3-4 times a week, Harpie (my German Shepard fur-baby) and I go to the park. It’s an unspoken rule that before 8am, dogs are “allowed” to be off their leash. Harp is very well behaved and social, but does not like to be restricted by a leash – could you blame him? So, we let him run wild and free! Just like many things in this world, the park has its own set of politics. For those of you with dogs, you can understand when I say we run (no pun intended) into a lot of very different people. Most are perfectly fine with Harp being off the leash or couldn’t care less. If anything, it usually brings a big smile to their face when they see him because he exudes excitement and joy for being at the park. And then, there are others. The people that literally will pick up their dog by the leash to get away from Harper. Or, stop completely in their tracks like they are being attacked. And each and every time, I tend to say the same thing, “Oh, sorry!” and “He’s really friendly!” or “Sorry about that!”
But why am I apologizing? He’s not hurting them. He is just being him – a social and happy dog. Sure, I get that their dog might not be friendly. And maybe they are on a leash for a reason. But, in those scenarios I usually can tell and I will redirect Harper to leave them alone. And yet, I still apologize on Harpers behalf. Why?
This topic of women constantly being apologetic has been on my mind for the past couple of weeks. It all started when I revisited the 2014 Pantene campaign Not Sorry #ShineStrong. The video shows modern day women in various environments stating sorry over and over for things they should not be apologizing for. For example, one woman in a corporate meeting states “sorry, can I ask a stupid question?” another women at home says “sorry!,” as she juggles two things at once and hands her child to her significant other, a third woman says “sorry” as a stranger bumps her arm while he adjusts in a seat, and so on. According to Robin Lakoff, a linguist at University of California, Berkeley, and author of the famous linguistic text from the 1970s, Language and Woman’s Place, “Sorry is a ritualized form meaning something like, ‘I hope this is O.K. with you,’” says Robin Lakoff, “It lets people — especially women — get away with saying what the other person doesn’t want to hear.”
The Pantene video concludes with a powerful statement: “Don’t be sorry,” followed by a hashtag “Shine Strong” promoting women to stop apologizing for everything.
Women use the term sorry not as a literal apology, but in order to soften their statement and to make themselves sounds less “bossy” or aggressive. Rachel Simmons, author of The Curse of the Good Girl, says, “Women know they have to be likable to get ahead. Apologizing is one way to make yourself more accessible and less threatening… Apologizing is one way of being deemed more likable.” But, I have another question: why are we so interested in being likable? How is being passive a likable trait anyway?
Another perfect example of how ridiculous this overly apologetic behavior is, is from a recent sketch entitled “I’m Sorry” by female comedian Amy Schumer. Watch below.
Schumer’s overdramatic interpretation of this “sorry” norm is comical. But, it is also a bit too familiar in that it truly isn’t far from the truth.
As a feminist, I hear my fellow ladies regarding women’s issues in the workplace with gender pay gap, in the home with parenting roles and beyond. But, what I don’t understand is why we (women) contribute to the issue. It’s not all in our control, but a lot of say in how we respond, portray ourselves and live our daily lives, which makes a huge impact. Who is to say that just because you are assertive that automatically makes you a bitch or unfriendly. Do you constantly hear men throwing around the “sorry” word between every sentence? No. We need to not apologize for our ideas or for our knowledge. We need to own what we have to say and say it with pride and confidence. If you are concerned about someone liking you and this causes you to be passive, in my book, that person is not worth your time. Instead, with a big friendly smile on your face, don’t hesitate. Be open and unapologetically honest.
I challenge you to be conscious of how you speak, to both men and women. Notice if you are using sorry interchangeably throughout your dialogue. Then, correct yourself. Consciously try to remove it and just say how you feel. I’ve already started to do this, and boy – is it interesting to see how often I am guilty of apologizing for silly things. I noticed I even do it in email and through my texts!
Take a vow with me to influence our culture by being strong enough to be assertive. To say how we feel, to share our ideas, and to be ourselves without apologizing. #SorryImNotSorry