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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

I’m sorry, but what for?


Confronting the culture of female over-apologizing

Two weeks ago, I was home for the weekend and decided to go to a local coffee shop to get some homework done. At the coffee shop, a bar-style table lines the wall next to the entrance, and I unfortunately got the chair at the bar closest to the door.

I was sitting there with my breakfast, my laptop and my papers all spread out with my headphones in. A man had just ordered his coffee and was leaving the store. I guess he had his hands full because in order to open the door, he had to free up a hand by placing his coffee on my table right next to my things.

Now, this is not the problem. He apologetically mouthed “sorry,” and by no means was I opposed to someone setting their coffee down for a moment to grab the door. The problem was that instead of saying “Oh, no problem,” I looked at this man and said, “Oh! I’m sorry!” and continued to shuffle my things over so the table could accommodate his coffee.

I had my work set in front of me, I was sitting silently getting some reading done and enjoying my coffee, yet I apologized to a man who invaded my space.

This is something I’ve noticed I, along with my female friends, are all guilty off: apologizing when it’s not necessary (especially doing so to men).

ILLUSTRATION: Mitchell Shields ’22

In a New York Times Opinions piece, author Ruth Whippman argues, “The various anti-apologizing tracts often quote a 2010 study showing that the reason women say they are sorry more often than men is that we have a “lower threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior.” This is almost exclusively framed as an example of female deficiency.”

In response to this phenomenon, a culture of rejecting over-apologizing stemmed from a sub-group in the feminist movement encouraging female assertiveness and empowerment. However, a caveat to this sub-movement is while women are aspiring to be more assertive, empowered and strong, we are doing so in a way that conforms to masculinized standards of power.

This encourages a feminist sub-movement that hardly questions “whether the male standard really is the more socially desirable or morally sound set of behaviors or consider[s] whether women might actually have had it right all along,” according to Whippman.

Now, while some may criticize this caveat, and undoubtedly many have, I have to support the movement in the direction that it’s going.

While gender progress is underway, the patriarchal hierarchy that our society is built upon requires a fundamental revolution in order to break down these oppressive structures.

In a sense, this is what Whippman is arguing for in the end of her op-ed. She claims, “until female norms and standards are seen as every bit as valuable and aspirational as those of men, we will never achieve equality.” This will benefit not only women, but men and those who are gender non-conforming because by accepting attitudes and habits that are traditionally perceived as “feminine,” we will aid in breaking the strict norms by which binary genders are “supposed” to behave.

In short, she argues that in addition to encouraging women to adopt traditional masculine standards of behavior of power and assertiveness, men should be taught traditionally feminine traits of behavior.

So, I agree with this argument, and Whippman is indisputably correct in that to achieve gender equality, the norms of behavior must permeate beyond traditional gender-based expectations.

However, the issue is of course the caveat mentioned prior: that in order to promote equality, we must stick to the binary and draw our boundaries of gender-based behavior to conform to such a widely accepted dichotomy. This, I don’t agree with.

The only other approach I currently see to breaking the structural and societal acceptance of binary gendered behavior requires a thorough revolutionary plan. (Stay tuned, maybe by the end of my higher education career I will have cracked the code in solving gender inequality. But I’m not there just yet).

Let’s at least make this a start to the revolution. In one of my courses here, taught by Becki Scola, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of political science, she encourages the practice of not apologizing in our class discussions. We sit in a circle of desks, we don’t raise our hands to speak and we never apologize for what we have to contribute to the conversation.

In this small classroom setting, we (students from all gender identities) practice being assertive, speaking our minds and contributing to intellectual conversations unapologetically.

This is the classroom where I feel most welcome, where I feel most accepted and where I learn the most.

Let’s break the binary. Let’s encourage ourselves and others to be both powerful and kind, to be argumentative but to show humility and to be assertive but cooperative regardless of gender identity.

So, let’s get this revolution underway, and let’s do so unapologetically.

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