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PSA to All Women: Stop Being Nice, Opt for Assertiveness

When speaking, women unknowingly undermine themselves through a number of ways. For example, we use adverbs such as “just” and “actually” (e.g., “I just want to add…” or “I actually want to say…”). By using these adverbs, we immediately made the rest of our sentences sound trivial and unimportant. Another example would be using qualifiers such as “I think…” or “I’m no expert but…". Using a qualifier before the rest of your sentence inherently downplays your idea. As a woman, I am constantly guilty of this. In my class discussions, I feel this need to start my every sentence with “I’m sorry but…” or “I just think that...” when I chime in. And while it sounds harmless, my need to do this originates from my desire to sound nice and friendly and ensure that I am not stepping on any toes with my thoughts or opinions. Ultimately, I am more concerned with being likable than smart. But if you were to ask me directly, I would tell you that I want to be seen as smart more than likableand this is the problem. Logically, women want to be seen as smart and capablebecause we arebut subconsciously, we care just as much about being likable because we were always taught to do so.

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This is an unconscious habit many women have: to apologize before asking a question or sharing an opinion. We apologize for the things that do not warrant an apology.

Perhaps its because we know that we are existing and functioning in a world that does not have space for us, and therefore, we must apologize for taking up space.

Additionally, women care so much about being seen as likable because the alternative is being labeled as “bitchy” or “bossy." This is a dilemma few men have faced, and yet, women face this in every phase of their lives from elementary school to adulthood. So how do we walk the middle line? I suggest we begin by slowly ceasing our use of passive language. In a professional environment, passive language makes a woman seem unsure and unqualified. There are other ways to show your compassion, such as allowing other people to disagree and listening to their perspective. Finallyand perhaps the hardest pill swallowit is okay to be called a “bitch." Being called a bitch doesn’t make you one. Remember that you are creating space for yourself in a world that is inherently patriarchal and sexist.  In the words of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “well-behaved women seldom make history."


Kathy Nguyen is a Senior at VCU. She is double majoring in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies and Political Science with concentration in International Relations. Her passion includes advocating for women's reproductive rights and gun reforms. In addition to her political activism, she is a coffee snob and a Harry Potter fanatic.
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