All of us should insist on being treated fairly; we have to stand up
for our rights without violating the rights of others. This means
tactfully, justly, and effectively expressing our preferences, needs,
opinions and feelings. Psychologist call that being "assertive," as
distinguished from being unassertive (weak, passive, compliant, self-
sacrificing) or aggressive (self-centered, inconsiderate, hostile,
arrogantly demanding). As mentioned in chapter 8, the Women's
Movement since the 1960's has been a powerful influence on millions
of women: women have gotten better career opportunities, more
rights to control their bodies, more help from husbands with child care
and housework, and so on. These changes happened because women
assertively stood up for their rights.
Because some people want to be "nice" and "not cause trouble,"
they "suffer in silence," "turn the other cheek," and assume nothing
can be done to change their situation or "it is our cross to bear." The
rest of us appreciate pleasant, accommodating people but whenever a
"nice" person permits a greedy, dominant person to take advantage of
him/her, the passive person is not only cheating him/herself but also
reinforcing unfair, self-centered behavior in the aggressive person.
That's how chauvinists are created.
Assertiveness is an antidote to fear, shyness, passivity, and even
anger, so there is an astonishingly wide range of situations in which
this training is appropriate. Factor analysis of several assertiveness
scales (Schimmel, 1976) has suggested several kinds of behavior are
To speak up, make requests, ask for favors and generally insist
that your rights be respected as a significant, equal human
being. To overcome the fears and self-depreciation that keep
you from doing these things.
To express negative emotions (complaints, resentment,
criticism, disagreement, intimidation, the desire to be left
alone) and to refuse requests. See "I" statements in method
To show positive emotions (joy, pride, liking someone,
attraction) and to give compliments. Accept compliments with
To ask why and question authority or tradition, not to rebel but
to assume responsibility for asserting your share of control of
the situation--and to make things better. You are no one's
To initiate, carry on, change and terminate conversations
comfortably. Share your feelings, opinions and experiences with
others. See method #8.
To deal with minor irritations before your anger builds into
intense resentment and explosive aggression. See method #5.