Sorry Not Sorry: Why Women Need To Stop Apologizing

Emily Reed

Do you find yourself saying “I’m sorry” all the time, even when you have nothing to actually apologize for? You forget to text your friend back, you ask someone to complete a task they should’ve done hours ago, you cough during a meeting, or you get in someone’s way at the market. All met with an “I’m sorry.” Apologizing for women is an endless cycle. As women, apologizing is something done out of habit, and it’s time we break it.

I used to find myself apologizing for nearly everything. If I rant to a friend about something I’m passionate about, it ends with: “I’m sorry that this is so boring to you.” Or, if I'm a few minutes late for a dinner reservation, I’ll say “Sorry to keep you waiting so long.” even though it’s been five minutes at most. Or, if the music in my friends’ car is too loud, I’ll ask to turn it down, but not to be without the “Sorry for turning it down.” While I thought this was a mere habit of me adapting to my surroundings, I realized that it’s not just me, but most women.

I didn’t realize that I incessantly apologized until I met two women on a trip abroad; perhaps two of the strongest, most unapologetic, and confident women I’ve met. One told me “Stop saying sorry. Your Canadian is showing. Say “fuck” instead.” And I did. It took me a while to change ‘sorry’ to a word that generally can’t be said in a professional setting, but I did it. The other woman, who turned out to be one of my closest friends, on the same trip, said “With me, you never need to say sorry. I actually encourage you not to.” The friend who said this — Amy — is so sure of herself and so confident in who she is as a person, and from the moment I met her, I greatly admired her for it. Me, someone who has struggled with confidence and being a constant people pleaser, yearned to be more like her. When I asked her why I shouldn’t apologize to her, regardless of the reason, she confidently came back with: “Women are conditioned to apologize, especially to men. I’ve stopped doing it.” Unless the situation was dire, Amy never apologized to me, and I never apologized to her. We’d simply think of other ways to phrase it or solve our issue. And she didn’t apologize to men either. If a man had callous behaviour, she’d call it out, and she wouldn’t say sorry for doing so. She didn’t let anyone get away with anything, and nor should she. She didn’t apologize for being herself, and she sure as hell didn’t apologize for calling anyone out for questionable ethics or sketchy behaviour. Rather than getting people to like her, she got people to respect her. 

Why Do We Apologize So Much?

It’s a fact: Women do apologize more than men. While I hate speaking in generalities, women in the workplace want to be liked and men want to be respected. Of course, women want respect, but we, myself especially, find it important that my colleagues like me and want to socialize. So, women will say sorry more than men as a way to be liked. For me, I think it’ll help me appear nicer, more likeable, and more approachable. If we don’t appear likeable and approachable, then we’re seen as a bitch in the workplace. And as much as I hate saying that, it’s unfortunately true. In the workplace, if a man speaks his mind, he’s seen as a leader, an alpha male, someone to admire. If a woman speaks her mind or calls out abhorrent behaviour, she’s seen as a bitch. Let’s be real: no woman in the workplace wants that label. 

A 2010 study from the University of Waterloo in Canada found that men apologize far less frequently than women. The study revealed that men have a much higher threshold for what they consider offensive behaviour. While they do apologize, it’s less because they don’t deem it necessary in many situations. Whereas men see apologizing as a weakness — in both themselves and others — women see it as a way to avoid conflict. However, when we, as women, apologize as a way to be nice and avoid confrontation, it inadvertently silences us. This habit prevents us from being genuine and standing up for what we believe in. 

Women should not have to apologize for having different opinions, being passionate, or speaking over someone. If “sorry” is in the top ten words of your vocabulary, not only are you appearing insecure, but you also appear inauthentic. Constant apologies take away the weight and authenticity of when you actually need to say sorry. Freeing yourself of the incessant need to apologize is much easier said than done, but it is something worth working on.

Don't apologize to others for simply being yourself. Embrace your true self and just say “fuck” instead.

Emily Reed

“There’s always room for more mental health advocacy. Mental health looks different on everyone, and I feel that if I can write about my experiences, surely someone will be able to relate. Sometimes I struggle with my mental health when I’m doing something I’m supposed to love, like traveling, and although it seems weird at the time, it’s totally okay -- our emotions and feelings will always be valid.”
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