Many years ago, women were usually relegated to domestic duties, unlike men who were always seen in social interactions. However, in recent years, women have attracted much attention in the area of social interaction. Interestingly, whereas some women can skillfully interact socially, on the part of other women, social interaction is a difficult task. Social interaction has been closely tied with assertion (Mcfall et al., 1982). In this way, assertion has been linked with formal education (Karagozoglu et al., 2008) and parenting styles (Zahra, Khanem and AhmadiGatab, 2011).
Meanwhile, it is evident that some women exhibit assertion, but have not had any formal education. Therefore, it is important to study assertiveness among young women in the light of parenting styles because McWayne et al. (2008) notes that numerous studies have proved parenting styles as central to the outcomes of children in our society.
In reviewing literature, Crawford and Gervasio (1989) grouped assertiveness into three basic definitions. These include: the consequences of behavior, self expression and personal rights.
Several other commentators and researchers have incorporated in part, or all of these in their attempt to define assertiveness. For instance, Athen (1991) describes assertiveness as the ability to express oneself as well as one’s rights without violating the rights of others. Hence, an individual is said to be assertive when she is able to express her thoughts and feelings in a manner that clearly states her needs while keeping the lines of communication open with others. In addition, assertiveness may also be referred to as the ability to make requests, actively disagree; express personal rights and feelings; initiate, maintain, or disengage from conversations and to stand up for themselves (Fensterheim and Baer,1975).
For Rabin and Zelner (1992,p. 19) it is “a behaviour which allows people to act in their own best interest, without anxiety, to communicate desires, feelings and goals as well as maintain personal rights in situations of interpersonal stress, without being either aggressive to the other person or passive with regard to their own interests.” Abbassi and Singh (2006) points out three indicators of assertiveness in marital relationships. These are courage, authenticity and autonomy. According to Abbassi and Singh (2006), courage is represented by characteristics such as strong self-confidence, self-regard, boldness, fearlessness, non-submissiveness (but non-aggressiveness), straightforwardness, achievement striving, and leadership.
Abbassi and Singh (2006) explain authenticity in marital relationship as truthfulness on the part of individuals, honesty, spontaneous, genuine (rather than being artificial or pretentious or having a false front), straightforward (being able to say no without feeling guilty), frank, and candid or fair-mindedness (having candor in taking responsibility). Autonomous women and men generally have a sense of independence or self- sufficiency and are likely to want to make their own decisions. Therefore, women and men who are autonomous tend to be flexible, change oriented, open minded, tolerant of diversity, and respectful of other people’s freedom and rights (Abbassi and Singh 2006). It has also been argued that individuals with assertive behaviours have high self-esteem and are also successful in life (Karagozoglu et al, 2008).
Assertiveness, Gender and Age
Assertiveness when examined through the lens of gender has raised many arguments both within and outside of academic discourse (Athen, 1991). This has arisen due to the general stereotyping of gender roles in the world over. This is more the case in Africa (specifically, in Ghana), in that gender roles are somewhat rigid and gender differences are heavily emphasized (Onyeizugbo, 2003). The term gender used here refers to the general concept of being male and female. It refers to physical characteristics, social behaviors, characteristic self-image, psychological tendencies, behavioral tendencies, and abilities that allow us to differentiate between men and women (Onyeizugbo, 2003). Thus, men are expected to be more assertive (even aggressive), ambitious and strong, whereas women are expected to be submissive, passive and gentle as well as unassertive (Onyeizuigbo, 2003). Gender role stereotyping borders on sexism and imposes a limit on the extent to which women can assert or express themselves (Onyeizugbo, 2003). For example, in the Yoruba culture (a sub-set in the southwest of Nigeria); the entirety of a woman’s personal possessions are believed to automatically belong to her husband.
This is in concert with the proverbial saying that, “The owner of the slave automatically owns the slave’s properties.” In other words, the woman is actually seen as the husband’s “property;” hence, she is not supposed to assert herself. Also, in Northern Ghana and Ashanti, the male is not culturally obliged to cook or wash clothes (laundry) as this is seen as a woman’s domestic job. Hence, women are to serve their men (husbands) and should not be seen to assert themselves. This gender role stereotyping has been shown to influence assertiveness. Adejumo (1981) and Hersen et al. (1995) all reported men to be more assertive than women. However, other studies have contradicted these findings. Chandler et al. (1978) for example found that women were significantly more assertive than men in some specific situations.
Their study found that women (college students) were more willing to be socially “confrontative,” that is, more willing to assert themselves and also speak up for themselves boldly without any fear of intimidation or prejudice in competitive situations. Similarly, several other studies indicate that sex-related situational factors may influence assertive behavior. It is reported that females rated assertive stimulus models as more assertive, aggressive, and masculine than did male subjects (Delamater and Mcnarama, 1986). In addition, Karagozoglu et al. (2008) in a study to investigate the influence of women’s higher education on self-esteem and assertiveness among females in a Turkish university, found that female students have as high levels of self-esteem and assertiveness as do their male counterparts.
The higher levels of women’s self-esteem and assertiveness could be related to the fact that receiving a university education increases their self-confidence and belief about the equality between men and women (Karagozoglu et al., 2008). It is, however, interesting to note that Maccoby and Jacklin (1974) and Applebaum (1976) have found that there is no consistent tendency for one gender to be more assertive than the other. Assertiveness is also strongly associated with masculinity and with younger cohorts (Ryan, Anas & Friedman, 2006). Older people are less assertive than younger peers, because either they have never exhibited assertion, or they may have lost the confidence to use assertive skills (Furnham & Pendleton, 1983).
Assertiveness and Psychological Characteristics
Prior research has found that assertiveness is associated with high self-esteem and that it is likely to serve as a buffer against stress, anxiety, and fear of disapproval (Upton et al., 2012). This seems to suggest that women with high levels of assertion tend to be psychologically motivated and hence they are able to live without fear of isolation. On the other hand, women with low levels of assertion may also experience depression and exhibit expansive duration of depressive episodes (Pettit & Joiner, 2006). Previous studies have examined links between assertiveness, depression, and social support among older adult groups. Among 69 community-dwelling older adults, Hersen et al. (1995) found that those who are less assertive and have less social support are at increased risk for depression. Moreover, among 100 visually impaired older adults, Hersen et al. (1995) reported that higher levels of social support and assertiveness were associated with lower levels of depression.
Also, assertiveness was generally found to be inversely related to depression as was noted over a two year period among initially non-depressed patients with panic disorder, even after controlling for initial depression (Rosenbaum et al., 1994). In addition, assertiveness has been found to be inversely related to anxiety (Lefevre & West, 1981; Nezu et al., 1986; Orenstein et al., 1975), fear of disapproval (Lefevre & West, 1981), psychosomatic complaints (Nezu et al., 1986), interpersonal anxiety, and neuroticism (Orenstein et al., 1975) and has been found to be positively related to self-esteem (Lefevre & West, 1981). Furthermore, Brecklin (2004) in a study to show the relationship between assertiveness and psychological characteristics among women found that women with multiple victimization experiences show less assertiveness and more psychological distress in their social interactions, as well as were more likely to participate in assertiveness training programs.
Assertiveness and Communication
Poyrazli et al. (2001) found that there is a high correlation between assertiveness and academic performance as well as adjustment problems. They reported that students with higher levels of assertion were seen to be more self-efficacious academically; this suggests that students who are more assertive probably initiate more academic interactions or ask for academic help and therefore have higher academic self-efficacy (Poyrazli et al. (2001). Assertion is also defined as a behavioral character that determines an individual’s ability to engage in competent communication (Richmond and McCroskey, 1985). Therefore, assessment of assertiveness involves situations of communication and conversational abilities (Richmond and McCroskey, 1985). Assertive behavior is conveyed through interactions between verbal and nonverbal strands of communication (Mcfall et al., 1982). The nonverbal part of communication has been defined on the basis of intuition by many psychologists (for example, Serber, 1972; Albert and Emmons, 1978; Wolpe and Lazarus, 1966). Mcfall et al. (1982) states that the nonverbal modes of exhibiting assertion include eye contact, facial expression, body expression, gestures, and fluency of speech as well as loudness of voice.
I contend that this nonverbal form of communication, hence showing assertion, is culturally relative. In most traditional Ghanaian societies, direct eye contact with an adult is culturally unacceptable and oppositional. Thus, assertion in my view is defined by the cultural context. This is illustrated by Singhal and Nagao (1993) in a comparison study to determine assertion differences among cultures in the light of communication. It was found that the average scores for American students on their perceptions of assertiveness as a communication competence were higher than the scores for Japanese students (Singhal and Nagao, 1993). Singhal and Nagao (1993) explained further that Japanese students perceive it to be or deem it inappropriate to question a professor if they disagreed with a professor’s statement (at least more so than American students).
Thus, the Japanese communication style is geared towards maintaining group harmony (Singhal and Nagao, 1993), which perhaps means that Japanese communication style also avoids confrontation to show assertion. In addition, communicating assertion through fluency of speech may be erroneous because of difference of languages among people. Hence, “intuitive judgment” as determining component of assertion may not apply in different contexts (Mcfall et al., 1982). Auslander et al. (2007) in a research on perceptions of sexual assertiveness among young girls indicated that sexual assertiveness is related to prior sexual experiences. Auslander et al. (2007) stated that girls who had been sexually active longer, and have had more sexual partners felt more at ease to initiate sex, but less able to refuse sex and are unwilling to insist on prevention techniques or preventive methods related to pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Parenting styles and Assertiveness
Another way in which researchers have studied assertion on the part of young women is in the area of parenting styles they receive from their parents. For example, Zahra, Khanem and AhmadiGatab (2011) in research involving high school girls found that the “self-assertiveness training program” was most effective among high school girls who experience the “little control and too much love” parenting style (p.1948). In this case, college females whose parents were permissive, improved better (initiated more academic interactions) with assertiveness training programs than those students whose parents were authoritative and authoritarian (Zahra, Khanem and AhmadiGatab, 2011).
Generally, a parenting style has been defined as the emotional climate in which parents raise their children (Darling and Steinberg, 1993). A parenting style may also be explained as the way in which parents communicate with their children, care for, support, control, punish and monitor their children (Slicker et al. (2005). Furthermore, parenting styles include practices, attitudes, verbal and non-verbal expressions that characterize parent-child relationship (Slicker et al. (2005). Research has been conducted on parenting styles with early studies examining a myriad of dimensions including: responsiveness/unresponsiveness (Baldwin, 1948), democratic/autocratic (Baldwin, 1948), dominance/submission (Baumrind, 1967) control/non control (Baumrind, 1971), acceptance/rejection (Baumrind, 1978), and restrictiveness/permissiveness (Baumrind, 1991). Baumrind (1971, 1978, and 1991) through multiple studies identified three primary parental typologies: authoritative, authoritarian and permissive. Authoritative parenting is one in which the parent is not overbearing while providing guidance and regulations (McWayne et al., 2008).
Authoritarian parenting style is one in which the parent is restrictive and children are expected to do what exactly they are told (McWayne et al., 2008). Permissive parenting; here children do whatsoever they wish with limited guidance, control and restrictions because parents avoid confrontations with their children (McWayne et al., 2008). Maccoby and Martin (1983) in a study identified the fourth type of parenting style called indifferent or uninvolved parenting; the parent is negligent of children’s needs while addressing other interests. In this case, parents devote their time to the pursuit of careers or education and other necessary fulfillments. Evidence that authoritative parenting style is desirable for children has been shown in numerous studies. For example, Children who experience authoritative parenting have been seen to be self-reliant, socially responsible and have high to moderate self-esteem (Dwairy et al., 2006; Lamborn, Dornbusch &Darling 1992; Steinberg, Mounts, Lamborn & Dornbusch, 1991).
Furthermore, other researchers have also proposed authoritative parenting as central to the success of intimate relationships either heterogeneous or homogenous. In a research involving 723 Arab students, students who experience authoritative parenting style were reported to score high on intimate friendship scale than those who experience permissive parenting style and authoritarian parenting styles (Sharabany et al., 2008). In addition, Lamborn, Dornbusch &Darling (1992) states that women’s desire to accomplish higher education is associated with an authoritative parenting style. That is, children of authoritative parents score better on academic intelligence scale, hence, higher academic performance. However, in a study to assess the level of creativity and perfectionism among college students, Miller et al. (2012) found that students who experienced permissive parenting styles are more creative, whereas those who experienced authoritarian parenting style are perfectionist.
Therefore, permissive parenting style promotes creative abilities among children. In addition, levels of punishment in parenting styles have been shown to influence children’s academic outcomes. For instance, excessive correctional disciplines and parental control integrated in authoritative and authoritarian parenting styles correspond to low academic performance in children (Fletcher et al. 2008). However, children who experience permissive parenting styles were reported to involve in more academic interactions. Authoritarian parenting styles and permissive parenting styles are considered to be at the extreme ends of the continuum whereas authoritative parenting style is seen midway on the continuum of parenting (Dwairy et al., 2006). Uninvolved or indifferent parenting style is the most undesirable of all the parenting types because it results in juvenile delinquencies and conduct disorders (McWayne et al., 2008).
Parental demandingness and Parental responsiveness
In another way, some researchers have also classified parenting styles into parental dimensions: parental responsiveness and parental demandingness (Alegre, 2010). Alegre, (2010) defines Parental responsiveness as practices of warmth, support, and nurturance with which parents bring up or rear their children. Parental responsiveness is also known as Positive parenting (Finzi-Dottan, Bilu and Golubchik, 2011). Parental responsiveness or Positive parenting has received much attention from academia because it has been found to result in positive outcomes of children such as higher self-esteem and better psychological adjustment (Alegre, 2010). On the other hand, Parental demandingness integrates complex attributes of parental practices because its outcomes on children include positive and negative dimensions (Alegre, 2010). Parental demandingness is defined as parental practices which involve expectations and demands from parents for “mature and responsible behaviour” on the part of their children (p.56). The level of expectations and demands by parents from their children can range from no expectations and no control to high demands (Alegre, 2010).
Hence, negative parenting demandingness is characterised by parental practices such as excessive control and frequent disciplining (Alegre, 2010). These practices have been found to yield outcomes such as diffused ego identity and cognitive anxiety (Alegre, 2010). For example, Finzi-Dottan, Bilu and Golubchik (2008) in a research among adolescent immigrants in the Former Soviet Union to determine parental influence on ego identity among adolescents, found that lack of positive parenting results in aggression, diffused ego identity and behavioral problems (delinquencies).
Therefore, positive parenting results in self-esteem and promotes a sense of guilt and responsibility among children (Finzi-Dottan Bilu and Golubchik, 2008). Furthermore, Alegre (2010) in a review literature, found that parental responsiveness and parental positive demandingness enhances emotional intelligence in children as compared to parental practice of negative demandingness. Also, Slicker et al. (2005) in a study involving 660 first year university students, found that parental responsiveness scored higher with positive life skills development than parental demandingness. Thus, students whose parents integrated responsive parental practices have better interpersonal communication, are responsible for their health and involve themselves in decision making.
Parenting Styles, Gender and Culture
All the aforementioned parental practices prevail in the families of the Ghanaian society, but practices of an authoritarian parenting style is most prevailent. However, Dwairy et al. (2006) note that western societies usually adopt an authoritative parenting style. Also, contemporary studies in the area of parenting have shown that girls require different parenting styles from that of boys. That is, parenting style is gendered and culture specific (Dwairy et al., 2006; Dwairy, 2004). Dwairy et al. (2006) administered a Parental Authority Questionnaire to 2, 893 Arab adolescents, and it was found that boys usually experience authoritarian parenting style whereas girls experience authoritative parenting, but first-borns usually experience permissive parenting styles. Kincaid et al. (2012) in a review study on 24 previous research findings showed that parental restriction (as in authoritarian parenting) is unfavorable for adolescent girls but favorable for boys with regards to sexual deviant behavior. Kincaid et al. (2012) define sexual deviant behavior as the engagement in “unprotected sex with multiple partners.”
Thus, less parental monitoring with affection or fondness protects girls from sexual risk/deviant behavior as, in permissive parenting style. This implies that girls who have less parental monitoring assert (are able to express explicitly their sexual rights and disengage from unsafe sexual practices) themselves with issues of sexuality (Kincaid et al., 2012). A research conducted among 431 Arab students found that an authoritative parenting style for girls could decrease outcomes of phobia, negative attitudes towards parents, and anxiety disorders (Dwairy, 2004). Dwairy (2004) reported that a permissive parenting style was shown to result in outcomes such as negative attitudes to parents or behavioral problems and conduct disorders among male and female adolescents (Dwairy, 2004). Interestingly, among Ghanaian families, girls usually experience more parental monitoring than boys. The popular stance is that whereas boys can defend themselves in unfamiliar situations (physical or sexual harassment), girls cannot defend themselves.
Hence, in Ghanaian traditional homes, girls usually receive more restrictive parenting styles (as in authoritarian and authoritative parenting styles), whereas boys receive permissive parenting style. This, therefore, confers on girls to take responsibility to avoid social harassment. Other researchers have also looked at how a parenting style can be influenced by social networks (such as members of the extended family, teachers etc.) and social status of parents. For instance, McWayne et al. (2008) examined parenting styles in the context of ethnically and economically diverse groups as well as the influence of other social networks on children. That is, McWayne et al. (2008) in a comparative review study of two independent researches, involving 184 children and their families on one hand, on the other hand is a population size of 210 children and their families. It was aimed to examine the influence of traditional parenting styles on children’s social and emotional skills among low-income African American families.
McWayne et al. (2008) found that there is no consistent relationship between a parenting style and children’s social and emotional outcomes among these groups. Rather, children’s emotional and social outcomes were influenced by external networks such as teachers and friends at school (McWayne et al., 2008). It is worth noting that, this is more the case in the African context, specifically in Ghana; parenting is not only for biological parents, but also, calls for the involvement of members of the extended family. In this case, influence of other extended networks on children’s outcomes should be included in research (slaughter-Defoe, 1995). Dwairy et al. (2006) found in a study involving Arab students that parents’ economic status, level of education, and urbanisation of parents have no influence on a parenting styles. Generally, it seems the nurturing of assertiveness in the area of a parenting style has rarely been looked at by researchers.
Also, the above literature appears to be outside the context of Africa. This is emphasized by McWayne et al. (2008) that past works on parenting styles have been based on the practices of middle-class white families. Also, as posited earlier, parenting style is important in the formative years of children as far as desirable outcomes are concerned. This, therefore, points to the fact that assertion is desirable on the part of women to enhance their social interaction. Hence, this draws attention for further studies on assertiveness of women in the light of parenting styles. Rather than assume universality, the intended research will include diverse economic and ethnic groups to (re)examine their influence on parenting styles. It is also important to add that the continent of Africa, specifically Ghana, could be used for this study because it proposes a field for economically and ethnically diverse groups, which will provide a rich source of data for this study.
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