Last night, as I was scrolling through my Instagram feed to stave off having to do anything productive (there are dozens of walls needing stripped of wallpaper, but hey, pictures of tattoos!), a text post with a bold red background caught my attention: “sick to my stomach after hearing about Aziz Ansari”

And my immediate, and correct, thought was “Great. Another sex scandal”.

It seems everywhere you turn, there are sleazes coming out of the woodwork. Every month, a new Hollywood mogul or powerful politician falls. However, the story related on seemed more nuanced and less straight-forward than the outright sexual assaults we’ve been hearing about. This was a date gone exceptionally wrong. An example of yet another entitled man setting expectations that the other party didn’t agree to. There was no shocking violence, but persistent badgering for sex and physical harassment. Sure, it’s not illegal, but it is definitely not acceptable, and throws into question the attitude of Aziz and many other (but I stress, not all) men towards women. If you are pressuring someone into consenting, is that really consent? And why on earth would you want to bang someone who is so clearly not interested?

A Question of Female Assertiveness

Of course, judging by the story, the blame for this lies squarely with Aziz here. Throughout the evening there were clear verbal and physical signals that his date was not interested in sex. However, one of the thoughts that came up while reading this was why didn’t she get up and leave? Why didn’t she immediately tell him to fuck right off? Why wasn’t she assertive.

This is telling of a bigger problem in our society than the awful experience of a single person. In general, women are not taught, expected or encouraged to be assertive in any aspect of their lives, from personal to business. Media hammers the female gender with messages to diet, get smaller, take up less space, be pretty, vacant, feminine and pliant. Men who change their minds make decisions, while women are labelled as fickle or capricious.

I’m sure many of the women reading this have personal experience of trying to politely decline determined advances from a man with excuses like “I have a boyfriend” or “Sorry, I’m busy right now, but let’s maybe meet up some other time?”. What prevents us from simply saying “No. Not interested”? And how many of you had an uneasy sense of familiarity when reading the New Yorker short story Cat Person?

A lack of assertiveness in women has implications beyond relationships. Men are much more likely to be entrepreneurs or start their own businesses than women, although this is improving. Dealing with conflict in an assertively polite manner is key to entrepreneurship. How can you negotiate with a difficult client or supplier without clearly and confidently stating your demands? However, assertiveness in women is often perceived as bossiness, while the same traits in men indicate power and decisiveness.

3 Ways You Can Encourage Female Assertiveness

  1.   Re-frame your attitude to assertive women at your workplace. If an urgent, curt email comes through from a female colleague and your immediate thought is “Wow, someone’s being bossy today”, imagine what your reaction would be if the same email came from a male colleague. Would you have the same thought, or just assume he has deadlines to meet?
  2.   Get comfortable with politely and firmly declining unwanted advances, and accepting rejection if it is directed at you. If a friend or date is overstepping boundaries with innuendos, touching or lewd comments, straight up tell them you want this to stop. A reasonable person will realise they’ve made a mistake, maybe get a little embarrassed, but back off and realise it’s no big deal. In contrast, aggressively insulting a woman after she’s turned you down is a huge indication that you’re a spoiled man-child.
  3.   Stop judging women on their appearance. Tabloid media constantly throws misogynistic articles about which celebrity has gained weight or “let herself go, and even reduces an important negotiation between accomplished female politicians to a seedy comparison of their legs. With this attitude, women are reduced to voiceless objects valued only by their physical attributes. I know we all have these gut-reaction thoughts when we first see a person, and they can often be harsh and prejudiced. However, it is very easy to identify and challenge these split second judgements. Next time you’re people-watching and think “Oh sweet Jesus, she should not be wearing shorts with those thighs”, challenge that thought. Why should you care what someone else wears? Maybe it’s hot, or maybe she just feels damn good in those shorts. Bonus: being less judgemental indicates you are a happier, more balanced individual.


What are your thoughts on this latest scandal? And what would, or do you currently, do to encourage female assertiveness?

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash