A Woman In Your Own Right by Anne Dickson
In many ways this is a classic book of feminism – the original of this book came out in 1982, so this is its fourthieth anniversary reissue. The author has completely revised the contents to adjust for a new century and a new world view in many respects, because “Despite advances in gender equality in education, the workplace and the home, in practice many women and girls still find it a challenge to speak up and be heard”. This book is subtitled “The art of assertive, clear and honest communication”, and looks at how different methods of expressing oneself in a multitude of situations can change outcomes and our reactions to everyday situations. Ranging from asking for help at home to dealing with tricky situations in the workplace, this book looks at the possible scenarios that women encounter and can struggle with, perceiving a failure to put across their point of view. The author has continued to teach assertiveness training over the years since, but points out how training for women in this respect has been overtaken by a general move towards the individual. Certainly there are techniques in this book that would transcend gender limitations; while many of the situations here would seem to reflect women’s difficulties with family expectations for childcare, contact with older relatives, household tasks etc, it would be wrong to assume that hesitancy to communicate effectively is limited to those who identify as women. It is nonetheless a classic given an impressive update for a new century, managing to be reassuring, inspiring and much more in one volume. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this “Pioneering Handbook”
It is also possibly less specific regarding the methods of communication that have come to the fore during the last few decades, such as social media and email, whatsapp and text. It does acknowledge that such means of contact do limit the nuances that can be expressed face to face, but perhaps is limited in passing on ideas for when this is not possible. This is not a criticism in that it is clear that this book is aimed at recommending strategies for everyday interactions, and it does an excellent job of reassuring the reader that they can get over their point of view. It looks at three hypothetical women who each demonstrate the extremes of ways of dealing with situations, ranging from angry aggression to tired acceptance and submission. A fourth woman shows examples of the reasonable and successful ways that would probably succeed in the same situation, balancing compromise, assertion and a definite specific outcome. A lot of the mini scripts that Dickson uses come down to being specific; rather than asking for a wholesale change, asking for a specific thing such as a timely meeting with a certain person, or a plan to cover household tasks on a more equal basis. It suggests the benefits of role playing various scenarios with a trusted friend, to enable thought and preparation of what will succeed, to practise the actual words that will have the most effect. This book is impressive in its coverage, including some of the situations experienced by older people as well as those in the workplace.
The dedication of this book is so impressive I immediately tried to send a photo to my daughter. It acknowledges the women who fight every day for “gender equality and justice”, the basic rights to access education, and so much more that are still live issues in this and so many countries in our world. There is a list of books for Further Reading, and a comprehensive index for those who like me read it straight through but wish to refer back to specific issues such as “saying no” and “body language”. This is undoubtedly a useful and inspiring book which should be widely available and read by all those who wish to make a difference in how they communicate with others to reflect their own feelings and needs. Comprehensive and thoughtful, it provides a valuable and fascinating insight into how to cope with everyday challenges.