I was reading over a blog submitted by one of the IDEX fellows the other day. It is one of my smaller responsibilities to look over fellow blogs and re-format them for our website. It comes off as kind of a menial task, but I actually really enjoy it. Not only do I get to offer some feedback, but it’s a way for me to get to know the fellows in a way that is impossible through casual conversation. They are sharing something very personal- their thoughts, their “take” on a situation, an insight to their world. And honestly, sometimes they’re just really funny. (See “Life Lessons from a Bad Haircut” by fellow Joseph Awhinawhi)
As I was reading this particular fellows blog, I found myself really engrossed in her writing. She was discussing a new law passed in a northern Indian village where it would be illegal for women to have cell phones. This topic is of course fascinating to me- a white, middle class, liberal, feminist from the states. Clearly, just the title alone had me grumbling under my breath. Regardless of how I felt about the actual topic, I was more involved with how she was delivering her opinion. Her passion was practically jumping off the page- she was in disbelief, disgust and a whole range of emotions that had an almost tangible quality to them. At the end of her piece, I was this close to screaming “YES, GIRL, YES!!” I wanted to do a fist bump to a stranger. I wanted to hug a group of women and chant, “Yes, we can!!” But I didn’t... because as I neared the end of the page, I saw the last line, which read: “Sorry for ranting”.
You know the scene in war movies where a bomb goes off and it’s silent all around save for a piercing ringing type noise? This is always the sensation I get after an intelligent woman expresses her opinion, but quickly tops it off with an apology. Why do we feel that rounding out a strong opinion with an “I’m sorry” is necessary?
Before it looks like I’m grandstanding, let me just be the first to stand up and say that I, Quinn Fegan, am an apologizer. I apologize to men, I apologize to women, I even apologize to my pets. Sometimes my suggestions have apologetic nuances to them. For example, if I’m throwing out an idea to my work team, I’ll often say “well, we could do it the xyz way, but, you know, I could be wrong”. But as an admitted apologizer, I want to figure out how this behavior is inherently in so many women and subsequently, how do we curb it?
The first thing to understand is the science behind it all- women do in fact apologize more than men. In the September issue of Psychological Science, researchers analyzed the number of self-reported offences and apologies made by 66 subjects over a 12-day period. The findings did show that women do apologize more than men, but women were also found to report more offences than men. Basically, the study outlined how our respective genders view offenses quite differently and that (brace yourselves for this next part) women find themselves to be more frequently “in the wrong” than their male counterparts.
Honestly, I wasn’t gobsmacked by these findings. I can say firsthand that I feel I’m constantly committing faux pas that are worthy of quick apologies- did I cut that person off during a conference call? Sorry. Did I not move out of a fellow shoppers way quick enough in the grocery aisle? Sorry. I started going through the checklist of these seriously minor offenses and I had to start questioning why I felt these were apology worthy exchanges, when perhaps a man wouldn’t. So, I started trolling the internet- the place where everyone goes to pass off other people’s research as their own- to understand how women perhaps perceive situations differently than men. After reading a few articles and a Buzzfeed listicle titled “33 Hilarious Reasons People Actually Cried On Their Period”, (on an aside, I think it’s hilarious that Buzzfeed diplomatically chose the word “people” instead of “women”) I’m realizing that there’s a few contributing factors to being a serial apologizing female. Firstly, our place in society at times does not warrant us to have strong opinions for fear of judgement, job risk or the ever-loathsome dismissal statement that “it’s that time of the month again”. At times, it is easier to dilute an opinion or suggestion to avoid a confrontation with someone who is feeling challenged- specifically in a professional setting. On top of that, it’s often more effective to get ahead of the haters by saying “Apologies for ranting” or “sorry, but I’m really passionate about this”. If we’ve already called ourselves out, it’s harder for people to throw out the old “she’s on her period” adage. Secondly, women tend to handle their emotions differently- and being more in tune with how others are feeling is both a blessing and a curse. We are more inclined to apologize to someone when we sense an energy is “off” or there is a feeling of tension. Ultimately, if you replace the lyrics of “I’m a little bit country, I’m a little bit rock n roll” to “I’m a little repressed by society, I’m a little bit emotion-allll” you can get a clear cut picture as to why, as women, our knee jerk reaction is to apologize.
Of course, there are so many other reasons as to why it feels like saying sorry is in the female DNA. But really the best way to combat this behavior is being aware of it, ascertaining why you are apologizing, and verifying if it’s necessary. It’s important to remember that our thoughts are valid, regardless of whether they are charged with emotion or simply a flippant viewpoint. Apologizing for what we say or feel only stands to diminish the worth of our opinions.