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Sorry, I Didn't Mean to Say Sorry

People are so afraid of being inconsiderate and impolite, that we compensate by spewing out countless apologies, even when they are unwarranted. Saying sorry for something more often than not means admitting to some wrongdoing. There are obvious exceptions, like apologies used to comfort, such as “Sorry for your loss,” or the classic backhanded apology, “I am sorry you felt that way.” Regardless of intention, I find that more often than not, we hear people say ‘sorry’ when they don’t need to.

This notion of feeling the necessity to apologize out of fear of coming off as inconsiderate haunts women more than it does men. My initial theory about this wasn’t that women are overly sensitive, but rather that women are more keen to the way they are being perceived than men. Sloane Crosley said it best in her New York Times op-ed, “This is not to suggest that all men are rude and unapologetic and that women are the inverse, but something incongruous is happening in women’s behavior that can’t be chalked up to reflexive politeness.”

In 2014, a Pantene advertisement came out displaying just how apologetic women are in daily situations. The video is remarkably realistic and relatable. In one scene a woman is at work, and prior to asking a question she introduces it by saying sorry. It brings to light just how often and unnecessarily most women apologize in ordinary conversations.

Karina Schumann is among many researchers who have done notable work in order to get to the root of this difference. Schumann’s study showed that men are just as willing to apologize as women, but the difference lies in the discrepancy of which scenarios warrant an apology. The data shows that women thought more of the scenarios in a given experiment called for an apology.

Historically, women have been disadvantaged and restricted solely because they are women. Across the world, girls are seen (even as early as birth) as a burden. There is something to be said about women being expected to apologize for things completely out of their control; whether it be their bodies, or simply their existence as a woman.

But being a woman is nothing to be sorry about.

As I was researching this piece, my mother came into my room to chat. I told her I was writing about the unfortunate reality that women apologize more than men. She started playing devil’s advocate, and I stopped her mid-sentence saying “I am sorry but…” She tilted her head and stopped me, saying “Did you hear that?!” Mother knows best, and her point had been made. We are accustomed to start questions, statements, complaints, and everything else in between with ‘sorry.’

It’s not just a filler word. In fact, using sorry as often as we do makes it seem as if all those statements, opinions, etc., are something to apologize for. But they are not.

Whatever the reason—be it gender roles, or simple unawareness—women apologize more. Like the first step to all problems, we need to recognize it is a problem. Now that we have discovered why, we can work on being more mindful of our language.

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