I often talk about being yourself unapologetically. And this is why.
We, women, have our finger on the trigger when it comes to saying sorry.
One reason for this is that our threshold for what we perceive as offensive behaviour is lower than in men.
We’re also typically more aware of other people’s feelings – we’re more empathetic – and we naturally strive to maintain and restore harmony.
Being aware of how others feel is a tool for doing just that.
Our brains are also hardwired to care about others.
And women often measure their success by how many other people they’ve thought of when doing something – thinking of what others need and how you can provide for them gives you a hit of oxytocin, the happiness hormone.
So, we lie awake until 3 a.m. thinking about someone else’s problems. Obsessively plan out how things are gonna be done. And we say sorry a lot.
If you google this issue, most of the advice you’ll find is problematic.
When I googled it, this is what I found:
- “Women may want to consider how often they apologize.”
- “Over-apologizing can undermine your authority and negatively impact your career.”
- “Constantly saying sorry may reinforce the notion that you’ve done something wrong.”
Not that any of this is wrong. Constantly saying sorry for things does undermine your credibility as a person capable of handling even the most basic things in life.
But the issue here is that most of the advice is for women to change something about their behaviour.
Not for us to change as a society.
Yet again, women alone are told to shoulder the responsibility for creating change.
(Although I did find a few instances where men were encouraged to consider how their behaviour affects those around them, and if there are times when they may have caused hurt – albeit unintentionally – and an apology may be warranted. But tiptoeing around this issue isn’t moving forward.)
And getting women to replace the word ‘sorry’ with other words isn’t the answer either.
Take this advice I found for getting around using ‘sorry’:
- Could you please send me that report?
- Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it that day.
- Excuse me, could you repeat that?
Again, this isn’t inherently bad advice – cultivating a broad vocabulary that allows you to specifically and truly express what you want to get across is a skill we should all cultivate.
But cutting out ‘sorry’ (and its replacements) entirely is even more effective: “Could you send me that report?”, “I won’t be able to make it that day,” and “Could you repeat that?” – and still polite.
But again, by directing all this at women only isn’t the answer.
Because women already have a long history of being seen and not heard.
The patriarchy tells us that our primary value is in how beautiful we are – consider that all the social media filters are for making women have smoother skin, fuller hair, more defined lips, fuller bosoms and generally look “more attractive”.
Where are the corresponding filters that make a man’s jawline more chiselled? Give him broad shoulders and abs?
We have a history of being sold and traded to fortify alliances and solidify economic power.
Our participation in society has been mandated by men, as has our power over our own bodies and reproductive rights. And this is a sea-change that has to be fought on all levels, at every turn.
And, as is the case for most change, the first step is education and awareness.
So, begin by educating yourself.
And then start having those conversations with the people around you. That is, in fact, more important than going up on the barricades – those meaningful conversations in the everyday that show us how we can create an impact with little steps.
And how making those changes benefit people we personally know.
Then teach the next generation to be even more aware, more educated than we ever were.
Because no one should ever have to be apologetic about who they truly are.
Or apologise because they were born that way, baby.