Assertiveness is something that I think is undervalued in current society.
The book Boundaries by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend describes assertiveness and setting boundaries as:
‘When to say yes, and how to say no.’
Not being aggressive, but being firm about what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to your boundaries.
We might love to complain and moan to our friends, but often, we fail to grow the backbone needed to address something head-on with the person it concerns. We feel safe when we complain to those who we know care for us, but if we confront someone who doesn’t have that vested interest they might reject us.
Worse, they might think ill of us.
‘I cannot bear to think that he is alive in the world…and thinking ill of me.’
– Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
They might think we’re horrid. We’re a cow or… bull!? (is that the male insult?). They might think we have no integrity or values. Or they might just think we’re plain wrong.
That’s why often, we so love assertive characters in books. We watch them word-spar and defend themselves as we wish we could. They say exactly the right thing, at exactly the right time, almost as if it were perfectly and minutely crafted…
I, for one, can never stand a push over in a book. And that is not because I cannot be pushed over sometimes. Back when they were all the rage, I read the Twilight books, and the one thing I really remember vividly when looking back is the whiny nature of Bella in the second book. Man alive did she complain, and worse, she didn’t do anything about her situation. She didn’t choose to move forward or fight for more. I CANNOT stand a character who sits and grumbles. I can’t invest in them. I begin to stop sympathising.
It really comes down to the fact I can’t admire them. And the Lord knows I love to admire a character in a book. Preferably the main character. Even if they don’t always do the right thing, I like to see that backbone, that willingness to fight another day, to overcome. That spirit.
I once described my female characters to my husband, saying they were kick-butt heroines both verbally and physically and he chuckled, saying,
‘Basically you want to be them.’
An assertive excerpt from Fool Me Twice:
“Lord Avers!” Lady Rebecca responded with the same warmth she greeted every friend. “And who is this gentleman with you?”
Caro was immediately and acutely aware that it was not the voice of Lord Avers that had made her stomach turn. It was not his voice that had spoken of sweetmeats and Bergamot ices, and it was not his voice that sounded again, this time far closer to Caro’s ear.
“Oh!” continued Lady Rebecca. “It is Mr. Felton!”
“Lady Rebecca,”—the other gentleman bowed, his hat creeping into the corner of Caro’s vision—“I have been dragged here most unwillingly to order some kind of pastry for Avers’ mother’s ball, but now I see you here I am quite pleased I relented in my protestations.”
Caro turned then, using all her strength to break out of her statue-like trance. A closer inspection of the gentleman confirmed her worst fears.
“How delightful it is to see you again!” said Lady Rebecca, oblivious to her friend’s discomfiture. “I had no idea you were back from your Tour.”
“Ah, yes, the weather of Europe is nothing in comparison to that of England. I quite missed the rain, you know?” The man’s voice was full of amusement, so like it had been last night when he had accosted Caro while she played the role of another.
“Are you still a scoundrel?” One of Lady Rebecca’s fine dark brows rose, her characteristic truthfulness challenging the man playfully.
“My long-suffering parents will confirm as much.”
Caro breathed rapidly, dreading the moment that Mr. Felton would turn towards her. She reminded herself that she was not Angelica Worth today, but the fair-haired Caro. He would not recognize her—others did not. She must not panic. All would be well.
“Lord Avers, Mr. Felton, may I present Miss Worth to you both.” Rebecca stretched a hand out, gracefully indicating Caro, and both gentlemen turned their attention to the golden-haired woman dressed in dazzling aquamarine.
“Miss Worth,” Lord Avers bowed and smiled affably, “An additional pleasure to find you in the company of Lady Rebecca once again.”
“Miss Worth.” Mr. Felton, being the nearer of the two gentlemen took her hand and bent over it in a perfunctory bow.
That same boyish face Caro had seen by candlelight was before her now. By the light of day, Mr. Felton’s face still held the handsome, careless, amused expression that had captivated her for a brief moment last night. But the same face in the morning’s light was more worrying than captivating. Her legs began to tremble beneath the full skirts of her gown.
When Mr. Felton’s head lifted, he caught Caro’s eye, and the look that appeared on his face sent ice running through her veins. It was recognition.
“I say,” he said, repeating his customary exclamation, “how intriguing.”
His green eyes ran quickly over Caro’s face. They paused on her hair for a moment, his brow furrowing and then clearing, and then they returned to her brilliant blue eyes once more.
“Am I remiss? Have I not made your acquaintance before?” His brow was furrowing again. He was trying his hardest to place her face. She was praying her hardest he would fail.
“I do not believe so, sir.” Caro removed her eyes from his, desperate to keep away from his intent stare, desperate to steer his mind away from remembering.“I am sure of it, I would not forget those eyes anywhere, or….” Mr. Felton stepped back a little, looking down at her skirts as though expecting to see through them. To anyone else he looked as if he were only trying to gain a better view of the woman he thought he recognized, but Caro knew exactly the memory that was being conjured up in his mind. “You look very much like a woman I have already met.”
“I dislike excessively to say it, Miss Worth,” said Mr. Felton, a boyish grin resuming mastery over his shapely lips, “however, I believe if we have met before as I suspect, it was in quite different surroundings.”
Clearly, he thought he was being subtle, but Caro knew the irreparable damage he could do to her. Tongues were already wagging where Caro was concerned, and his attempts at the finer arts of concealment were poor. Caro was overcome with a desire to strike him again, wishing to destroy that amused smile on his face that so carelessly put her future at risk.
“I don’t know what you mean.” Caro’s body stiffened, her voice containing the same rigidness reflected in her frame. She suppressed her urge to react and instead resurrected the feeling of satisfaction she had gained from slapping him last night.
“That exact turn of phrase,” he murmured again, still staring at her.
His words were far from proper, even to those whose minds could not fully understand what their ears were hearing. Caro was aware that other guests in the confectioner’s shop were leaning in to hear the unusual conversation from the loud young gentleman.
Both Lady Rebecca and Lord Avers had been staring at the interchange, confused—however, the latter was rapidly catching up to his friend on the gentleman’s path of assumptions.
“But that hair….” Felton murmured to himself.
He was looking at her gold curls, trying to reconcile them with the raven hair he had seen, with the wig that sat on her dressing table at home. He recognized her face, her eyes—but the hair remained her one defense.
“Yes, I do not powder my hair. My mother always told me not to because of its fine color.” At least there could be a little truth in her life of falsehoods. “I dislike the way you stare, sir,” Caro used her severest tones, trying to break through the mesmerized state the gentleman seemed to be in.
“Felton.” Lord Avers stepped forward, attempting to stop his friend before more damage was done. But his friend carried on like a runaway horse pulling away from its pursuer.
“I have never been so sure and so unsure. Are you not the lady I met last night at Mr. Russell’s?”
Again she blushed, and taking her blush to be confirmation, Mr. Felton gave her a saucy wink.
Caro shot up from her chair in a surge of red hot fury. “Sir! I must ask you to desist!”
“Mr. Felton,” he corrected, not in the least perturbed, the curl of his grin still evident on his mouth.
She was trying her best to ignore those lips, the ones that had uttered the word “pleasure” in such a fascinating way last night. She hated how his careless attitude at once riled her and intrigued her. Her anxiety was laced with a desire to meet this gentleman on the word-sparring field…but she knew better. She shook off any vestiges of her ridiculous humor. Now was the time to draw the line between her identities in indelible ink before he had a chance of furthering this course of inquiry.
“You are mistaken, sir. I can guess which surroundings you refer to, and they are the haunt of my father’s illegitimate daughter.” If the house of cards was to fall, she would be in control of its destruction, not some impertinent cad.