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After spending several years in social services, Nicole has finally followed her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer. In addition to her work for The Hudsucker, Nicole is also a staff writer for Womanista. An avid comic book fan, BBQ aficionado, professional makeup artist and first-time mom, Nicole can be found exploring Kansas City rich history when she's not blogging about suburban life at Suburban Flamingo.

I’m Not Sorry: Women and Apologizing

“Say you’re sorry.”

I can remember being told this a great deal as a child, specifically any time there was a transgression that generally warranted for me to step up and apologize for my actions or behavior. As an adult “sorry” found itself woven into my lexicon so tightly that it no longer was a word reserved for serious transgressions, but instead used for everything from speaking up or reaching for something. “Sorry” became the most common used word in my day. I’m sorry when the barista at the drive through fumbles with my debit card. I’m sorry when I reach down for a pen at my job’s sign in. I’m sorry when my cat knocks something of mine off the desk. I live in a world of sorry.


Image Credit: House of Flout

In June Pantene released an ad as part of their #ShineStrong campaign about women’s empowerment. In the ad we see a series of women using the word “sorry” in various every day situations that really do not need an apology: speaking up in a meeting, asking for someone’s time, even getting a bit of the blanket in bed. Then the video switches and shows those same situations without the apology. Instead of apologizing, the women simply do the task with confidence, then transitioning into “sorry, not sorry” near the end. It’s jarring to see the two versions of events side by side.

It startled me enough to look at my own language and consider the number of times I say sorry and whether or not I’m saying them appropriately. When I really looked at myself I saw I was apologizing for every little thing and most of the women around me, even in a nearly all-female office, were, too. The question then wasn’t “do I apologize all the time?” to “why are women always apologizing?”

Psychology has taken a look at this question. A 2010 study of 66 subjects (both male and female) showed that women apologized more because women registered more things as offenses in need of apology. This suggested that the difference was just that women are more likely to see offenses because of their gender. Let me say that a different way: women are more likely to be offended than men and that’s just how it is. I will politely say that I think that is garbage. Why do I think that women apologize more than men and why that is too much? I think a lot of it comes down to society’s influence and the idea of female subservience. Women are socialized from an early age to be nurturing, to be gentle, to take extra care of the feelings of others. We are not taught to take charge. I think of my own childhood and being told to “say you’re sorry” and it was often in the context of smoothing something over. Most of the time I wasn’t sorry nor did I feel like I needed to be. Instead I was being trained to smooth things out and prevent conflict which is why as an adult I say sorry when I ask for things and apologize nonstop.

And I’m still not sorry, not really. So how do women work towards stopping the pointless apologies and save our real apologies for actual transgression? We can start by listening to ourselves. The only way to identify what we are saying is to truly be aware of our words. That’s how I discovered that I was apologizing for things that I didn’t need to be. After we’ve identified the fluency of our sorrys, we can either stop saying it outright or find a new phrase. My go-to for when I enter a conversation now is either just to chime in or, if I’m walking into a situation, simply to say “howdy, humans…” and then start speaking. We can also learn to just be silent. There is an idea in business that, following a sales pitch, the person who speaks first is usually the person who loses. The idea is that you make your pitch and then you wait the other person out. This silence lets you stand firm and be strong. By making use of silence instead of sorry, women regain their footing and power. Lastly, we can make actual apologies more weighty than simply saying “sorry.” “Sorry” is such a flip little word when you have truly transgressed. Why show your remorse that way? Instead choose to be more formal. You can say “I apologize for…” and include what you have done to give it more impact or you can say “I sincerely regret…” to show people the depth of your feelings.

We live in a world where it is easy to step on proverbial toes, but not everything requires apology. There are better ways to move around without cheapening real regret and weakening oneself so I’m not saying sorry anymore. And no, I’m not sorry about that.


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