I’m sure you have heard the findings before: women, on average, tend to apologize more than their male counterparts. One would not be surprised to find that this common understanding is actually correct. Women will say “sorry” more times in their lives than men.
In a 2010 research survey published by “Psychological Science,” women were found to apologize more than men due to differing interpretations of “what constitutes offensive behavior.”
In a world where women are defined by their ability to abide by social etiquette and what others deem as “correct,” the responsibility of women to uphold amicable relationships with others relies on their ability to be courteous. Once we reach maturity, we are forced to conform to a perceived conduct of right and wrong. Yet, in our attempts to appeal to such impossible standards, we deny ourselves a voice. In order to combat the tendency to over-apologize, we must first understand why the tendency is harmful.
Over-apologizing and the use of hedging, or apologetic language, demean what people have to say. Initiating our points with a “sorry” shrinks the power of the words that follow. By unnecessarily apologizing, we remove the strength from our words, placing our focus on empathy.
Think of the times in your day-to-day life where people have used apologies unnecessarily. Personally, I have observed patterns of women apologizing in a variety of situations. I’ve heard women say sorry for expressing emotions during sentimental conversations, for raising a hand in class to ask a question and for taking up space in a crowded elevator. I have even heard of women apologizing for saying “sorry” too much.
Many notable figures have noticed the issue as well. In an article published by “ABC,” Taylor Swift touches on “why women say sorry too much”. The renowned American singer-songwriter and activist has noticed how “female language is peppered with qualifiers,” such as “sorry,” “excuse me” and “I don’t know, but.” Swift observes the inconsistencies with which we view male and female behavior. Women are often “penalized for speaking out” while men are praised for being vocal.
This issue also has grounds in the arguments of many prominent feminists. In the TED Talk, “We should all be feminists,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an established Nigerian writer and feminist, claims that “we teach girls shame,” and by doing so, “girls grow up to be women who silence themselves.” Women are still taught to cater to the fragile egos of others. Due to the double standards between boys and girls throughout our upbringings, we “grow up to be women who cannot say what they truly think.” In the act of silencing ourselves, we “turn pretense into an art form.”
So, here is where I offer a challenge: stop apologizing—whether it is for a day, a week, a month or forever, stop attempting to diffuse situations by shrinking yourself for others. Be content with disagreement, and use it as a catalyst for a better change. Praise the directness of your friends, classmates and colleagues. Communicate with the confidence that over-apologizing does not allow. We must learn that this seemingly harmless habit will continue to affect the next generations of women. We need to stop reinforcing the notion of wrongdoing when no apology is deserved. We must stop giving the upper hand to the undeserving. Instead, we must use an apology as a tool to express sincere regret. Our focus on empathy drowns out the basis of compelling arguments. It is our job to reverse the notion that this phenomenon is acceptable.
Sorry, not sorry.