I plead guilty to the case of the sorrys. I’ve been guilty of it for quite some time now despite the honest conversations had with exes, friends, peers, my current boyfriend, and colleagues. Do I say sorry because I’m truly sorry, feel guilty for something, or am seeking forgiveness? Or am I apologizing because I feel like it’s what I have to do and am expected to do? I’m not saying that you shouldn’t apologize when you’ve done something that has inflicted pain on someone else or when you’ve made a mistake that unfortunately impacted others, but over-apologizing is problematic and I see it most in myself and the women in my life. Now, I won’t speak on behalf of all women (because, well – I can’t and that would be unfair) but I will speak to my experience with over-compensating in the apology department and in turn, I hope that sheds a little light on a much bigger issue facing women.
Yeah, you say sorry way too much. Honestly, it’s a little off-putting. This was recently said to me by someone I really care about, and my reaction was…apologetic. You’re right. I said. I just hate conflict, and it makes me upset when I see people angry, sad, or hurt and I feel like the only thing I can do is just apologize even when it’s not my fault. Sometimes I just feel obligated to take responsibility for problems, mistakes, or mishaps that I didn’t necessarily create. Sometimes my only reaction is just to apologize. I’m pretty sure after I attempted to defend myself and admit my fault, I apologized. Therefore, proving his point exactly. And it’s not just in friendships or intimate relationships that I apologize, it’s in the workplace, classroom, and back in college when I ran extra-curricular organizations. I think part of what I said in reaction to the “off-putting” comment was true, but I do think it’s deeper than that.
Since cognitive childhood, I’ve been told to believe by the media, engrained societal standards and expectations, some of my male peers, some male leaders, and people’s widely accepted beliefs, that I need to prove myself because of my gender, defend myself because of my gender, and fight to be seen as equal because of my gender. At a young age girls are told an abundance of things that they can’t do or shouldn’t do. At a young age, boys would get mad if I beat them in something or had a correct answer when theirs was wrong because I “was a girl and couldn’t beat a boy or be smarter than one – it wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right”. At a young age I was told to be a certain way and if I deviated from that (like when I started dressing like a tom-boy) I was in the wrong and should feel bad about it. I constantly just felt bad, worse, or inferior for being a girl.
Now at an older age, I am still told a list of things that I can’t do or shouldn’t do. It is 2015 and I was actually told by someone that I probably can’t change a tire and if I ever had trouble changing one I shouldn’t call myself a feminist because “obviously you would need to ask a man for help and that would make you less of a feminist”. In 2015, I am inundated with articles about how women shouldn’t have control over their medical decision to have an abortion, how women deserve to be paid less because “when they get pregnant and leave, the company invested in them for no reason”, how sexism doesn’t exist anymore and it’s just “whiny bitches who want to complain”, how when women are tropes in video games it’s not actually perpetuating ideas about violence against women and female objectification and it’s really just overly-sensitive women overreacting, and how sexual assault victims are just making things up for attention or because they “regret the bad sex they had”. WHAT. What is going on?! So, currently I live in a society where I am made to feel sorry about being the gender I am and that all of the problems surrounding my gender are our fault, and then we are debased and chastised for it?
Among many, one of the problems I see is that there are so many messages, viewpoints, and opinions sent to women regularly that are saturated and meant to inflict guilt. The vernacular surrounding abortion on the pro-life side often sickens me. There is so much victim-blaming and the language used against women to “guilt them out of an abortion” is nefarious and degrading. Once, in a conversation I had with someone who identified as pro-life, they said that even in the case of rape it is wrong for a woman to have an abortion because she is essentially punishing the baby for something he/she didn’t do. So in this scenario and in a lot of the messaging women are sent in the pro-life/pro-choie debate, the woman is seen as the punisher. What about the rapist? No talk of them of course. The woman is guilted by society and then left to feel badly about herself and the decision she has made. So, with all of this said, I’m still left with my apology dilemma. Sure, those widely shared articles and societally engrained viewpoints may not be targeted specifically against me but they are certainly internalized on a regular basis. Issues against women are deeply personal to me even if I haven’t exactly experienced some of the concerns, problems, and injustices discussed and experienced by others.
In the workplace, I feel inexperienced and even though my male roommates are my age and have the same experience as me at our school, their confidence in their job performance seems to come more naturally. I struggle everyday to feel like an adequate teacher and am constantly putting an inordinate amount of stress and pressure on myself. So maybe the issue at work is that I feel more pressure and therefore apologize incessantly when I feel like I’m not doing my best, making mistakes, and learning as a I go with a few flops along the way. The difference between my male roommates (and co-workers) and I is that I feel less and less confident every time I make a mistake or don’t teach at my best and my roommates either admit the mistake or don’t but either way, their confidence remains boosted. So why is this?
Although I feel a lot of this post has been about my experience with some general gender observations (based on my experience and what I’ve seen portrayed in the media, by businesses, and others), I can’t help but notice the gender gap in apologizing. I make a mistake at work and I repeatedly apologize. My male roommates make a mistake at work and maybe one sorry will be said. And it’s not that they’re bad people at all. But there is a significant difference in the obligation and compulsion I feel to say sorry – and not just once, that I think relates back to gender, inequality, and females being messaged that they are inadequate by society. I feel like apologizing profusely is what’s expected of me and I need to abandon that feeling…ASAP. But I honestly don’t even know where to start. All I know is that I’m tired of being or feeling sorry and I’m tired of observing this suggested subservience of women in society. It is 2015 people…women are no longer property or men nor should they hide, cover up, or be told to be less bold and powerful because of who they are.
I vow to say sorry less and I am making a promise to myself to not let society and others damper and unhinge my self-confidence and self-worth but the responsibility cannot just be on me. As a society we need to collectively stop making others feel bad because of their identity – this happens on macro and micro levels to all different types and groups of people and in various magnitudes. And although I can only speak to my experience as a white woman, I feel that there is great intersectionality in this issue and together, if you are someone who struggles with this too, we can try our best to be less apologetic.We shouldn’t have to apologize for our identity and personhood anymore. No one should feel inadequate for who they are.