Women apologize all the time, endlessly, like broken records. We’re socialized to be polite and self-effacing, to not share our conflicting opinions unless absolutely necessary, to keep our heads down at all costs or risk being called a bitch. If someone gets our order wrong at a restaurant, we apologize for being a bother. If someone misunderstands us, we apologize for being unclear. We apologize for the people around us and for events that are completely out of our control. The list goes on and on. I’ve even started numerous sentences off with variations of I’m sorry, but I just don’t agree…
I used to incessantly apologize all the time myself, of course.
But I’m currently in recovery.
Why’s that, you ask? I read an article a few years ago about this phenomenon in women, how their default method of conversing in the world of men is apologetic in nature. It struck me then that the article was describing my exact conduct. It was chilling. The revelation honestly shook me to the core. I spent days questioning everything I had ever said or done. When we fuck up, we should apologize–it’s what decent people do–but why the hell was I apologizing for having an opinion, for doing my job, for correcting someone in a situation when they should have been apologizing to me? It didn’t make any sense. I decided right then and there that I was no longer going to apologize simply for being who I was and speaking my mind.
It was interesting to me to find how insidious this practice of constantly saying I’m sorry had become in my daily life. I literally had to clench my teeth to keep from spitting out an apology during my day to day interactions with the people around me. It was like quitting some kind of addictive substance cold turkey. I had the shakes. I was lost without my apologetic crutch, which had held me up for years. I felt like an asshole for not prefacing an explanation with an I’m sorry. But that feeling eventually went away and, let me tell you, the result has been liberating.
It’s not that I’m adverse to admitting when I’m in the wrong. I absolutely do that (no one is perfect, of course, but I try to own up to situations where I messed up or said something off base), but my constant, almost involuntary apologies are a thing of the past.
If you’re a woman reading this, I challenge you to listen to yourself throughout the day. Measure your running guilt level (mine stays quite high no matter what I do; oh, the joys of womanhood!) and keep track of how often you either apologize or feel as though you should have done so. I was shocked to see how often I offered the phrase I’m sorry in situations where my male counterparts just kept rolling, and rightfully so. Men aren’t socialized to question themselves incessantly. They aren’t told that meekness is more honorable and attractive than assertiveness. They aren’t called bossy when they dare to lead. They are called ambitious and strong. They are looked up to and revered as straight shooters who get things done. I remember being called bossy as a kid like it was a bad thing. I needed to keep my opinions to myself and let others (boys) have a turn to talk, even when my ideas were better. I come from a family with a strong maternal figure. Mom didn’t raise me to take shit, but society gets its hooks in you regardless. I learned to temper my strong opinions with apologies–a spoonful of sugar to help that medicine go down. It worked, but it took a toll. When you preface what you say with an I’m sorry, it loses its authoritative edge. It diminishes it, and you.
We deal in words. We think in them, speak them, and use them to define ourselves and the things around us. The ones we choose to utilize matter. It’s how we cut our path in this world.
So, ladies, I challenge you to stop apologizing unless you’ve actually done something wrong. Being born female is nothing to be sorry over. Be bossy. Have opinions. Correct someone if they’ve gotten it wrong. Don’t hide your strength behind constant conciliatory statements. Be bold and whatever the hell else you want to be. Cut the path you want to walk in this world using language that lifts you up instead of tearing you down. There will be people who don’t like it, and that’s fine. You don’t owe them an apology or an explanation.