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The Strong, Silent (Gender) Type: The Strong Black Woman Ideal, Self-Silencing, and Sexual Assertiveness in Black College Women

Abstract

Women are socialized to endorse femininity scripts mandating that they prioritize others’ needs and engage in self-silencing behaviors. Further, Black women may also endorse the strong Black woman (SBW) ideal, by which they are expected to selflessly meet the needs of their family and community and, as such, may embrace self-silencing in their interpersonal relationships. In a sample of 597 Black undergraduate and graduate college women, we tested whether: (1) self-silencing and SBW ideal endorsement would be independently, inversely associated with three dimensions of sexual assertiveness–communication assertiveness, refusal assertiveness, and pleasure-focused assertiveness; and (2) the association between self-silencing and sexual assertiveness would be stronger among Black women who endorse the SBW ideal. Correlational and regression analyses revealed that self-silencing was negatively linked to all dimensions of sexual assertiveness; SBW ideal endorsement was associated with lower levels of communication and pleasure-focused assertiveness. As expected, SBW ideal endorsement moderated the association between Black women’s engagement in self-silencing and two dimensions of sexual assertiveness. Self-silencing was associated with less communication and pleasure-focused assertiveness regardless of their level of SBW endorsement. Findings highlight the complexities of Black women’s desire to fulfill expectations to be strong, assertive, and/or compliant and silent. Interventions to promote Black women’s sexual health should address sexual assertiveness and feminine silencing norms.

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Funding

This study was funded by the University of Michigan Office of Research (UMOR) and PI discretionary funds. This research was also supported by a Ford Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to Lanice R. Avery.

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Contributions

All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation, data collection, and analysis were performed by LRA, AGS, LMW, ERC, and MCJ. The first draft of the manuscript was written by LRA, and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Lanice R. Avery.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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The authors affirm that participants provided informed consent for publication of the overall results of the study.

Ethical Approval

The questionnaire and methodology for this study was approved by the Health Sciences and Behavioral Sciences Institutional Review Board of the University of Michigan (IRB Study ID: HUM00068279).

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Avery, L.R., Stanton, A.G., Ward, L.M. et al. The Strong, Silent (Gender) Type: The Strong Black Woman Ideal, Self-Silencing, and Sexual Assertiveness in Black College Women. Arch Sex Behav 51, 1509–1520 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-021-02179-2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-021-02179-2

Keywords

  • Gender roles
  • Sexual assertiveness
  • Strong Black woman ideal
  • Self-silencing