Why do women apologize and should we stop?

Sorry not sorry

Historically, women have been portrayed as the more gentle, loving, affectionate, delicate, fragile and sweet gender. Being rude is typically not associated with a female trait. That is why many women tend to apologize for everything and anything. And we need to understand that this is not solely due to a random reflexive politeness, there is more to it.

Implications and heritage of the female “sorry”

Not always when women apologize it is meant to be an actual apology. Rather, it is to soften the blow of an otherwise perceived “rude” comment. For example, asking someone not to eat loudly and messily in a public transportation vehicle. Clearly, it is not aimed at being polite because it is meant for the receiving party to be more respectful. This is an indirect expression, sometimes perceived to be passive-aggressive, due to our learned behaviour and use of language as women.

Not until long ago, women were taught to take up less space and be at service to men. While to a big extent circumstances have changed drastically, human behaviour is not that easily unlearned. Until today both men and women subconsciously still enact sexist behaviour. Very often our actions and the language we use in many ways serve the past.

“Sorry” in the context of gender dynamics within the businessworld

Our subconscious behavioural patterns span into the businessworld no less. Despite the fact that women have made tremendous progress in establishing ourselves as leaders across industries, sexist behaviour still prevails in many places and per occasion.

In fact, in this context “sorry” plays a very prominent role. In a meeting room, if women want to speak, usually their sentences start with “Sorry, can I add something”, “Can I say something” or “Sorry, but I think that…”. While this is generalized, it is nevertheless still true that men feel more entitled to interrupt (especially a woman), while many women have to ask for their voice to be heard.

Nowadays, women are fighting for space, the space that every individual deserves to have. But it is difficult if the effort is one-sided. Men need to also consciously depict their inherited and nurtured behaviour. Because sexist behaviour doesn’t always stem from sexist beliefs but from an inherited culture which we have been used for centuries.

Do women need to get rid of the reflexive use of the word “sorry”?

“Sorry” has diverse meanings depending on context. Should we as women get rid of its reflexive use? Or should we rather aim to improve it? For example, instead of women apologizing less, what if men begin apologizing more?

This way we can reinvent its meaning and get rid of its sexist heritage. It can become a collective effort of being more kind to each other and the start of using it more consciously, as an actual means to apologize.

However, women should rethink some aspects of the way “sorry” is used. Especially in regard to the specific occasions in which they are using apologetic language. For example, if you’re seeking investors, sponsors, partnerships and are negotiating with them; then apologizing might undeliberately make you look weaker.

In the end, we don’t need to stop apologizing per se. What we do need to do is begin using apologetic language more consciously – both women and men.

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