctorate committed suicide as the abuse being hurled by her in-laws was too much for her to eventually bear. Other girls put up with the demands and violence to varying degrees before taking action but one girl decided to take control of the situation. She recorded the dowry demand proceedings through a hidden camera, the tape of which was released to a local channel. The girl got married to a man who didn’t demand dowry and the story was one of being eventually happy ever after.
So why do some women behave in assertive ways while others don’t? Dr Mubashara Khan, owner of a Wellness Centre who sees many women for counselling talks about the messages women receive throughout childhood that can create just one thing — low self esteem. “A woman’s attractiveness is still linked to her looks and she gets most of these ideas from her home, specially her mother. All of this creates resentment as expressing feelings is not really encouraged. In almost 75 per cent of the cases I see, women are suffering from depression as they keep everything inside themselves.” The solution? “Everyone, especially women, need to explore ways to develop their confidence as that is what will enable them to speak up for their rights”.
Maha Abbass, a yoga teacher also endorses this point. Currently writing a book, Let’s Face It, Not Escape It, her vision is to inspire all her students through the esoteric qualities of yoga. “We need to learn to say ‘No’ when we need to and not feel guilty about it. Women are nurturers by nature — a great thing — but taken to extremes the balance tilts. Women forget themselves for everyone else which results in martyrdom of the wrong kind leading to a victim mindset”
Marcia Reynolds, author of Wander Woman writes, “There is a fine art to female assertiveness. Although you might still be judged negatively by some for being direct and bold at any time, when you are diplomatically assertive, you are more likely to get what you want”. To maintain balance and avoid labels of aggressiveness and arrogance she advises both genders to be passionate about their beliefs but OK with people disagreeing with them as we should choose to lead revolutions not rebellions. Rebellions are just about complaining whereas revolutions are about inspiration and hope.
It’s great when people align themselves with our thinking but not the end of the world when they don’t. She further writes “Let them call you names. There will always be people who find fault with authority. There will always be people who are intimidated by strength, especially in women. There will always be people who don’t want to be accountable for their lives so they want to spend their time looking for what they can attack in other people’s words or personalities. Don’t give in by mirroring their behaviours. Let them call you whatever they like”.
If women (or men for that matter) have an innate belief that they aren’t really good enough, it plays out in a very detrimental damsel in distress mode. Loving yourself and doing it through faith in oneself and in a higher power is the key. Assertive women are an asset for their families. They are street savvy in dealing with issues whether those concerning the household or in the corporate world. This results in feelings of confidence and self worth and ultimately you can only give away what you yourself possess. Individuals with high self esteem lift others as well.