Saying “sorry” is something so ingrained in my lifestyle that I could easily lose track of how many times I say it in a day. I’m not sure when or how I was taught to precede or follow many things I say with “sorry,” or if it was something I just picked up on from a young age; either way, “sorry” is almost a universal way for me, and many other women, to express humility. And somethings up with that.
I once worked with a cook at a restaurant who constantly scolded me for how often I said “I’m sorry!” While on the job (note: I’ve yet to meet a male cook that isn’t almost brotherly and protective of female waitresses — is this a universal thing also?). When running back to the kitchen to correct already entered tickets or when getting in each other’s way at the entrance of the walk-in fridge, I would always be the one to instantly apologize. After a while, he began to comment on it (in a good way): “Y’know, you don’t always need to say you’re sorry so often when nothing’s your fault. You’re not doing anything wrong. Stop saying you’re sorry!” This gangly, fifty-something-year-old country man correcting me on what I had always considered “good manners,” really struck a cord with me.
Why do I regularly apologize for no reason? Apologizing is all fine and dandy when it’s due, but, looking at the bigger picture, why do women tend to apologize more frequently than men?
Quite honestly, my constant apologizing is beginning to annoy me, but what can I do to change that? Let men apologize first? Come up with another phrase in place of “sorry” (no, that can’t be it)? Should I make a point to only apologize when it’s sincere? Yes.
By constantly apologizing, I feel like I’m letting myself down, like I’m lacking in confidence somehow. I watched a really good video last week about this topic. Barbie (yes, that Barbie) did a monologue in the form of a vlog where she spoke about how women need to only apologize when it’s sincere and to have confidence in ourselves enough to not feel like we constantly have to apologize for our actions – everyday actions unwarranted of an apology – actions and situations in which men wouldn’t even stutter.
Barbie challenged her viewers (me!!) to go an entire day without saying “sorry.” Here’s my results.
I tried to go without saying “sorry” for a full day, and my results were less than satisfactory. For starters, I forgot that I was actually doing it… I forgot to participate in my own challenge – for five days. Each day I told myself that I’d start fresh and motivated, and each morning I’d wake up in a stupor completely forgetting my previous night’s promise (although it didn’t help that I’ve managed to work every day/be on vacation, so I’ve been out of routine). So, the other day, on my first day off with no plans and nothing to do, I tried to stick to my goal… and I was… inconsistent, at best. Here’s the few things I’ve noticed in the past week since I put this concept into my mental awareness.
It’s nearly impossible to go without saying the s-word in the service industry, at least to customers. It’s my new belief that waitressing is 50% waiting on customers, 10% side-work, and 40% apologizing to customers for things you have no control over, in order to simply save face.
Okay… women really do overuse this phrase a lot. I had lunch with a good friend the other day who was incredibly anxious over a fight she’d had with her significant other. I went to lunch knowing and willingly prepared to hear her vent. Yet, every few minutes, she’d stop to apologize for venting or “talking too much.” But that’s not a reason to be sorry. I literally met with her to hear her talk — and she knew that — but she still felt guilty. And this brought something even bigger to my awareness: women are constantly apologizing for talking a lot (hell, I’ve even had professors apologize for “rambling” after a lecture), yet I’ve never heard a man apologize for rambling. And there have been plenty of times when I’ve listened to men talk on for hours about things that didn’t involve or interest me (note to readers: in these instances, I usually cut them off or sometimes just walk away…). Anyway, what I’m trying to get to is this: women are consistently apologizing for reasons that men don’t feel a pressure to apologize about.
When women don’t apologize excessively, we (women, too) perceive them as bitchy or unlikeable. For instance, at work the other day, a coworker and I blocked each other’s paths — by accident — in the narrow entryway to the kitchen. I immediately smiled and apologized while she just gave me a small smile and continued on her way. I immediately began to over-thing the situation: Does she not like me? Why didn’t she say sorry too? And then it hit me: why would she need to apologize? Why did I apologize? She was just doing her job and so was I. She’s very friendly with me on a regular basis and is a nice woman, but in this one instance, I completely judged her character over the use (or lack of) a word.
It’s remarkable the power language and words have on society — how connotation can be more significant than implication. Why is it that women use “sorry” so much more often than men? Is this something that varies between cultures, or is it pretty common? Is it a sign of a dormant sexist society that’s not quite at rest? Either way, it’s very interesting to reflect on, especially when it applies to yourself.
With that, I challenge all of you to go a day without saying “sorry.” Let me know how it goes in the comments below!
Until next time,
Photo Courtesy of: Hannah Ramirez Photography