How Society Conditions Women To Apologize For Everything
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Politics and Activism

How Society Conditions Women To Apologize For Everything

Sorry... not sorry!

How Society Conditions Women To Apologize For Everything

I have an admission, a confession that is burning holes in my feminist heart and I cannot put it out. I have made a grave mistake. I feel awful and ashamed to have behaved the way that I did. Regrettably, I can’t go back and make right my actions, so this writing is an attempt to reconcile my words and take the opportunity I should have taken in that moment.

That moment was Friday, January 20th, the first weekend back on campus and let me tell you, I was ecstatic to go out and dance with my friends and have an incredible time. The night commenced and continued, and my spirits were soaring; my girls and I dressed up, showed up, and danced like there was no tomorrow.

As the clock kept ticking later and later, one by weary one people left and we had the space we needed to really get down… so we took it! But, apparently this man thought he deserved to be a part of this space too— not only our groove space but my personal space, like my very personal space.

This man was holding a drink, wearing a full suit to a college hole-in-the-wall hangout, and he was nearly twice my age, by the looks of it. I had noticed him lurking along the proximity of the room earlier talking to students and his fellow alumni who were in town that weekend for a student-alumni networking event passed him off as networking after hours. No big deal!

I kept sidestepping him when I noticed him lurking around me a little, but didn't think much of it again. Turns out, he was a big deal… he decided it would be alright to come up behind me, rub his suited torso up against my back and below, and swing his drink in the air like he owned the whole place.

Needless to say, I was less than impressed and promptly moved away from him, turned around, smiled and very cordially shook my head “no.” Though I felt like punching the guy, I kept my ladylike composure and tried to remain polite, which seemed like the right thing to do in the situation… wrong again.

He thought that my rather considerate response wasn't the right one, then he proceeded to publicly berate me for rejecting him. He held that damn drink in the air, yet again, and shouted across the room “c’mon, no?!”

At this point I was hoping he would just melt into the floor and vanish (or maybe that I would) and then, I did it: the horrible, lamentable deed… I mouthed the word “sorry” under the blare of the music and over the bubbling heat in my stomach. Miffed, he turned around and stormed off.

I retreated to the safety of my friends, embarrassed and disconcerted. The night proceeded and ended with lots of laughs and smiles and this monumental moment would not occur to me as monumental until the next day when I regaled the evening to my friends. In a moment of critical self-reflection, I realized my reaction to that grimy, personal space intruder was totally inappropriate.

What should I have done? I should have whipped around, socked him square in his gut, and shoved him clear over to the wall. I would venture to guess that if the tables were turned, and I had slithered into his intimate circle of space and proceeded to dance against him, there would have been an elbow thrown in my direction and a push in the opposite one. Yet, when he so rudely conducted an unsolicited invasion of my safe zone, I tiptoed away leaving him with not so much as a sneering look, and an apology. A f*cking apology.

If I could go back in time, I would have done exactly what I should have, or had I not felt like being arrested for aggravated assault (I was aggravated, there’s only so much a girl can take!), I would have shot him an earful about disrespect, entitlement and manners when he condescendingly reproached me for rejecting him, as if I didn’t have a right to say no.

In the wise words of Carrie Underwood “I unapologize, won’t take back the way I feel about you…I unapologize.” So, you weird gross man (I will not be sorry for continuing to insult him), I unapologize and I hope you went home alone and I’m not sorry for saying that either.

This led me to ruminate over why my knee-jerk reaction in an uncomfortable moment led to me apologizing, when really, the obnoxious dude who had touched me unsolicitedly, then used his entitlement to humiliate me, is the one who should apologize. Am I right?

As I paid more attention to my interactions with others, and the nuances of my life as a woman, I realized I was constantly apologizing for senseless things, whether it was verbal, emotional, or through actions. So I must ask the following question:

Are women conditioned by society to apologize? Are we taught to default to “sorry?”

Based on my observations the past few days, and through reflecting on my past, not to mention the behavior of women all around me, I believe that we are. In a situation like the one with the icky dude, I felt the need to apologize for his discourtesy, his entitlement to my body, and then my own embarrassment after.

Sounds like a whole lot of “sorry” for being unwillingly pulled into a situation where I didn’t do anything wrong. Yet, this sort of thing happens all the time! I’m not just talking about being inappropriately hit on and felt up by random dudes (which happens often, unfortunately, to a lot of women). The situations women face in which we are conditioned to say we are sorry when we have absolutely nothing to be sorry for is massive— it is present in nearly every facet of our lives.

Think about high school dress codes: girls “apologize” for merely having bodies with parts by covering them up, as if collarbones or knees are too much to be exposed in the presence of men, lest men’s sexual urges distract them. This discredits men’s ability to function in the presence of women and shames girls' sexuality, not allowing them to be as they choose in a space.

Women are taught to talk about their feelings with men minimally and in ways that won’t “freak them out,” as if there is a right way to communicate feelings and that men can’t comprehend things relative to emotion. This once again is a disservice to men’s emotional intelligence and an “apology” by women for any potential discomfort people may experience when women create a presumed panic by merely talking about their emotions.

Outspoken women are criticized for being brash, shy women are accused of not standing up for themselves. A change in either of these demeanors is yet another apology for not being the right woman, the perfect balance of strong and composed. Why can’t women be taught to act according to how they feel? To say what’s on their mind, and have the space to be silent when they choose?

When they do speak, women’s apologetic tendencies even trickle into language. How often do you sit in class, and after a female student delivers an insightful, well thought out answer, then concludes it with the phrase “I don’t know,” as if she needs to back down from her assertions and come back to a position of neutrality.

Studies have shown that the word “just” is more frequently used by women than men, which seems like a senseless observation. But, think about when the word “just” is actually necessary to a sentence, and what effect it has on the sentence as a whole:

"Just give me a minute, I’ll be right there!"


"Give me a minute, I’ll be right there!"

Or what about:

"I just think it would be better this way,"


"I think it would be better this way."

See the difference? Adding that “just” doesn’t really serve a purpose other than to add a passive tone to the sentence, as if it needs to be justified or apologized for, especially in the last example. Our apologetic tendencies appear even in the way that we speak. We don’t even realize it is happening.

This social conditioning has led to discontent and the push for women’s equality through feminism, social activism, and women’s advocacy. Women finally have the language, the platform, and the place to highlight these incongruities, and they no longer should need to apologize for their status as women, for any of the things above, or for speaking about it.

Despite the articles that have surfaced recently about how feminists need to stop trying to do what men can do, that claim that women are already equal and have more rights than ever, and that they are sick of feminists and their radical tendencies, I may beg the question -

If women are already equal to men, then in the workplace where a man and a woman work the same job, why is her hour of time worth just 70 cents to his whole dollar?

Why are girls in school still taught to be modest, taught to keep their sexualities private, instead of the boys being taught not to objectify girl’s bodies and classify them in terms of their sexuality? Is that what equality looks like?

Why then, since men and women are so equal, are there not only wage gaps between men and women, but also between women of color and white women?

If equality is so tangible and feminism is so out, why are the intersectional movements that feminists stand behind, the ones that tackle issues that are real, sheltered, and modern, not worth the time?

The fact that intersectionality exists proves that we still need feminists of all kinds to keep magnifying these issues because there are still social inequalities women (and many groups) face. They’re everywhere: in our upbringings, in advertising, in the workplace, even in our language. There is still work to be done; there are still things to be talked about.

I won’t apologize for writing about issues that I see as issues in society, like entitled, wealthy, white, middle-aged men, who think their status gives them power over my affections and my body. I won’t say sorry for being “annoying” or “just another crazy feminist” until in situations like the one I found myself in last weekend, don’t make me feel like it’s my job as a woman to apologize for that man’s fragility.

I certainly know that I am not perfect and that sometimes an apology is more than necessary. But, being apologetic for things that society has conditioned me to think I need to be sorry for, like my body, my thoughts, my feelings, the way I want to present myself, for being imperfect, is not a standard I have any desire to uphold.

I’m not a perfect woman, I never will be… and that’s a shining concept. I’m human, I’m real, I want to have the freedom and access to the places, the spaces, and the conversations that men do… things everyone should have access to because we are all human and imperfect.

Pretending that we exist otherwise, beyond our impurities, flaws, differences, now that is something to be sorry about. We should celebrate all of those things that make us uniquely what we are… human!

From now on, I will not be sorry— I will not succumb to follow any principle, appease any person, or live beneath any societal standard that doesn’t account for, hell, that doesn’t f*cking celebrate, my personhood and my womanhood!

So, to the nasty guy who failed to recognize that I am a human with a lot to say, I hope somehow these words make it back to you. I don’t wish that you’ll be sorry about feeling the need to overexert your presence that night, because you are a product of society, just like me. You were conditioned to think and behave the way you do.

The only thing I hope you feel sorry for is failing to recognize that your conditioned status is no more than a status that could, and will, come crumbling to your feet when women who refuse to take pity on that idea, finally make it a reality.

I am also not sorry for cursing throughout this entire article, even though it’s not "ladylike."


xoxo- Abby

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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