Women, Beware of the Unnecessary Apology

Picture this… Someone bumps into you on the sidewalk and you utter, “Sorry,” in response. At work, you go to ask your boss a question and as you walk into their office, you say, “Sorry to bother you.” Traffic makes you a couple of minutes late to dinner with your friends and when you greet them, you say, “Sorry I’m late.”

For women, these scenarios are an everyday occurrence. But every time I say sorry when I’m not at fault I feel as though I’ve belittled myself. Our patriarchal society trains women to always be polite and submissive, reinforcing the traditional idea that women are not equal to men.

According to a study in the Psychological Science journal, women apologize more frequently than men do. The researchers also found that women report more offenses than men, suggesting women perceive more of their actions to be offensive than men do.

“Women often feel the need to be deferential and that’s part of the gendering process – it’s part of how we’ve learned to be women growing up,” said Sarah Miller, a sociology professor at Boston University. A major way that women are deferential is apologizing, Miller said.

Too often in our everyday lives, we, as women, say “sorry” in situations where we should not be apologizing for anything. So, to lead more confident lives and promote gender equality, women need to limit their use of the unnecessary apology.


Credit: Anna Borges / Buzzfeed

Apologizing when it is not needed is a display of lack of power. Women are always apologizing for their actions as a courtesy – to maintain their gentle, feminine nature – while men commonly do not in the same scenarios. As women, we need to stop apologizing for our own space in the world.

Eliminating the unnecessary apology is especially crucial today with the ever-growing #MeToo movement, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, and the mobilization to elect more women into public office.

Miller, who has worked with many sexual assault survivors, said that survivors tend to blame themselves and feel “sorry for dressing a certain way, acting a certain way, drinking, not drinking, basically anything.”

In regards to the #MeToo movement and Ford’s testimony against Kavanaugh, Miller said, “These are huge strides ahead.” Women are finally standing up, exposing others’ wrongdoings, and seeking more political power.

By saying “sorry” less, we present ourselves as confident and strong women and appear less submissive and weak in everyday society – in the home, at work, in social settings, and so on.

One day at work this previous summer, I went to ask one of the secretaries a simple question but my mind blanked for a couple of seconds when I went up to her. I said, “Sorry,” because I felt like I was wasting her time. I instantly regretted it because I had done nothing wrong.

Credit: Heather Bradley

Apologizing less has psychological benefits as well. Research by Tyler Okimoto, a professor at the University of Queensland, suggests that people who refuse to apologize maintain a greater sense of self-esteem and control in their lives.

I understand that “sorry” is a common word to use in everyday dialogue. Some may say the word is used to demonstrate politeness and in our current society, we all should be trying to be more courteous, not less.

Women should certainly not eliminate the use of “sorry” altogether – there is a distinction between when it is and when it is not appropriate to use it.

Miller said that you should definitely apologize if you have harmed someone or offended someone. Also, the use of “sorry” as an expression of empathy, such as when a person says, “Sorry for your loss,” or “I’m sorry that happened to you,” is acceptable. There is a difference between saying “sorry” to show concern and apologizing to admit fault.

“You don’t need to apologize for existing. [You don’t need to] apologize if you want to speak your mind,” said Miller.

There are other ways to be polite rather than using the word “sorry,” such as saying, “excuse me,” instead. Because women tend to use the word unnecessarily and more than men do, we need to be more attentive to when and why we apologize.

Credit: @FreeformTV on Twitter

If you are a woman, try to count how many times you use the word in one day and take note of situations in which you apologized and to whom you apologized. Although I always attempt to monitor and limit how many times I say it every day, I still find myself apologizing in situations where it’s not my fault – merely out of habit.

Depending on the situation, there may not be a direct substitute for “sorry.” According to Miller, trying to apologize less is a process of “retraining our brains to think through why it is we feel the need to apologize.”

In fact, software company Cyrus Innovation invented a Gmail plug-in called Just Not Sorry, which highlights words and phrases, such as “just” and “sorry,” that undermine your message. Consider using Just Not Sorry to improve your self-presentation in work and personal emails.

Women shouldn’t have to feel like they need to apologize in order to be accepted by society. So, the next time someone bumps into you on the sidewalk, say, “Excuse me.” Don’t preface your question for your boss with an apology. And tell your friends, “Thank you for waiting,” when you arrive a couple of minutes late to dinner.


Give an apology when you’re actually at fault, but otherwise, stand confidently and refuse to let that five-letter word slip out in a moment of weakness.


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