Rosie wasn’t sorry, and we shouldn’t be either.
Nearly every day I find myself apologizing for things over which I have no control. It’s more than just saying sorry when my roommate is having a bad day as a way to show her that I feel her pain. More often than not it’s to ensure that whoever I’m talking to doesn’t get angry with me. If someone comes into my workplace and asks to see my boss and she isn’t there, I unfailingly apologize to them, and so do most of my female coworkers.
Why? We’re not the reason that she has stepped out of her office. We didn’t tell that person she would be here at this time. We had nothing to do with the inconvenience they experience, other than relaying the message that they will have to come back another time.
Obviously this is just one example, but I’m sure most women have apologized without really thinking before. So why do we keep apologizing for these things?
Maybe it’s because we sometimes feel badly that we can’t fix everything. At heart, I’m a total peacemaker who just wants everyone to be happy, even if that means making myself feel worse. So sometimes I catch myself apologizing because I failed to make life incredibly easy for everyone around me. I apologize because I cannot do everything for everyone every day.
In the April issue of Cosmo, writer Amber Madison published an article on why women can’t take compliments. She claims that it is part of a behavior we learn in middle school, a way to keep ourselves from standing out from the rest of the pack. Accepting a compliment, in our minds, means you think you deserve it. She points to the scene in Mean Girls when Regina George tells Cady Heron that she thinks she’s pretty— we all remember it clearly.
I think that we apologize constantly for the same reason. We want to avoid unwanted negative attention, so we develop the apology reflex. Not apologizing, according to this notion, means that we do not care that this person has been inconvenienced. That, however, is not what sorry means. “Sorry” means that we are at fault, that we are to blame for whatever has occurred. But in most cases, we have nothing to be sorry for.
There are obviously some situations in which we should be sorry— I’m not claiming that women never make mistakes. I know I make them with alarming frequency. And sometimes saying “sorry,” even when it’s not our fault, is necessary. But most of the time it isn’t.
Instead of repeatedly, reflexively apologizing for these things, we should see if there is any way we could help resolve the situation. And even if we can’t, we still don’t have to apologize. If you do all that you possibly can to help someone and you’re not able to, it’s not your fault. It simply means that you’re human, and that you can’t do everything for everyone all the time.
As women, we need to stand up for ourselves. We need to save “sorry” for times when it is called for, for times when we are truly at fault. Otherwise it loses its meaning entirely and becomes an utter waste of breath.
March is Women’s History Month, and while we must respect the women who paved the way for us, who allowed us to get to where we are today, we do not have to continue to live the way that they did. Instead, we should make them proud by reaching new heights. That starts from within. That starts with knowing the difference between being sorry and needing to be sorry.