Sorry NOT Sorry: Why Women’s Apologies are a Product of the Patriarchy

My name is Audrey Creary-De La Cruz, and I am a compulsive apologizer. Throughout my life I consistently apologize for unnecessary things daily much to the irritation of my family, friends, and coworkers. But I just can’t help myself. After years of reflection and a year of Women and Gender Studies classes, I have come to the conclusion my unnecessary apologies and those of many other women are the result of Patriarchal microaggressions. Throughout this piece I hope to explain what that means and hopefully find a way for all of us to collectively heal and kick this Patriarchal habit.  

In a case study explored by the Child Mind Institute, Rae Jacobson determines one of the key factors in the unnecessary apologies of women everywhere is largely due to the way we teach young girls to behave from childhood. Jacobson describes how as children, girls are asked to adhere to an impossible set of standards. While trying to empower these young women, parents and adults continue to project standards of politeness, good manners, and consideration. In doing so, these young girls are absorbing expectations that reinforce a very biased social hierarchy. The standards and expectations being projected on young women are not applied to young men in the same situations. Women are taught to apologize, reflect before speaking, only speak when spoken to, etc. Yet men are never held to these impossible expectations, they are celebrated for speaking out of turn about something that needs to be addressed, they are never expected to apologize when they accidentally bump into someone or any of the many reasons women feel the need to say, “I’m sorry.” By doing so, men are placed on a higher pedestal, granted agency, and autonomy to say and do as they please while women fight every day to appease the expectations of society.  

It is also important to note that the people who teach young girls the impossible social standards are the women who are closest to them. Mothers, teachers, women from older generations pass down this cycle of yielding our time and apologies to men who refuse to return the very efforts that hold us back. By teaching girls to apologize to men, it has been shown to decrease their self-esteem and implant the notion of a gender-based hierarchy in their minds from an early age. Now that you have the fact, what are some ways we, as strong independent women, can avoid unnecessary apologizing and begin utilizing our words for stronger/better things?  

There are few ways to get yourself out of that compulsive apologizer state of mind. For starters, pause before you apologize. Take a beat and ask yourself, “is this something that warrants an apology?” or “would a man apologize in this situation?” Another helpful tactic is to find fun little ways to hold yourself and your friends accountable. For example, in our very own Women’s Resource Center, we have Feminist Apology jar. When someone in the center apologizes unnecessarily you must put your name in the jar and at the end of the month whoever has the most names drawn must complete a reluctant task. One final tip is to find alternatives to the words “I’m sorry.” One of our brilliant WRC acquaintances suggested finding different words like saying “oops” or “that was an accident”. With these tips in mind, it is good to remember that you are a valuable member of society. Do not waste your time needlessly apologizing to men, they do not deserve it.