Apologize: to offer an apology or excuse for some fault, insult, failure, or injury
Lately Alma has been doing something that concerns me. She will say something silly, or do something goofy, and immediately say, “Sorry ’bout dat,” with a shrug and a self-depreciating eye roll. For example, she will pronounce a word wrong, or mix up her words, or stumble a little bit. Something about which she absolutely doesn’t need to feel sorry.
It reminds me of those studies that show that women, in group meetings or classes, will say, “I’m sorry…” then ask their question or make their comment. I’m pretty sure I read about this in Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, but I’ve been thinking about it for a long time.
It’s a hedge, something we say to fill space or make excuses. How many times have you said your opinion and finished up with, “…but that’s just what I think,” in order to avoid a confrontation. That’s a hedge. So is saying you’re sorry, oftentimes.
And this phenomenon is certainly more common with women than with men. I have been around groups of women who constantly apologize to each other, for every little thing. Even if it’s the other person’s fault. Even if it’s nobody’s fault. How many times have you asked someone who was blocking your way to move by first saying sorry? Why do we apologize to someone who is standing in the doorway, or blocking the thing we need, when it’s obvious that they’re in the wrong?
The act of saying you’re sorry when you’ve done nothing wrong makes us look weak. It is admitting that we have no power in our situation. It is admitting that we feel that what we have to say, or do, is less important than others.
I don’t want my daughters to believe this about themselves. I want them to own their opinions, their actions, and their questions. They are strong, and their voices are important. I want them to know that they can ask their question, or make a correction, or add an opinion without being perceived as aggressive. Moreover, I want them to know that it’s okay to be aggressive. If they make a mistake, they can own it without apologizing, especially if it doesn’t affect anyone else, like when Alma mispronounces a word.
Raising daughters, this goes even further. I don’t want my girls to ever apologize for not wanting to hug or kiss someone. I’ve written before about how I never make them hug or kiss anyone if they don’t want to. I want them to be strong and feel like they don’t ever have to apologize for this. When they’re teenagers and young adults, I want them to be confident that they can turn down sexual advances without an apology. They don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do, and they don’t have to apologize for it.
This all isn’t to say that I never want my kids to apologize. I certainly want them to say they’re sorry when they’ve hurt someone. I’ve started saying, “Only apologize when you’ve done something wrong” whenever Alma does this. I want to break the habit. There is a line in Sarah Kay’s poem “Point B” that says “always apologize when you’ve done something wrong but don’t you ever apologize for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining.” And that’s really it, isn’t it? I just want my girls to shine and not have to apologize about it.
I responded to this post by saying “excellent”. Your blog thing came back and said my comment was too short. Sorry! ?
This topic is an interesting one because it’s so tied to shame, in many cases. Interestingly, shame in children is necessary for increased learning of right and wrong…BUT, it has to be followed by repairs. So, if they experience internal feelings of shame, sorry is often the easy verbal response. Girls are so much more emotionally verbal than boys, so the logical conclusion is that we see it more in girls (as you noted). The verbal experience is ultimately viewed as weakness (versus in boys who internalize shame and avert eyes, escape, etc) which is, again, played out by our cultures tendency to view women in a weaker sense. Ultimately, the issue with saying sorry is a cultural one, in my opinion.
Living in Japan, the culture intentionally avoids “no”. Gomensai (sorry) is thrown about with ease. It’s about politeness; therefore, community and service. It is not abused by others, in my observation. I think that is the key cultural component…in the US culture the superfluous use of sorry can easily be abused due to our individualistic society (and provided connotation in many circles).
It is absolutely cultural! You bring up interesting points, especially the cultural differences between the US and Japan. I’m trying to think if there was something in Azerbaijan that people would say or do that would connect to this idea. I didn’t learn the word for ‘sorry’ for a long time, and I remember thinking I needed to know it for the reasons I’m trying to teach my kids to avoid.
So, really, we need to help our children understand when the shame they feel is real, and when it’s not, right?