THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ASSERTIVENESS AND AGGRESSIVENESS IN WOMEN
I believe that defining the two terms might be a good place to start, and have interpreted these thus:
Assertiveness is about being able to reach a point in any set of circumstances, where the words ‘I’m OK, You’re OK’ really mean what they say.
Aggression is about forcing your views, feelings, beliefs and demands on others, with no regard for their needs.
Whether male or female, these basic truths apply, as can be found in the work of Eric Berne, on Transactional Analysis, where they are explained in great depth yet simply enough for all to understand.
Where women are concerned, sad to say, stereotypes make it difficult for a woman to be assertive without being deemed aggressive. Some commonly held ideas center around the ‘assertive woman’ as a career woman, one who will go all out to achieve success. She is thus seen as somebody hard and ambitious, less feminine, a real ball-breaker. Or in the home, a woman who states her needs, as well as looking after the needs of her family, is believed to be a nagging, bossy, dominating bitch. If a woman stands up for her rights, by confronting sexism, she may also be labeled as having no sense of humor, a hostile or aggressive dike. None of these things are true, but many people think they are.
The difficulties lie in putting such stereotypical ideas aside and recognizing the fact that we are all human, male and female. Our feelings and needs are what motivate us to behave in certain ways, at any given time or situation. So when under pressure, threatened or under attack, people will react to defend themselves, to protect their feelings and position, and ensure safety and well-being. Often if a woman does this assertively, she is considered to be acting in an unfeminine way, aggressively in fact, especially in the workplace, and if she holds a position of authority. By looking more closely at what behaviors are truly assertive, then examining those in aggression, perhaps an understanding of the differences and of where women are coming from, might be reached.
ASSERTIVENESS: # An assertive woman will be sensitive to others, while standing up for her own rights.
# She will deal with a stressful situation, seeking resolution, using direct, appropriate and honest forms of communication.
# She takes personal responsibility for mistakes, but also, in fairness holds others responsible when the situation arises.
# She is open, polite, has good self-esteem, and seeks to build other’s self-esteem.
# As a boss, she will try to lead by example, but never seeks, nor avoids confrontation.
# She is flexible, well respected and ASKS for what she needs.
AGGRESSIVENESS: # An aggressive woman may be self-centered and have low self-esteem that she boosts by putting others down.
# She gets stressed and makes those around her stressed too, talking to them in an inappropriately direct and confrontational manner.
# She needs to control everything and everyone, and blames others, never taking responsibility herself.
# She is often abrasive and forces others to accept that she is right, she will confront and put people down.
# As a boss, she forces her ideas on others, she has to be in control and will confront and belittle those who try to disagree.
# She sticks rigidly to the rules, as she sees them, is insensitive to other’s needs and is resented and feared rather than respected. She DEMANDS.
The differences are obvious, and clearly some people show these behaviors at certain times. The difficulty for women is that they have to combat those female stereotypes that others might hold, in order to be seen as assertive instead of pushy. Sometimes, the expectations of a soft, fluffy feminine woman get in the way, but if an individual knows and accepts what is going on, they can then take steps to deal with it. Behavior, good or bad, is learned, and can be changed if necessary. So, too, can the beliefs and prejudices of others. Hopefully, the outcome will be that “I’m OK, You’re OK” that makes for better work and life relationships.
Leadership in Action Series, Part 8: Healthy Assertiveness. At
The Difference Between Being Aggressive and Assertive: Women in the Workplace, May 2007. At
Further Reading: Berne, Eric. 1964 Transactional Analysis in ‘Games People Play’ Random House, 1996.
Dickson, Anne. 1982. ‘A Woman in Your Own Right: Assertiveness and You.’ Quartet Books, 1990.