Learning To Be An Assertive Woman When Society Wants To Silence You


I’m not one for New Years resolutions, but if I were to have one for 2020, I have set myself the aim to, throughout all of this year, be more assertive. Actually, it's more something I want to introduce into my life for the rest of my life, not just for this year, particularly as I age as a woman and go through my twenties and thirties.
I guess I’ve always been frightened of being assertive and standing my ground when I’ve been wronged (code for: when someone walks all over me) or when a situation makes me feel uncomfortable, part of which I imagine comes from being a young woman. Assertion in young women puts people on edge. They don’t like it. According to our “role,” we are supposed to be small, remain quiet and if something offends you, tough - that’s just the way it is.
But I refuse to be silenced now, to hide how I feel and I vow to challenge anyone’s idea that speaking my mind makes me “rude” or “annoying” or “loud.” Because it only makes me human. But hey, even if it does make me rude, annoying or loud, that’s fine by me!

I’ve always been very shy and timid, something that has frustrated me despite it being what makes me who I am because, in certain situations, sometimes, you just want to SAY SOMETHING, you know? But I’ve always held back. I was the kid who cried before having to give class presentations at school because the idea of saying anything in front of anyone was terrifying. I remember being in pre-school before I was even four years old, and I was too shy to even respond to my name when it was called during registration, causing the teacher to just look around the room and check that I was there... although, the first time I did respond, I was given a red gummy bear and a round of applause. It's the simple things, you know?
But as I got older, I've found myself getting increasingly more frustrated with myself when I don't speak up. In some situations, I'm good at it and I have no shame in calling people out or challenging their opinions, but in other situations, I'm really bad at it and it makes me so nervous. But why is that? Why don't I want to speak up? Whether that's in a group discussion on social issues when someone says something I don't agree with, to a work colleague who is belittling me because of my age, to a stranger who approaches me in a way I don't appreciate yet I just smile and apologise for no reason, or even when someone I really care about hurts me and I pretend it hasn't caused me pain or anger. Why am I so afraid? Is it because I've lived my life seeking approval from people I wasn't even meant to get along with all along? Is it because, as a woman, I just want to get by and not put my safety on the line around men? Is it because no one likes people being controversial and I just want to please everyone? Maybe. But now, I realise, that if I speak my mind and people don't like it, that's on them, not me, provided I'm not saying anything outrageously offensive, obviously. I've learnt that having the ability to speak my mind is a great privilege that I should grab with both hands and truly appreciate, because in some countries, women do not have the voice that I have, even in communities in my own country, whether it's black women, trans women, disabled women, Muslim women, or women from other marginalised communities, they fear for their lives when speaking out and, even when they do, people so seldom listen, so why should I, a white, cis gender, young woman, not utilise the powerful tool that is my voice when I do have the power to get people to pay attention?

I almost have too much to say now, I guess after years of bottling things up and being a spectator as opposed to a participant in many discussions. I've seen things I really do not like and I'm better equipped to challenge people and debate with them now I know how to go about it, rather than going in all guns blazing, I've learnt how to put my points together carefully and concisely and explain my thoughts and feelings in a way that isn't aggressive, but is clear and articulate... whilst also getting across that I'm mad.
From now on, as I live through my twenties and no doubt have more people trying to trample over me and speak over me or, even worse, assume they can speak for me, I really want to start challenging the idea that, just because people expect me to be quiet, I have to always remain that way, and because of my gender identity and age, I’m not supposed to have opinions or be boisterous every now and then.

So whether I’ve ordered a taxi then it turns up late, I refuse to get into the car saying, “it’s fine! Don’t worry!” Or whether people around me are discussing their weight loss, I vow to (try to) not just sit there feeling triggered, but to make a point of calling out diet culture. Or whether it’s just men trying to make me look stupid, that’s getting called out as well.

Seeing other women be unapologetically vocal when they’re angry, uncomfortable, annoyed, hurt, disappointed or offended empowers me to do the same. So, alongside my other more pointless “resolutions” of wearing more jumpsuits and going to see more musicals, I’m being more assertive... well, I’m giving it a go. 

Let's give it a go together, even if it's just once a week, when you make a point of saying something if a thing doesn't sit right with you. Of course, your should never risk your safety, and it's horrible to even feel a need to say that, but whether you're at work, with family or talking to a complete stranger, always be mindful of the consequences. 

People hate it when women challenge them, so use that as encouragement to do exactly that. Nothing needs to be the way its always been. Your opinions are valid and you should express them.

Love, Emily

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