I say the phrase “I’m sorry” more than any other combination of two words in the English language. One of the main reasons for this is my gender, I’m a woman. I know that statement sounds absolutely stereotypical, and it is, but, it is also true. Studies have been done for years that point to the fact that generally, women over apologize. It is referenced in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, and Necessary Dreams by Anna Fels just to name a few. Of course I am not saying that every woman has this tendency, but it is very prevalent. I definitely am guilty of this.
One of the main tasks that I handle with my job is emailing sponsors and vendors to ask for things that our organization needs from them. I almost always apologize in my emails. “I’m sorry to bug you”, “I’m sorry for the consistent emails” etc. Even though I am asking for things that benefit them or for things that they agreed to give me. I’m asking for people to do their job and I am apologizing for asking such a thing.
It doesn’t stop at work either. My boyfriend texts me and says “I’m tired” and I reply “I’m sorry”. What am I sorry for? (Insert awkward sexual reference here, then, get your mind out of the gutter). It isn’t my fault he is tired. My mom tells me her back is hurting her, and I say “I’m sorry.” I have nothing to do with her back pain. My friend texts me about her jerk of a boss and I of course say, “I’m sorry.” The response has become automatic. If you say something to me, no matter what it is or who you are there is a 50% chance that the response will be either “I’m sorry” or “Thank you.”
Why do we over apologize? Because that is what society has taught us to do. To be a good ‘woman’ you must always be overly gracious. You need to always think of the other person first. Yes, I’m asking you to do your job but there are other aspects to your job that you may be finding more important at the current moment and I may be bugging you. Of course it isn’t my fault that you are tired but I am so sorry to hear that you don’t feel like you got enough sleep. I have nothing to do with your back pain but I feel sorry that you must endure pain while I don’t have to endure it. I feel horrible that your boss treats you badly.
As women we are taught that it is extremely important to be liked. Men are taught to be ambitious, aggressive and to look out for themselves, who cares if people like you? Women are taught that to be successful, everyone has to like you. For men to like you, you must be overly sensitive to their needs. Your job is to listen, to empathize, to apologize. Someone should be sorry, so make sure that it’s you. Anytime that we feel like we are asking something of others we feel that we don’t have a right to do that so we apologize, even when it doesn’t make sense.
I called in sick to work last week. I texted my boss, and when I wrote the message I apologized. I said “I’m sorry, I’m not feeling well and I won’t be coming into work today.” Luckily I stopped and realized that I had no reason to apologize. I’m sorry that I’m sick? Why am I sorry? What did I do, ask to get sick? I have sick days and I have a right to use them I don’t need to apologize for that.
Now I am not ‘man-bashing’ here. Boys are taught differently from birth whether their parents realize it or not. They are encouraged to shout out answers in class, be firm and outspoken with opinions. Girls are not. Girls are taught to raise their hand politely, to let others speak first, and to not be outspoken but to be soft spoken. No wonder we apologize all the time. My boyfriend doesn’t apologize all the time, neither does my dad or my male boss. But it just comes so naturally to me. Half the time I get asked what I am apologizing for and I don’t have an answer.
My challenge to myself is to stop apologizing unnecessarily. If I do something wrong, of course I will apologize but I need to stop apologizing for asking others to do their jobs, for my family and friends aches and pains, and for standing up for myself. I challenge to you girls to first take a count of how many times you apologize a day, and pay attention to what you are apologizing for, and then stop apologizing when you don’t need to. I know this will take a lot of effort from me; it is a tough habit to break. But it is an important habit to break because I need to value myself enough to not apologize when I don’t need to.
I read an amazing quote from Amy Poehler today that fits perfectly.
“It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for.”-Amy Poehler
I’m not sorry.