The other day I was told I was assertive. In all of my twenty five years on this planet, I can’t think of a single time where anyone has used the word assertive to describe me. I’m just not. I’m opinionated, I’m stubborn but I’ve never thought of myself as assertive.
I shy away from conflict, I hate any kind of attention being on me and while I would probably go away and moan about someone’s behaviour, I would never, ever bring it up with them unless it was affecting someone else.
Last week my coursemates and I were taking part in a clinical simulation activity. There was an actor pretending to be a patient and we were instructed to undertake the scenario as we would if we were qualified nurses (nine months to go until that’s a reality, scary scary.) We finished the scenario and then it was time for feedback.
We all spoke highly positively of each other’s performances and negatively of our own, as is always the way with group feedback and then we hit a sticking point. Every single one of us said we felt awkward about being assertive, we were worried it would come across as bossy, despite the fact we were practicing a scenario where someone’s life was at stake.
Why is it that a room full of women are so concerned about coming across as abrasive that we would finish taking part in an activity that we all did well in because we were being assertive and we were worried about it afterwards?
When women assert themselves, it’s bossiness.
When men do it, they’re being leaders.
This isn’t news to me. I’ve seen it time and time again but this was the first time I’d really experienced it. So I went away and had a little read about it and found some really interesting statistics (here’s the full article). It turns out that when women are criticised for being bossy or abrasive, it’s usually by other women.
So how about we stop doing that?
I’m certainly no saint when it comes to being less than kind about other women. We’ve all done it. We’ve all rolled our eyes at a woman we perceive to be bossy, gossiped behind someone’s back for being too ‘stand-offish’ when actually they were just trying to get their point across (usually in a room full of men who dismiss their words.) There’s only so much we can do to get men to take us more seriously instead of calling us bossy, but as women we can certainly change our own attitudes.
Here are a few ways we can support our fellow women instead of contributing to the ‘bossy women’ phenomenon.
Lift other women up
By empowering others and celebrating their successes you’re not taking away from your own. When you see a woman doing great things, don’t just tell her, tell everyone!
Use your platform
Whether you’re a woman in a position of power or just someone that spends a lot of time on Twitter, use your platforms for good. Stand up for others in team meetings, retweet female successes and if you hear anyone suggest a woman is being bossy rather than assertive, fight them (preferably verbally).
Don’t be ignorant to the gender inequalities going on around you. Read about it, talk about it, just don’t shy away from it. I sometimes find it hard to talk about inequality because I don’t want to get things wrong or feel like I’m not knowledgable enough, but the only way you can feel more knowledgable is by continued learning.