By: Kanchan Gautam
After inadvertently saying “I’m sorry” for the third time to a former coworker, he stopped me and exclaimed “Why are you apologizing to me? This was not your fault.” This question took me by surprise. I hadn’t realized I was apologizing to this man. Somehow “I’m sorry” had become a staple in my vocabulary and I tended to use it often without a second thought. I was a little flustered and immediately tried apologizing to which he laughed and said: “you don’t need to apologize for apologizing”. Yep, I tried to apologize for apologizing.
This made me very self-aware about my tendency to incessantly apologize and why I was constantly doing this. I started replaying in my head all of the times I have apologized to people, for expressing my opinion, for stating things I wanted, or even at times apologized in situations where the other person was at fault. Why was I doing this? Was it because of my upbringing? Was it because of the cultural expectations ingrained on a woman? We as women are expected to be soft, gentle, kind, humble, tender, and all kinds of pleasant adjectives out there. Had I internalized these expectations and in turn had become unnecessarily apologetic? Somewhere along my life, I had internalized the belief that I as a woman needed to be all of the above adjectives and if at any time I felt I had made an infraction, I needed to apologize. I even tend to preface my statements with an apology, as if knowing before even saying anything that it will offend someone and I needed to start with an apology before expressing my opinions.
This thought took me by surprise as I believed myself to be self-aware of my emotions and processes. Somehow, I had failed to notice this internalization of societal gender dysmorphia. I started reflecting on all the times I had apologized to various men and women in my life for unnecessary reasons, especially in public spaces. I observed that I tend to do this the most with men. In some way or another, I end up apologizing to men even if I wasn’t at fault, or the situation had no connection to me. One such instance that this happened to recently was when a man bumped into me, I apologized to him. Later on, this annoyed me as I thought well this man had bumped into me so why had I apologized to him instead of the other way around?
Similarly, on my daily commute to and from work on BART, I find myself trying to take up as little space as possible, so I do not offend anyone. Recently a man who was much taller and larger than me came in and stood next to me. He decided to take up about three times as much space as I or any thoughtful human being would on a public transportation. He kept bumping into me and not once was he apologetic or said “sorry”, however, I nodded and apologized politely a handful of times with a little bit of disdain. I really didn’t want to apologize to him, but I felt like I HAD to. Or in situations when stating my needs or wants I felt guilty so I needed to start off with “I am sorry, but I need…” or “I am sorry, but I want…”. Has any other woman felt this way or done this? Having to be polite, kind, and gentle to others even when you weren’t at fault or maybe didn’t want to but because it seemed the right thing to do?
I am tired of apologizing because of my gender and feeling like I need to occupy as little space as physically possible in public or for sharing opinions or demanding things I want. What can we as a society do to make women feel comfortable existing in the same capacity as men without making them feel guilty, shame or for that matter angry?