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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: March 2013

6 - Being assertive…or not


Assertiveness remains a hot topic for self-help books and websites. On in late February 2012, a search for “assertiveness” in the self-help category brought up 6,055 titles, “assertiveness in women” yielded 1,170, and “assertiveness in men” had 424 offerings. In Figure 6.1, the online advice on assertiveness is aimed at women and in particular at women who are ambitious in their careers, although the author says that both sexes should find her advice useful. In Figure 6.2 the focus is on how to reduce interpersonal conflict, maintaining good interpersonal relations while not being a “doormat.” Both these sites give advice on how one can pursue one's agendas without jeopardizing the perception that one is “nice” and concerned about others. In Figure 6.3, the site offers tips clearly aimed only at men, where the goal is heterosexual dating success.

A quick look at book titles and the like suggests that the samples shown in Figures 6.1–6.3 are not atypical, with assertiveness for women often stressed in contexts of succeeding at work and for men in contexts of “making it” with women. Both sexes are sometimes targeted on general interpersonal relations issues, though women seem to get more of this. Women do indeed get counseled on assertiveness in heterosexual relations, but the emphasis there is on “just say no” and similar campaigns for stopping sexual harassment and date rape rather than on impressing potential male romantic partners. The message seems to be that women are deficient in their assertiveness in work and family contexts, and there is also apparently worry that some men need to unleash the assertiveness (domineeringness?) women are said to find sexually appealing in men.