Sorry, NOT Sorry: Four Things to Consider Before Telling a Woman to Stop Apologizing

 

In 2014, Pantene released a commercial cleverly titled "Don't Be Sorry, Shine Strong". The commercial featured several everyday occurrences where women felt the need to apologize in the workplace or at home (speaking up to interrupt a meeting with a sheepish question, handing the baby over to her husband, etc) and ended with the powerful message "Why are women always apologizing? Don't be sorry, shine strong". This is one of *many* assertions on the internet to suggest in recent years that women have been over-apologizing and should stop.

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I appreciate and agree with the idea that women shouldn't have to apologize simply for speaking their minds or entering a conversation, but as this idea grew, I began to become skeptical with just how much good it was doing. I'm not the only one- I defer to Cosmopoliton's hot take on this issue in 2016, in which editor Hannah Smothers cited the exact moment she started to "feel ill" about the overkill this campaign was becoming. Another article by Jessica Grose at the Washington Post in 2016 pointed out that this obsession people have with telling women to stop apologizing "is less about empowerment and more about shame". It's worth noting that women are being encouraged to assert themselves and show confidence, and that's a good thing, but when is it no longer encouragement, and why?  A variety of reasons come to mind.

 

 

  • Those who want us to speak up must be prepared to listen.

To clarify, the constant undermining of women absolutely IS a problem. There is a reason that many women began to excessively apologize in the first place, and that SHOULD be acknowledged. The problem that has failed to be addressed is that more often than not, the people telling women to speak up/stop apologizing are the ones talking over them anyway. If what you want is to hear the voices of women amplified and for us to not apologize for existing, stop interrupting our existence.

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  • Women don't need the added scrutiny.

It's not abnormal for women to be closely analyzed and judged by their appearance, whether that means their physical looks or the way they're presenting themselves. People who "judge a book by its cover" in this way are considered shallow for this, but is psychoanalyzing the way that they speak or choose to communicate any better than that? Jessica Grose said it best:  "Maybe if their communications weren’t constantly picked apart, even by well-meaning observers, they’d have more of the deeply felt confidence they need to succeed."

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  • We're pointing fingers in the wrong direction.

The next time a woman in the workplace says the word "sorry" in an email sent to her coworker and you roll your eyes at her sheepishness, think about what that says about the recipient of the email. WHY does she feel the need to cushion a request with what you consider to be excessive politeness? If it's more than just the good manners usually deemed necessary in the workplace, what does this say about the workplace in question? How did it get this way?

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  • There are bigger fish to fry.

As my last point, I'd like to issue a gentle but urgent reminder that there are far more drastic and dangerous instances of female oppression that we do not acknowledge nearly as often as we acknowledge the habit of over-apologizing. Simply put, if this appears to you to be the biggest problem, you are not paying attention. In short, let women assert themselves how they see fit, and instead of criticizing the way they choose to do it, assist them in working to solve problems to which the solutions will benefit us all much more in the long run. 

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