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Women are compassionate, caring and way more in tune to social situations than our male counterparts which makes us far superior, right? Not so fast there, ladies. Pantene is calling us out for over-apologizing for grave offenses like taking up space in this world. Are you cringing yet? Pantene is hedging its bets that even if you're not, you will be soon. Do women over-apologize? I say yes, and the (sexist) implications aren't great. It's time to "man up" and stop apologizing.
In an article in Psychology Today, Juliana Breines wrote, "'I'm sorry' is infamous for its inadequacy." As in, it's often said in a flippant, insincere way like the infamous, 'I'm sorry you feel that way' we seem to hear in the media daily. But she also wrote that women are guilty of a different "I'm sorry" crime.
Breines found that women tend to be "over-attuned" to social offenses and therefore apologize for wrongdoings of their minds, ones that others don't find offensive or even notice. Breines says, "Sometimes apologies come too easily and too frequently, as when we apologize for things that are clearly not our fault, not in our control or otherwise unworthy of apology. Examples include apologizing for being hurt by someone else's offense, apologizing for being over-sensitive, apologizing when someone else bumps into you and apologizing for apologizing." Sound familiar? If you're a woman, Pantene is pretty sure that it does.
Sorry, not sorry
Pantene therefore created a new video titled "Not Sorry" as a part of their "Shine Strong" series. It's a cringe-worthy 30-second sketch showing women apologizing for things like speaking, thinking and, seemingly, just taking up space. The second half of the video flips each scenario to what happens if we red-lined "I'm sorrys" from our social situations — you know, like men do. Watching the "Shine Strong" portion of the video was ridiculously eye-opening for someone like me who is an admitted over-apologizer. I'm not alone.
The woman in the mirror
I reached out to several successful women and asked if they could think of over-apologizing examples. Not only could they each point the proverbial finger at other women, but they also admitted to being forced to look in the mirror. Erika Madden is the founder of Olyvia Media, a digital marketing and reputation management company that helps entrepreneurial women build memorable, delightful businesses online. She says, "I have friends — vibrant, intelligent, outspoken women in every other way — who will barely make a squeak when it comes time to participate in meetings with men. If they do, how do they preface their thoughts? 'This is probably a silly question, but...' or, 'I don't know how you feel about this, but...' or, 'This probably won't work, but...'"
Madden stated that she also hears a lot of, "Well, I don't know…" when a woman is asked a question which she then goes on to answer just fine. But the kicker is what she said next: "Admittedly I do this myself. A lot." How many of us can say the same?
Over-apologizing is problematic on so many levels. Madden explains, "When we as women over-insert "I'm sorry" into our everyday interactions with men and other women, we're subtly reinforcing the belief that when a woman inserts her opinion, makes a request or asserts her thoughts, she is somehow out of line. And the awful part is we're not just reinforcing it for those around us, we're doing it to ourselves as well." This does a (negative) number on both how we're perceived and our own self-confidence.
Farrah Parker is the executive director for the City of Los Angeles Commission on the Status of Women. She says that women are using "I'm sorry" language to further perpetuate the very sexism they complain about. This is a deep-seated habit that starts in our young girls and continues into our own adulthood. Parker explains, "Through socially constructed images of femininity, girls learn at a young age to be nurturing, polite, passive and modest as a direct extension of their gender. As a result, thousands of women become adults with ingrained images of what they believe it means to be a woman."
How is that message so easily (and loudly) enforced? Language. Parker says, "Language is a powerful tool that highlights the pervasive cloud of sexism that hovers above our nation. But it's not just men who are guilty of furthering gender-based stereotypes and offensive language. Women also fuel the battle by continuously employing strategies that diminish their self-worth. At an early age, women learn to incorporate self-degradation into their everyday conversations as a method of avoiding dreaded labels like 'conceited' and 'self-absorbed.' Ranging from 'I'm fat' to 'I'm not as pretty as you,' women learn to diminish their sparkle so that others can build them up."
Several years ago, a colleague told me to stop apologizing during a work conference. That message stuck with me, but more as a mother than as a woman. I'm constantly telling my own daughters to stop apologizing but, admittedly, I'm not talking the talk. I went grocery shopping yesterday and said a total of four sentences to strangers while I was in the store. Can you guess what each one started with? "I'm sorry that you spilled my tomatoes, dropped my bag, that I'm walking by you, that I have a coupon." My girls were right there for each of those "lessons" and, as we all well know, actions are extremely loud.
So this is how our girls learn that apologizing is a female given. What do we do with this information? Margery Leveen Sher is a humorous motivational speaker and writer, helping people learn to notice the little things that give life meaning and laughter. She has an opinion about this. Sher spoke of the young professional women she's observed using what she calls "I'm sorry-isms" in the workplace. What she says might be the rub for all of us, "I have so wanted to go up to them and do a short mentoring session, and I really should have! But, I didn't. I decided it wasn't my place. But I think I was wrong."
What if we all took a cue from Sher and not only stopped over-apologizing but also helped each other do the same? Imagine what our (female) world could look and sound like if we all agreed, like my peer did, that it is our place to help each other own and build what Parker calls our self-diminished sparkle. Sher's example mentoring words are pretty spot-on. She says, "Dammit, just say what you think, and say it with your voice modulated down in pitch, tone and sound level."
Use your words, create change
Women build up societal sexism with our deeply entrenched mannerisms. Sher points to the inflection we often use to end sentences morphing our thoughts into questions saying, "It sounds disgracefully tentative." She adds, "Women also say things like, "This is probably silly but..." and, "You may not agree but I thought I would mention that possibly..." All those diminishing words!" We can all agree that this is exactly what I'm sorry-isms are: sparkle diminishers.
While women are (most definitely) not responsible for others' behavior and perceptions, we are responsible for what we put out there. Madden explains, "I'm sorry language" perpetuates weak thoughts about women. No woman is responsible for sexist or abusive behavior — I want to make that clear. But the way we conduct ourselves can either maintain the status quo or influence positive change. We have more power than we realize. It's time we use it."
Tell us!^ Are you an over-apologizer? Do you know someone who is? What are you going to do about it?