Dear Women, Stop Apologizing
by Meredith McKinnie
I was in a meeting of powerful women the other day, and I mean career powerful, educated in their respective fields for decades and clawed their way to the top women. Our meeting was about celebrating women and educating the next generation about success and leading by example. It was an honor to even be invited to the table. And because I was a newcomer to the group and anxious to hear these women and savor what they had to say, I sat back and didn’t lead the conversation as I often times do. It was relaxing in a way. The pressure was off, and I became a sponge. But in observations, I noticed a pattern, something I might have missed had I not been paying such close attention, and it disturbed me.
They say we are most bothered by behavior in others when guilty of it ourselves. What I noticed during the discussion was that every response from someone that contradicted the opinion of another began with “I’m sorry, but…” I wasn’t saying it that day, but I frequently do when I disagree with someone, even civilly, almost as if I’m ashamed of my opinion when I know I’m not. I’m often proud of my opinion; some would say too proud. So why do we, as women, do this so much? I see it all that time. I see it in my classroom. I see it with my girlfriends. I even hear it out of my own mouth in my daily chats with my best friend, someone I know won’t judge me. It surprised me that day because of the caliber of women I saw apologizing over and over. They shouldn’t have to, and I’m not even sure they realized they were.
I don’t see men apologizing all the time when expressing themselves. They say what they think, and they’re praised for directness, and sometimes their simplicity, and often their “logic.” I don’t believe men are anymore logical than women. But there is definitely something to the confidence in which they speak their truths. We could say it’s the “patriarchal society,” (while some roll their eyes), and it could be. We could say it’s because men are raised to be leaders, and it could be. We could also say it’s the old adage of men speaking from logic while women speak from the heart. And that could be right too, though patronizing.
While the source is debatable, the result is the same. When people apologize before speaking, I inherently doubt their belief in their statement, like they don’t trust themselves. Or they don’t trust how it will be received. It could be habit or a way of treading the waters, or perhaps a lack of confidence of being at some table or discussion. Either way, the “I’m sorrys” are a distraction, unnecessary words that lessen the force of our other words, getting in the way of us being heard. And that’s what we all want, to be heard, to be acknowledged, to matter. Women and minorities alike have fought for it for generations and still do every day.
Little girls are taught to be polite, while boys are taught to be strong. I love that meme that pops up on Pinterest: “Well-behaved women rarely make history,” It praises the rebels, and it’s so true. But that’s what we’re taught, to be well-behaved, to be polite, to consider the feelings of others. And while that’s all well and good, we should make an effort to use our voice once we find it. Don’t cloud the room with apologies we don’t mean to try to get sympathy we don’t need. We’re educated in a country where we have opportunities not afforded to others. We’re lucky. But we’re not done.
I heard on some talk show the other day that we should be raising our little boys like we raise our little girls, and raising our little girls like we raise our little boys. Some may scoff at the idea and the implication, but what if we taught our boys to be polite and our girls to be strong? What if our little girls didn’t hear us apologize every time we asserted an opinion? What if, by example, they learned to trust their gut, to speak firmly, to embrace their place at the table? What if they never felt they didn’t belong in the conversation?
Apologies shouldn’t be the default. We should only say “I’m sorry” when we mean it; otherwise we cheapen the sentiment. And the little girls who imitate our every move and word, may they one day sit at the big table and never feel the need to apologize.