Sorry, Not Sorry: The Negative Impact Apologizing Has On The Way Women Perceive Themselves

by Katie Gonzalez

Pantene provoked a media storm last week after the company released a new commercial calling women out for saying “sorry.”

Through the one-minute clip, we see women in a number of situations apologizing for things that are seemingly no fault of their own.

Asking for help with your kid when your hands are full and your husband is sitting right over there or suggesting a meeting with your superiors who definitely want you to be taking the initiative? Not grounds for issuing an apology.

The commercial rightly started a conversation over the language women use to speak about themselves and their ideas, prompting the question:

Why are women apologizing so much?

Saying “sorry” has devolved into not-quite-an-apology, and more of a knee-jerk reaction to completely reasonable requests or other instances in which we’re entirely not at fault.

And it’s not a natural tendency to apologize — we, as women, have been conditioned to be more accommodating, not only in our emotional responses, but even our physical presence.

After all, it’s often the woman who dodges larger men on the sidewalk, perhaps even muttering “sorry” while it’s clearly her right to walk in a straight line just as much.

“Sorry” comes from the same place that makes boys more willing than girls to raise their hands in the classroom, despite the fact that male students don’t tend to know the answer more often.

As a study on the word “sorry” indicates, women are more likely to utter the world in apology because women have a “lower threshold” for what they deem they should assume responsibility for.

Men are considered to have a “higher threshold” for offensive behavior, so they apologize less than women do and for very different things.

In short, women and girls are taught that while guys have a right to a certain behavior or a right to be wrong, women and girls must be more careful.

Saying “sorry” is just one way women and girls have been taught to downplay themselves.

Women need to stop saying “sorry” when an apology isn't merited — there's a difference between being polite, and being a pushover. It's up to us to recognize the pernicious impact this word can have on our roles and relationships.

Below are a few reasons why we should stop saying “sorry” altogether.

It Makes Us Look Weak

While I hate to use the word “weak” to describe women, using the word “sorry” inappropriately can certainly relay that perception.

Apologizing in and of itself doesn’t make a person weak, but overusing “sorry” in a way implies that women don’t value their own opinions and questions as much.

As author of “The Power of Body Language” Tonya Reiman said in an interview with ABC:

“Women seem less powerful and more submissive because they tend to apologize so much more.”

A woman’s impulse to apologize can have a negative impact on how she’s received by others, and especially by her male counterparts.

It Indicates a Lack of Confidence

In a controversial article in The Atlantic, the authors asserted that women suffered from a (likely culturally-imposed) lack of confidence through many facets of their lives.

The authors state:

“A lack of confidence informs a number of familiar female habits. Take the penchant many women have for assuming the blame when things go wrong, while crediting circumstance — or other people — for their successes. (Men seem to do the opposite.)”

Apologizing when we’re not in the wrong is one way women reinforce this clearly self-preserved belief that women’s thoughts are simply not of the same value as their male counterparts'.

Whereas women might apologize for adding a good idea to a brainstorm meeting, men are statistically more likely to skip the “sorry” and just say what they want.

Women should know what they contribute doesn’t need to be couched with an apology when the comment or suggestion is made appropriately, and politely.

There Are So Many Better Ways to Articulate

Simply prefacing a question, a statement or a request with an apology convolutes what these women want, and immediately detracts from what they’re about to say.

As the Pantene commercial shows, there’s no need to say, “Sorry, can I ask a stupid question?” Phrasing this as such automatically biases the statement against what you’re about to question or suggest.

Women can often have a tendency to be self-deprecating, and saying “sorry” all the time further undermines women’s authority.

As seen in the ad, “Sorry, can I ask a stupid question?” can be replaced by “I have a question,” which provides a more straightforward, strong beginning to an inquiry.

Photo via Suits