By Jessica Bovee
On my way to my afternoon class, I walked by a woman who gently grazed my arm. “I’m sorry,” she turned around to say, and with a smile we both continued walking forward. After this, I kept thinking to myself that I should have apologized just as she did, but it was already too late. While not a very pivotal moment in my day, it’s one of the many examples of the incessant apologies from women that has led to the gender debate.
Why are women apologizing so much? Well, there are multiple opinions as to why the woman appears to say sorry more than their male counterparts. Rachel Simmons, in Time Magazine, explained that “women know they have to be likable to get ahead. Apologizing is one way to make yourself more accessible and less threatening.” Being a college-age woman, I have always assumed apologies were necessary, it’s what we’re taught at a very young age. If we do something “wrong,” we make it right, or maybe we over-apologize.
In the workplace, women are more inclined to say sorry in order to appear like a good person. Not only this, but most people, women especially, do not want to come off as aggressive or impolite. To many the apology serves as a kind filler-word that offers respect to another person.
Some women use an apology as a cue, whether they feel apologetic or not, but it can be a woman’s way of looking for an apology by passively gesturing for respect. Through apologizing, women may hope to find empathy with another person, but this often does not run true with men. A man may not catch the cue of a woman apologizing for getting in his way, but instead, go on giving the exchange no further thought because they thought it an action unworthy of an apology.
For some women, an apology indicates a gap in confidence. Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, in The Atlantic, wrote a piece on how women don’t feel ready for promotions, think they’ll do worse on tests, and underestimate their abilities in comparison to men. There are speculations that this could be because of gender inequity, or because of the belief that women tend to be overly emotional and try to make themselves seem smaller.
Pantene released a commercial in 2014 showing women apologizing unnecessarily. The ad showed multiple situations, whether it was a man interrupting a woman, or a man taking a seat and “man-spreading” into a woman’s space. This commercial has received a lot of attention by bringing up a problem not regularly discussed. When our shampoo ads start making social statements, there must be something truly wrong.
Shampoo isn’t the only thing fueling the discussion. A 2015 sketch from Inside Amy Schumer showcases a panel of successful women apologizing repeatedly for everything, from small inconveniences all the way to dying on stage. This humorous piece speaks to the real problem women like me can relate to.
This is not to say that men are disrespectful or unapologetic and that all women are timid and simply making up for the lack of remorseful men. According to Live Science, men do not try to avoid admitting their wrongdoings, but rather they have a higher threshold for what warrants an apology. When the woman grazed my arm on my way to class, we both decided this action was worthy of an apology; however, this may not hold true for men.
Maybe the apology translates to “excuse me,” or maybe it’s a polite way of asking someone to reciprocate the regret. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t continue this behavior. Instead, when we’re late to lunch don’t say sorry, let’s thank them for waiting. When the waiter messes up our order, politely ask for what we initially asked for.
Refinery 29 conducted an experiment with 3 women in their company, having them count the amount of times they said sorry in one work day. The numbers ranged from 9 times all the way to one who said sorry 47 times in the 24 hour period.
It seems crazy to think of someone apologizing so much in one day. They can’t be committing so many wrongs requiring this kind of reparation. To see where I stood between 9 and 47, I decided to keep track of how many times I said sorry to someone in one day. I counted myself saying it around 8 times. All of them were not because I had done something wrong, but I used it a lot when I felt I was encroaching on someone’s space or when I was trying to get someone’s attention.
We should not perpetuate an image that makes us appear smaller or less worthy. We should try to be strong and confident in our abilities. Considering others’ feelings is essential, but we should apologize only when we are in the wrong and the situation requires the words, “I’m sorry.”