Tear Down The Culture of Apology

I find myself thinking about women this morning.  This is not exactly a shock as I AM a woman, and I often think about the issues women face.  There was last week’s–well kerfluffle is not anywhere near strong enough a word for that business with Kickstarterbrouhaha (and here’s an update on same)–there, that’s an underutilized word.  There has, over the last month or so, been a whole lot out there reminding us that misogyny and rape culture is alive and well in the vaunted modernity that is the 21st century.  Proving that for all our technological advances, a substantial chunk of the population continues to perpetuate this bullshit.  I’ve been kind of annoyed to note in a lot of movies I’ve watched recently, that in any dystopian, post apocalyptic, or war kind of set up, there are scores of men running around raping women.  Like…aren’t we past this yet?  Can’t we look at some new directions for plot?  And then I think,  Oh, wait, yeah, that would probably happen.  Bastards.  [Reason number 487 why women should rule the world.]

But something ELSE that is alive and well today, something that is, in ways, even more insidious and pervasive, is what a friend of mine recently termed the Culture of Apology.   It’s this notion that women and girls are socialized to be pleasant and happy, to not be a bother to anybody, to repress strong emotions like anger (even justifiable anger), and to apologize if we don’t present this perfect little picture because it might offend somebody.  Because of course someone else’s perceptions are more important than our own and if we don’t manage that outward reflection, no one will like us and certainly no one will love us.  And being liked or loved is most certainly our highest aspiration in life.

Girls are taught from a very young age that our value lies, not in our actions or the things we accomplish, but in states of BEING.  Being pretty.  Being thin.  Being nice.  All these things that are, to a great extent, OUTSIDE our control and have nothing to do with WHO WE ARE (Not that it isn’t a choice to be nice to people, take care of your body, your skin, etc., but that’s not the point).

Now anybody who knows me knows that most of this subversive brainwashing didn’t stick to me.  I’m loud.  I’m brash.  I say exactly what I think.  [You wanna know if those pants REALLY  make your butt look like the Hindenburg? I’m your girl.]  I was a tomboy.  I like power tools and guns.  Not that I wasn’t just as concerned as the next girl about being liked or loved.  I wrestled with that.  With my body image issues.  But I had (and still have), an incredibly strong sense of self.  To the point that when  I was in high school (maybe 15?), I was upset because–well I can’t remember why exactly now, maybe I’d asked a boy to a Sadie Hawkins dance and he said no–and I mentioned it to an important female figure in my life, she actually told me to “tone it down”, that boys didn’t like girls who were too smart or aggressive.  At which point I gave her a WTF look and asked why I’d want to be with anyone who didn’t like who I was.  Kudos to me.  Yes, it hurt me that the boys were afraid of me–and they were–I was too forward, too unabashedly intelligent and I made them UNCOMORTABLE (I could also outshoot most of them at the time)–I never thought I should have to CHANGE myself to fit in with THEIR expectations.  [Interestingly, as soon as I got to college, all those traits suddenly made me attractive to guys.  This backs up my assessment that high school boys are morons.]

But this message that didn’t stick to me DOES stick to hundreds of thousands of other women.  I can’t count the number of otherwise savvy, intelligent women who kneejerk apologize for…EVERYTHING.  Dude, you have a feeling.  That’s legitimate.  You don’t have to apologize for it because it’s not all sunshine and light.  You don’t have to apologize for being who you are.  You don’t have to apologize for making waves.  In fact, I ENCOURAGE YOU to make waves.  Don’t be this cookie cutter nice girl stereotype.

BE MESSY.  BE FLAWED.  BE AWESOME. (click to tweet)

And anybody gives you grief for it, THUMB YOUR NOSE (or shoot them the bird–who cares if it’s not “ladylike”).

Don’t apologize.

Men and boys don’t have this NEED FOR PERMISSION, the NEED FOR APPROVAL.  They go and do and are encouraged to push the envelope and DO GREAT THINGS.  If they make someone uncomfortable or act like jackasses, oh it was all in the name of some great thing.  Excuses are made.  I’m fairly certain that had Paula Deen been a man, the foot she shoved in her mouth would’ve been excused and she wouldn’t have been fired from the Food Network.  Oh but she’s a woman and she screwed up (nobody’s saying she didn’t) and therefore she had to be made an example of.

This is a problem that’s pervasive to our culture, and women are just as responsible for perpetuating it as men.  It’s in much of our socialization, our exposure to the media, in the books that we read.  And it needs to change.  It has to be a grassroots thing.  Next time you see a woman needlessly apologizing, call her on it (and then stop her from apologizing for THAT).  VALIDATE her uniqueness and her flaws.  Praise her awesome.  Support the women you know doing AMAZING THINGS and spread the word–WITHOUT drawing attention the fact that she’s a woman (as if that fact makes whatever is being done MORE amazing because of it).  Subvert the subculture in whatever ways you can.  And don’t apologize for it.

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6 comments

  1. This is very true for me. I want people to like me. I want to be seen as nice, polite, kind, and maybe I do’t give myself permission to step outside of that often enough (I’m a Canadian, too… the politeness and apologies aren’t just a stereotype for a lot of us). Thank you for this post, it made me think.

  2. I’m extremely nice and polite. I like being that way. But I don’t take crap. I’m not going to let myself be treated badly. And that has come with age and experience. I need to watch for those unnecessary apologies I hear from other women and nip those in the bud. I’ve never really thought about this.

    You know, I always wondered why I ended up dating older guys when I was in high school. I can only remember dating one guy who I actually went to high school with, and he was extremely smart and musically talented. Maybe the rest of the boys were intimidated by my intelligence. And the older guys maybe weren’t. More food for thought….

    1. To be clear (not that I think YOU misunderstood this, but just to make sure no one else does), I’m definitely not advocating women be RUDE. There’s nothing wrong with being polite. I’m talking about apology from women for…being women, for not being perfect. I see this far too much.

      1. It’s just that some people equate apologizing and being OVERLY humble with being sweet and polite. They aren’t the same. So, yeah, I understand what you mean. I’m glad I don’t see this a lot, but that might be because I’m around men most of the time. And most women I DO know are strong and proud to be women. They are mostly women at church and most of them are very confident and happy with themselves.

    2. I can see why an older guy wouldn’t be intimidated. *steps up on the soapbox* He’s got more life experience than you. In his mind, he can think of you as a girl-woman. I know because I tend to attract older men as well, and my husband is also older than me (by about six years). They’ve all thought of me as “cute” or a “kid”. Even my husband, wonderful as he is, playfully calls me “kid”. And look at the manic pixie dream girls. All of them have that childlike sense of playfulness and wonder, which is great, but which also has a tendency to reduce their power in a relationship unless they throw a tantrum (i.e. act childish) at which point the guy can feel superior and more “logical”. If he gives in, he’s just giving in to the emotional woman to keep the peace. He’s still on morally superior ground, in his head.

      This is just my experience, growing up in the Western half of the U.S. Please, take it with a grain.

      1. I don’t think any of the older guys I dated (ironically the one I married is only 6 months older than me), ever thought of me as “cute” or “kid”. It felt a lot more like, at that age, I needed at least another 4 years of age on the guy to actually hit my maturity level (ye classic women mature faster than men). Those particular guys seemed very annoyed by the younger, childish type of girls–impatient with them (and God knows there were still plenty available), and I think they appreciated the fact that I didn’t play games or try to manipulate them (which I saw a lot of OTHER women do in the “dating game”), and I think they appreciated that. But certainly for a subset of the population there is definitely that superiority thing at work or there wouldn’t be so many older men with much younger women.

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