As women, we are taught to stay quiet and listen. We are taught to apologize for taking up too much space or speaking too loudly. We are taught to say “I’m sorry,” even when we are doing nothing wrong. Of course, apologizing is an important part of empathy, connection, and communication, but it isn’t healthy when it is overdone. In the classroom or workplace, women often worry about speaking up because they will be labeled as “loud” or asking for what they need because they will be labeled as “difficult.” We apologize for inconveniences that aren’t our fault and take the blame to deescalate situations. This shame that comes with our presence or actions can become internalized and encourage us to stay in the corner. Why do we do this as women?
When you write an email, do you say “if you don’t mind,” “sorry for the inconvenience,” or even “I am so sorry, but…”? This is because there is a worry of being a burden. Unfortunately, this perpetuates the idea that what you are doing is something to apologize for. It is okay to ask for what you need, especially if you need it to get your job done. Why are you apologizing when someone didn’t send you what they were supposed to? Because you don’t want to be an inconvenience. We are taught from a young age that we have to be helpful and “good.” We are either quiet and are pushovers or we are loud and are called “dramatic.” There is no winning in this situation. The workplace was built for men. While a lot has changed, the power dynamics are still built for white men to succeed and their stereotypical characteristics to be valued.
Even today when women are encouraged to be ambitious, there are many catches. You cannot know everything because that is annoying. You can’t have strong opinions because then you are too pushy, and if you are a strong leader then you can be called much worse. When we have any of these qualities, we end up apologizing for them because they are not “ladylike.”
Women are expected to think about offending others and how they are perceived more than men are. We worry about hurting other people and avoid being labeled “bossy” or, again, much worse.
This phenomenon exists not just in the workplace, but also in our daily lives. Do you apologize for being too busy? You may feel like you should be prioritizing other people rather than yourself. There is a responsibility placed on women to take care of others and when you work a lot then you are “cold.” If a man works a lot, he is “providing for his family.” Of course, being able to apologize is important for relationships. It is important to admit when you are wrong and be aware of the emotions of people around you, but when it sacrifices your mental health or your ability to do your job, it becomes a problem.
Women need to embrace their authority and power with confidence. Before you apologize, think about whether you actually have something to say “sorry” about. Did you do anything wrong or are you just doing your job? Were you rude or did you just disagree with what someone else said? Are you an inconvenience or are you just asking for what you need?