I was walking to class, hands in my pockets, headphones in, doing my best to disappear into the sea of students migrating between buildings.
I had neglected to put makeup on that morning because, let’s be honest, I hit snooze on my alarm one too many times and raced out the door. I was hoping desperately that no one was paying attention, already practicing my apology to anyone I’d see that day. “I’m so sorry I look like a mess this morning,” I rehearsed in my head, “I was in a rush.”
That would be one of many more times I would feel the urge to apologize to someone that day.
Other honorable mentions on that list include apologizing to: my boss for asking a question, the guy in front of me for asking him to move because he was taking up an entire hallway, a cashier for taking an extra five seconds to locate my bank card and, my personal favorite, a wall because I bumped into it.
I always thought that it was just me, that I’m too sensitive, a push-over, a people-pleaser (not that those are wrong assumptions, but that’s a whole other conversation). I spout off apologies as a reflex, in the same way one might say “Ow!” when they get hurt. And it turns out, it’s not just me.
Women apologize more frequently than men, according to research by Psychological Science, and what they feel the need to apologize for is much different.
Here’s a list of things you may find yourself sorry for, but you don’t have to be any longer.
1. Having an Opinion
We’ve come a long way in terms of gender equality, but there is still a box that many women feel they need to fit inside. The quintessential woman, they believe, should possess many qualities; among them, being polite and agreeable fall somewhere near the top.
Too often, women mistake disagreeing with someone as being rude. They may offer their own opinion to a debate, but it’s always bookended with apologies. “I’m sorry, but…” they say before dissenting, and throw in an extra “I’m sorry” on the end for good measure, always trying their best to protect the feelings of the other person.
I do this too, but it’s important for women to realize that they are allowed to have their own opinions, even they clash with those around them. Simply holding that opinion or even offering it to a debate is not rude — it’s being human.
2. Standing Up for Yourself
Between men and women, there is what The Atlantic refers to as The Confidence Gap. Women are more likely to underestimate their abilities; they hold themselves back from new opportunities and are less likely to stand up for themselves. When they do speak up, they are timid and apologetic, lacking confidence in their own voice and the validity of their feelings.
This applies to several situations, but particularly in work environments. Women are careful in their phrasing when addressing issues at work, often apologizing, as I have many times, for calling out mistreatment or for simply asking a question.
As the same Atlantic article pointed out, “If a woman speaks up first at meetings, she risks being disliked or even—let’s be blunt—being labeled a bitch.”
But it’s okay to be the bitch, ladies. If being the bitch means you shut down harassment on the job, offered a solution to a problem that had been plaguing your team or simply gained some knowledge that made you more efficient at your job, then so be it. You are just as capable and qualified as the men in your position.
3. Not Putting Effort into Your Appearance
This is one that I find myself falling into all the time. I’ll leave my house with my hair thrown up in a ponytail and I’ll feel…guilty. I will actually feel remorseful, like I somehow haven’t lived up to my end of the imaginary bargain I made with society.
On that same list of qualities of the quintessential woman I mentioned earlier, being effortlessly pretty is probably number one. It’s no secret that the media puts a lot of pressure on women to look a certain way, and with every new selfie uploaded to Instagram by a celebrity, it may seem like you’re the only person on the planet who doesn’t look completely perfect at 6 a.m.
It can be frustrating, but you have to let go of that ridiculous assumption that you somehow owe it to the public to fix your hair and makeup every time you want to leave the house. The only person you owe anything to is yourself, and the only thing that you owe yourself is love and appreciation for your body.
4. Putting Effort into Your Appearance
On the other hand, women are criticized for wearing “too much makeup” all the time, and are made to feel ashamed about the effort they put into their appearance.
They are left apologizing for the attention they drew, and fall back into, what an Elite Daily article referred to as, “the shrinking woman.” This is the idea that women were socialized to grow inward, trained to take up as little space as possible. A woman using makeup to express herself takes up more than her allotted amount of space.
But again, the only requirement is that you make yourself happy.
5. Being Emotional
It’s no secret to anyone that I’m a crier. I’m an emotional person, and I’ve found myself too frequently apologizing for my tears in fear that I seem weak and fragile.
The Strong (and problematic) Female Character that has populated literature and film in the last few years would have you believe that strength and emotion are mutually exclusive; that in order to be powerful and successful, one has to sacrifice their vulnerability. In an effort to negate the stereotype of women being overly-emotional, everything has jumped to a new extreme where women have no feelings at all.
But that’s just simply not true.
Everyone, everyone, is emotional. Getting excited, getting upset, getting angry — these are universally experienced. You are not weak, just human, and you don’t need to apologize.
It can be an easy habit to slip into. Even now, as I conclude this article, I find myself wanting to say I’m sorry for attempting to tell you how you should speak — but I won’t. There are many things in this world to apologize for, but being a woman isn’t one of them.