Go on, count how many times the women in your world say they are sorry. Each and every day. Over and over.
Ladies, every time we do anything we think may have the potential to cause offence, the immediate response is ‘sorry’. It’s been conditioned into most of us from such a young age, and if we’re going to take real steps towards equality, we need to learn when to apologise, and what we never ever need to apologise for—hint, being ourselves!
Now, saying sorry absolutely has its place in the world, but as women, too many of us have misplaced its use.
We’ve become so addicted to the word—it’s so habitually ingrained in our being—we’ve started apologising for our very existence.
Have you ever stopped to wonder where that comes from?
When I was a little girl, my mum (whom I love and adore and is an exceptional mother) would always tell me to apologise to my brother. Even if we were both wrong. Even if he was wrong. Why? Because it would end the argument, and I would learn to be the bigger person.
But, it’s not just the literal apology that we were conditioned into doing, it was the apology for how we behaved. For standing up for ourselves. For following our instincts and being ourselves.
You see too often…
When a girl speaks up, she’s told she is bossy.
When a girl asks for a second serving, she is told she’s had enough.
When a girl wears a short skirt, she is told to cover up.
Time and time and time again our behaviours are policed. Sit up straight. Don’t use that language. Cross your legs. Don’t give him the wrong idea.
When we exert ourselves physically, we’re acting like a tomboy.
When we exert ourselves intellectually, we’re too big for our boots.
When we exert ourselves sexually, we’re a slut.
When we are proud, we’re up ourselves.
When we complain at our treatment, we’re having a hissy fit.
When every time you try to be yourself you are criticised, it’s little wonder you start to apologise. But, it has to stop.
The sexist cultural conditioning of our youth has no place in our adult lives, and the greatest risk of carrying it forward is that we will pass it on.
But, this isn’t just a mental cage—it’s physical, too.
As women, not only are we culturally conditioned to be as skinny or as tiny as we can be—to conform with normalised views of beauty—we are taught to minimise the space we assume on the planet.
It’s no wonder then that physically, we make ourselves small.
Don’t believe me? Get on any bus or train, anywhere, and you will see women tightly compacting themselves so as not to take up any more space than is absolutely needed. At the same time, there will undoubtedly be men who are obliviously ‘man-spreading’ their legs, placing their arms high on poles (often about head to armpit height for any woman in the near vicinity), and essentially occupying space.
Men can be celebrated for being big and strong and are forgiven for larger bodies in ways women are not. I can’t speak from personal experience (I’m 160cm), but when you see so many tall women wearing flats so as to not tower over their male companions, you understand that by trying to be smaller than we are, many women are apologising for their physical being.
The answer, of course, is to start recognising how we are culturally and socially conditioned—not just women, but men, too—so we can begin to shift these norms in the right direction.
Now, I get that I’m speaking in broad generalisations, but unless we unpack our cultural and societal conditioning, we will keep apologising for being our fun, fabulous and frightfully intelligent selves.
When’s the last time you said you were sorry for just being you?
Ladies, we apologise too much.
Let’s celebrate our space and place instead.
It’s time to be unapologetically you.