Like a lot of women, I apologize a lot. I over-apologize for sure. But as I’ve argued before, it’s not necessarily something I’m trying to change about myself. I don’t necessarily think it’s a sign of weakness, because I don’t accept that male-established norms of strength are actually signs of strength. I don’t see anything wrong with extra politeness.
The other day I was pulling in my garage after dropping my kids at school. A dad was riding bikes with his daughter on the sidewalk singing, “Going to school! Going to school! Going to school!” as they went. They had to pause while I pulled my massive minivan into my tiny SF garage.
“Sorry,” I said, as I rolled down the window. It was about 8:30 am and it was probably already my 45th “sorry” of the day. It’s like oxygen for me.
“Oh, you didn’t do anything wrong,” he replied.
I don’t know why, but his response struck me. I say sorry all day long, every day. And I can’t remember anyone saying that in response. I get (and give) a lot of “no worries!” and “no problem” and “please, I’m the one who’s sorry!” or “don’t apologize, it’s fine!” But never a “you didn’t do anything wrong.”
There is something about responding with “it’s ok” or “no worries” that seems to affirm the person has a reason to apologize, you are just being magnanimous about the whole thing. There was something about his response that I found powerful. I was like, “Huh. He’s right. I was just pulling my car into my garage. I didn’t do anything…So why am I apologizing?”
I’ve been rethinking the language around apologies since, using this myself. It always gets a subtle reaction from women who are used to apologizing and getting a “no worries,” such as,Yeah you should apologize but it’s cool….
It’s a subtle affirmation we can give women all day everyday that we haven’t done anything wrong just by being in this world and trying to carve out our own space. And given how much women like me apologize, there’s plenty of opportunities in a day to say it.