Many purportedly feminist articles, memes, and other “self-help” that tells people what to do have been urging women to “Apologize Less!” or “Stop Saying Sorry”. The advice comes from the idea that women should not apologize for things that are not their fault and should be more like men and take up space without worrying about what other people think.
Women Don’t Need to Act More Like Men
It is almost never helpful for people to try to make a marginalized group act more like the dominant group. Women are not the problem. Women apologizing are not the problem. The problem is that women are not given adequate space to just be.
From not being able to walk down the street without being harassed to being talked over in meetings (if we are even in the room in the first place), it is not our fault that we need to use the verbal crowbar of “I’m sorry” to get a word in edgewise. Women also tend to be more polite in general, saying “please” and “thank you” more often. That is just one of the million reasons that it generally feels better and more welcoming to be among women and gender nonconforming folks than it does to be around groups of men.
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Language evolves and the meaning of words changes over time. “Literally” can also now mean “figuratively,” which used to be its opposite. Language works in a lot of cool ways and it becomes what we want it to become.
So, “I’m sorry” doesn’t always mean “I apologize.”
It can mean many things.
- When approaching someone, it can mean “excuse me,” as in, “I’m sorry, do you know what time it is?”
- Or it can even mean, “I acknowledge that you are a person with needs,” like when you are waiting for the bathroom and the person who comes out says it.
- Or, “I am going to assert myself but I do not mean any aggression or rudeness,” such as, “I’m sorry, I think I was in line in front of you.”
- And it can mean, “It’s totally okay that you accidentally bumped into me.”
Or really lots of other things. “I’m sorry” is one way that we tell each other that we see each other and don’t want someone else to feel bad.
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Kindness Still Matters
I understand that the underlying issue isn’t necessarily the words that people (women) use, but that women should not feel bad for taking up space and asking for what we need. While I guess that is true, if anything in society, shouldn’t we be more focused on being gentler to our friends and comrades? Adding extra grease to those wheels of civility when we are trying to build relationships, rather than trying to get rid of all of it?
Women and femmes are actually geniuses who have found ways to exist in these brutal, capitalistic places and build relationships and make them nice by doing things like apologizing a lot.
I’m sorry, but that’s the kind of world that I want to work towards.
[Feature Image: photo of a woman in a workplace setting seated next to a man. Both have their backs to the camera. The woman is holding up her hands in an exasperated expression. She appears to be in the middle of speaking. The woman has light skin and red hair and is wearing a white top. The man has light skin, short brown hair, and is wearing a blue shirt. In front of the woman and man is a white table.]