Overuse of apologies is silly: It diminishes the force of the apologies overall …
If you’ve seen Inside Amy Schumer Season 3, then you’ll probably remember a certain skit called “I’m Sorry.” The scene involves a panel of “top innovators in their respective fields,” all of them women. The presenter makes continuous errors while introducing the panelists, but instead of acknowledging the mistakes, it’s the experts themselves who are constantly apologizing:
“Sorry, uh, it’s not child refugees, it’s actually child soldiers. Sorry, I’m so annoying.”
Why is this scene so funny? Because despite being a parody of how even the most accomplished woman is still trapped in a state of feeling perpetually apologetic for pretty much everything, it’s painfully close to reality.
Why are women so sorry?
Women have a habit of apologizing for the most trivial of things. Pointing this out to them may just prompt another apology.
Boys are typically socialized from birth to see the world as their oyster … . Girls are typically raised to attune themselves first to the needs of others …
While, granted, it’s hard to track the amount of times that women apologize, research published in Psychological Science found that women did indeed apologize more than men,
“This is a reflection of gendered socialization so deeply ingrained in our culture that we often can’t see it,” she says. “Boys are typically socialized from birth to see the world as their oyster and have no reticence about claiming their power. Girls are typically raised to attune themselves first to the needs of others, to respond rather than assume their own agency, even though they are now simultaneously told they can become anything they want to be.”
Feldt noticed that this social programming is particularly problematic in the business world.
“When I was researching my bookFeldt (via International Women’s Forum), No Excuses, I found that prevailing studies attributed this to women’s lower ambition to lead in business and politics,” she says. “But the more I dug into the research, interviewed women across the country, and looked into my own heart and performance as a leader, the more I came to attribute the disparity not to lack of ambition but to women’s socialization that leads to less intention. Ambition is aspirational—having a goal, hope, or desire. Intention implies assuming you are empowered to achieve your ambition and that you take the responsibility to make it happen.”
For women to achieve those ambitions, it’s important to make conscious strides to overcome the need to apologize. Are you ready to adopt a “sorry, not sorry” attitude?
Stop apologizing, then, for these 10 things:
1. Getting Someone’s Attention
You wouldn’t answer the phone or greet someone in the street by apologizing to them. So why do so many women say “sorry” when they really mean to say, “excuse me”?
I catch myself almost every day starting sentences with ‘Sorry to bother you, but…’
This is especially common in work environments. Think about it: How many times do you apologize during your daily interactions with your coworkers?
Even Feldt has to remain mindful of not apologizing simply for being noticed or taking up attention.
“I catch myself almost every day starting sentences with ‘Sorry to bother you, but…’ and overusing the words ‘just’ or ‘a little bit’ to diminish the credibility of whatever I am saying,” she says. “I have started editing my emails as a practice to stop apologizing, unless of course there is a reason to apologize.”
She’s even had to edit the language she uses in Take The Lead’s corporate communications in order to use “simple declarative sentences that state what we believe or know in direct terms rather than deflecting to language couched in lack of certainty.”
Remember: there’s no need to apologize for getting someone’s attention. You have a right to initiate a conversation!
2. Getting Bumped Into
It sounds too bizarre to be true, but it happens. Just the other day, I apologized to a group of ducks for slipping on ice in front of them and startling them. I don’t think they appreciated my sentiment.
But seriously, if apologizing to someone else when they bump into you isn’t vocalizing a subconscious fear of taking up too much space, then what is?
Crying in front of someone else is an incredibly vulnerable act. And if you’re prone to Kim Kardashian cry face, then you might find yourself apologizing for subjecting the other person to a potentially uncomfortable, raw display of emotion. But as awkward as it might feel, there’s no need to apologize for anything.
Women are often stereotyped as being emotional and thus irrational. Not only is this belief massively untrue, but it further emphasizes the outdated belief that emotion is a sign of femininity and weakness.
Every human is entitled to express themselves, regardless of gender. Continuing to attach shame to displays of emotion just perpetuates those same toxic attitudes. Let people feel their feelings!
4. Being Sexually Harassed
Thanks to that fight-or-flight instinct, you never know how you’re going to react when you’re harassed. It’s horrible to freeze up. It’s even more infuriating to hear yourself suddenly apologize.
Why would a woman apologize for being harassed? This is a symptom of a culture that tells women to take responsibility for everything—even the actions of others.
Lindsey Weedston created Not Sorry Feminism as an antidote to women’s need to over apologize, something she noticed in nearly every woman she knew. She says that “our patriarchal culture teaches women to blame themselves for abuse and assault.”
She says her habit of constantly saying sorry is a result of guilt issues that are “magnified by a culture that blames women and girls for everything bad that happens to them,” otherwise known as victim blaming.
When women react to harassment by apologizing to their attacker, they’re vocalizing that the blame lies not with their attacker, but with them.
5. Not Understanding Something
Did you ever have a teacher tell you that “there are no stupid questions?” That’s just as true now as it was when you were still in school.
Not everyone learns in the same way. Maybe you need to perform a task first to really understand how it works, or maybe you need to see something written down to remember it.
Remember that apologizing for lacking knowledge you were never taught is like apologizing for not seeing the landmark in a city you’ve never traveled to. It’s not your fault, and there’s no need to be sorry about it.
6. Setting Boundaries
Setting boundaries is an area where being firm takes priority over being polite. While people should always be respectful of what you are and aren’t okay with, it’s totally not your responsibility to make sure they respect you.
If they do cross the line, don’t ever think you owe them an apologetic explanation. There’s really no need to use the word “sorry” when you tell your mother-in-law that you weren’t cool with her filling your baby’s bottle with soda instead of formula.
7. Turning Someone Down
Do you apologize when you won’t give someone your number or go on a date with them? As much as you might be afraid to hurt someone’s feelings, you aren’t under obligation to date or spend time with anyone you don’t want to.
Of course, you can still let someone down politely. A simple, “no, but thanks” is always better than, “no, I’m sorry.” If they can’t handle rejection, then that’s on them.
8. Declining an Invitation
We all know the guilt of “flaking” on a friend’s social engagement. But you don’t have to be an introvert to know that it’s a bit draining to attend every single event on your calendar. Just think about it: would you really be the best company if you spent the entire time waiting for an appropriate time to leave?
It’s okay to say no and stay in for the night. You don’t owe everyone your presence at their art show or gig. Well, maybe you shouldn’t bail on your mother’s birthday, but you get the gist.
9. Being “Basic”
Do you love pumpkin spice lattes? Is fall your favorite season? Do you think pugs are just the cutest? These might seem like pretty generic interests, but there’s a reason they’re so popular.
Pumpkin spice is delicious. Fall is beautiful. Pugs are amazing. So why are people who admit to liking these things shamed for being so, well, basic?
Apologies can often reflect embarrassment or shame. But don’t let the haters dictate your interests. Hold that pumpkin spice latte high with pride!
10. Not Being Able to “Fix” a Situation
For a long time, women have been viewed as caregivers whose main task is to keep things running smoothly. Of course, gender roles are (thankfully) a lot more diverse nowadays, and women are less likely to be limited by this outdated cliché. Sadly, they kind of still are—which means women are still feeling like they’re responsible for smoothing over anything that goes wrong.
Madeleine Burry documented her own week-long experiment to stop saying sorry. Not only did it help her become more aware of her apology habit, but it helped her realize that she often feels responsible for situations that really shouldn’t be her problem.
“Ultimately, I think I apologize a lot because I’m an accommodating person and eager to smooth over situations,” she says. “Mostly, I choose to think of that as a positive side of my personality. So I don’t apologize for being an over-apologizer, is what I’m saying. But obviously, there are times when apologizing undercuts me. So I do try to be very aware of when I apologize … ”
There’s ways to smooth over situations without taking on all the responsibility,” she adds, “which is what apologizing does in some sense.”
The next time you feel the need to apologize when something’s gone wrong, ask yourself: Am I responsible for what went wrong in the first place?
How to Say Sayonara to Sorry
Are you feeling ready to take a break from “sorry”? Great! But…what’s the alternative? What can be done to address this habit?
“It’s been pointed out to me that the goal shouldn’t be to never be sorry,” says Weedston. “Another aspect of our patriarchal culture is that women are expected to solve all the problems that men created that harm us. Should women apologize less, or should men apologize more? Men are taught that nothing they do is their fault, and it’s easy to find men that are extremely reluctant to apologize for anything, ever.”
It’s hard to say if men should start apologizing more to balance the scale, but it’s definitely a good idea for women to reassess just how much they say “sorry” every day. So what about completely eliminating “sorry” from your vocabulary altogether?
Burry thinks this method is a tad over the top.
“Sounds like a super-rude society to me!” she says. “Overuse of apologies is silly: It diminishes the force of the apologies overall … . … We’re in a moment, culturally, … of men apologizing to women for actions from the past, and I think that has a value, even if it’s not a solution to the problem.”
Weedston agrees that there’s definitely a time and a place for a genuine apology.
“There have also been times where I have said things that harmed people I have privilege over, and it was very important that I be sorry for that,” she says. “I still think that women need to work on not apologizing for speaking up.”
If you want to revolutionize the way you communicate and move away from your “sorry” addiction, think about how you can replace the word with something more appropriate.
Artist Yao Xiao has a suggestion: instead of “sorry,” say “thank you.” Like, “thank you for being patient” instead of, “sorry I’m always late.” By doing this, you remove yourself from this subconscious guilt complex and shift the focus to how appreciative you are of the other person’s efforts. Not to mention you’re kind of complementing them at the same time.
As one of Xiao’s comics says: “Don’t apologize for simply existing. Because it is not wrong.”