Yesterday, I dropped my car keys as I was standing next to another woman in the elevator. My response? “I’m sorry!” Last week, I was checking out at the grocery store and had a question for the cashier about my purchase. I immediately prefaced the conversation with an apology. Two months ago, I bumped into my car while looking at my phone. I immediately burst into an “oh, sorry!” and proceeded on my way, not giving a second thought to the fact that I just apologized to an inanimate object.
These little snippets of my life are not unique. So many women I know apologize for being bumped into, for asking a question, or for merely existing in the presence of someone else.
Women, this needs to stop.
We were born into a society that views an assertive woman as “obtrusive,” “overbearing,” or “unwelcoming.” Language modifiers (such as an apology) are used as a mask for our words in order to seem more inviting and less offensive when making a statement or asking a question. This is an indirect side effect of the patriarchal society we live in, but that does not serve as an excuse to justify why women have subconsciously defaulted to apologizing when unnecessary.
Women have been inbred to be complacent, and from this complacency stems the feeling of needing to be “polite” in social situations. More often than not, this translates into using “I’m sorry” as a way to become inferior or invisible when the woman is intending to “be nice.” Hopefully at this point, you can see how this is a major problem. Despite the pure silliness of these ridiculous apologies, it’s something I catch myself doing every single day.
Not everyone sees it my way. A female author of a Washington Post article wrote about this very issue from a different lens. She discusses how we need to stop examining the language we use to communicate so critically and focus on “the bigger issue” at hand. She writes:
“Because we’re already fighting against so many cultural assumptions, in many instances, women have discovered that they are more respected and successful when they conform to those gendered expectations.”
It was right up until this point in the article that I was following her argument. This quote is when I lost her. No matter which side you may take on this issue, conforming is never the answer. Conforming helps to create the vicious cycle of oppression seen by women living with the inability to rightfully and comfortably have a voice. This idea of “conforming” just to get by in the world is the root of the problem and why we fail to progress.
I’m not saying this is at the fault of all men and I’m not saying women should never apologize. If you did or said something wrong, obviously take responsibility for your actions and own up to whatever you did. What I am saying is that women need to stop apologizing for other people’s mistakes and for things that aren’t anyone’s fault. Nobody has time for that. Next time you feel the urge to apologize, take a second and think, “did I really do anything wrong here?” Chances are, you’ll be apologizing to a parked car.