“Sorry, but I just wanted to say…” “Sorry, I just need to ask you something…” “I’m so sorry, I’ve just been rambling so much…” I am tired of saying sorry. As ladies, it is ingrained in our very being. Apologies are like our daily currency- one must be provided for every step just to make sure we don’t step on any toes. We apologize for talking too much, talking too little, for stating our opinion, for not pitching in, when we feel like someone else is sad, if we’ve been too emotional ourselves— “Sorry, I just really need to cry”— and the other day I even apologized for someone bumping into me. Apologies are the only constant in my day. They’re like fillers throughout our speech, bedazzling our thoughts and our feelings, because god forbid that we come off too intense, too passionate, or just too much.
There seem to be several implications for why we tend to do this. Hint: a lot of them have a whole lot to do with internalized sexism.
A common thought is that women tend to talk too much— as our entire sex, we are seen as the loud and the gossipy ones. This is where the loud sorority girl stereotype comes from, or the whiny Valley Girl imitation. We may feel a need to apologize for our speech because we don’t want to be seen as one of these stereotypes. Sometimes I’d rather apologize than have everyone think that I’m stupid. But interestingly enough, women actually don’t talk that much more. Australian feminist Dr. Dale Spender conducted a similar study where she evaluated how much boys and girls talked in a classroom, and the men talked on average more than the women, but tended to assume that the ladies talked the most. This happened even when girls only talked for 15 percent of the time. (For more information click here.)
It also may have to do with the fact that as ladies, we are conditioned to be the meeker sex. How often have you been told “That’s not ladylike,” “wow, girls don’t usually talk like that,” or even “I don’t like it when women ______,” and blah blah blah. I’m going to guess a ton. Ladylike was like your free pass to know that you were a grown up, to know that you were doing a good job in representing your sex. We’re taught from the time that we are young that we need to be accommodating and gentle. According to researcher Diane Reay, girls popularity at a young age tends to be determined by whether they are “nice girls,” which in turn tends to note a girl who has “”…an absence of toughness and attitude.” (For more information click here.)
Women are often seen as lesser, or less feminine, if they engage in typical male activities such as being aggressive in sports, being loud, or engaging in more vulgar or socially unacceptable behavior. We don’t want our “lady card” to be taken away by being too inappropriate, and so we say “Oh my god, sorry, that was sooo bad.” We’ve been taught since we were little that we can’t be too manly, and if we act out we’ll be ridiculed or not taken seriously. This is probably part of why we salt and pepper our speech with apologies, because we are afraid of rejecting these societal norms that keep up in our proper “place.”
So why should you stop saying sorry?
Because you don’t deserve this. You don’t deserve being forced to hide your behavior, just because you’re afraid of being perceived as being too aggressive. Your personality is a gem, and there’s no one like you. You shouldn’t change it, or feel bad about it. You’re just you.
And in turn, you can’t account for the feelings of everyone. I’m constantly apologizing for things I can’t even control. “I’m so sorry if I’m making you feel super awkward.” “I’m sorry that the rain kept us from going out.” “I’m sorry, I’m confused.” You can’t control how everyone feels, and you can’t control how people react to you. Obviously you shouldn’t act overtly cruel or unkind, but other than that, it’s not your responsibility to control how others perceive you. Some people will always feel awkward no matter what you do (I am one of these people). Some people will always be offended, because they’re looking for a reason to be. Other than acting as a your best self, you can’t much account for how random bystanders will take you. So you be you. And don’t apologize for it.
You deserve to speak as loud as you want. You deserve to ask a question in class when you don’t get it, and you don’t have to sweetly raise your hand and peek behind the tall guy in front of you. You can plunge your hand in the air and say “I don’t get it.” And you don’t have to feel bad for any of that.
You’re the lady, so you should get to decide what “ladylike” means to you, whether it’s wearing pink and high heels or sitting with your legs open in class. It’s your life, and your choices, and you shouldn’t have to apologize for them. We get to choose the kind of world we live in by our choices. I personally am going to choose a world where none of my ladies have to apologize for who they are.