The Epidemic of the Over Apologising Woman

Women are constantly and unnecessarily apologising. But why do women over apologise? Why do women personally feel responsible for situations they cannot control? Read on to understand. 

As kids of our generation, we’ve grown up on sexist jokes about how women never apologise and it’s always up to the “man” of the relationship to do so. This, in fact, is not entirely true for every woman in every context. Women are constantly apologising. The over apologetic woman pops up in emails, “I’m sorry I couldn’t respond to your email sooner, I’ve been…”; in work spaces, “I’m sorry to bother you, but I want to make sure I understand the goals for this project…”; and also in personal conversations, “I’m sorry if I’m out of line here, but I think that we might want to consider…”

At first glance, these statements do not appear to be problematic. Afterall, apologising is a good act of empathy. However, apologising – when not necessary – deflects your agency as a woman. If you’re a fan of Amy Schumer, you’ve probably seen her sketch about female leaders at a conference who were so busy apologising on stage that they never actually shared their thoughts. Here’s another all too familiar video I think you should see. 

If you’re a woman and you felt uncomfortable or irritated after watching this, you’ve correctly understood what this article is about. But why do women over apologise? Why do women personally feel responsible for situations they cannot control?

over apologising women
Women and the “I’m Sorry” Saga (Source: The Lily)

In his book, The Triple Bind, Dr. Stephen Hinshaw (clinical psychologist) explains that as girls reach adolescence, they are supposed to adhere to an “impossible set of standards.” Girls are often ‘supposed’ to be empathetic and aware of how their actions affect those around them – family and its reputation (sounds familiar?), for example. A study of college students concluded that both men and women apl an equal number of times for what they considered offensive behavior, but women reported committing more offences than men. This is an indication that their threshold for perceiving offense was much lower. 

(Read also: Why Women Apologize More Than Men: Gender Differences in Thresholds for Perceiving Offensive Behavior – Karina Schumann, Michael Ross, 2010)

why to apologise
When should you apologise?

While men are given positive reinforcement for asserting themselves, women are given it for being “understanding.” Now, here’s the problem: when a woman says “Sorry, but…” or “I might be wrong, but …” she may think she’s being polite, but it undermines what she’s about to say. It says “I don’t feel confident in what I’m about to say.” Although women are told to work hard and be successful, they are also, more often than not, decorated with pins and labels that read “bossy”, “conceited”, “pushy”, or simply a “bitch”. 

Women layer their language with apologies that turn statements into suggestions. For example, “I know” becomes “I’m not sure, but…” This is called hedging. “Excuse me, can I ask…” “I might be wrong, but …” “I don’t know, but…” are some common examples. 

Here are a few alternatives

over apologising women
How to stop saying sorry

Not all apologies are unnecessary and not all offences can be handled through this approach, but it is vital to understand the difference between situations that call for a genuine apology and times when you’re just saying sorry out of habit. 

Featured image credits: Ted Ideas

Kashvi Raj Singh

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