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The Breakthrough Voice 21st September, 2020

‘Sorry, But Not Sorry!’ – Why Women Seem To Apologise More.

It was the day after Christmas, a few years ago, when I walked into my workspace, only to be greeted by a series of emails from a colleague who wanted me to apologise to the boss for something that I was not remotely responsible for. This story goes back a few months prior to that particular day when dissent started brewing and everything began to conclude in me apologising for incidents that I was barely aware of. It all started with a little disagreement on a sentence in an ad copy. Being a junior colleague, I was the easiest target and was used to provide cover to the senior personnel at work, if anything ever went wrong. 

Several instances such as this make people develop a habit of apologising for every incident, even if the fault is not theirs. However, in the world of corporate institutions that are run on bureaucratic values, even such incidents tend to take a gendered turn. This article discusses the ways in which women are constantly placed at the receiving end of the culture of apologising mindlessly.

More too often, women tend to apologise for every little thing that they do. In fact, women have been noted to apologise way more frequently than men do. This habit dates back to the early ages, to the time from when the gendered division of labour began to fall in place. Women have been held in lower regard as compared to men. Therefore, even today, as we witness various women’s movements across the world, the societal norms and beliefs remain the same at the interpersonal levels. Gender is a complex arena of discussion, and thus, the safest method to uphold patriarchal institutions is to hold women accountable for every act that challenges the aforementioned milieu. 

It is easy to comprehend this social inequality, which leads women to apologise for their actions, choices, lifestyles, and dreams, as well as bear a constant burden of guilt. This practice, however, begins to take concrete shape from the initial stages of life, when children are socialised within the family and later in their educational institutions. The quintessentially gendered method of socialisation is the foundation of this ongoing trivia of ceaseless apology and culpability, which women are at the receiving end of.

It has been observed that women apologise more than men in corporate settings, especially in important meetings where senior professionals are present.

Form the earliest memory that we have, we can easily recall how girls and boys were brought up differently and how we were taught to behave, sit, eat, walk, talk, dress and play in different ways. What was considered as doable for boys was not considered to be the same for girls, and vice versa. However, there is a line of inequality that constantly divides toddlers as well. The bar set for little boys is higher than the one set for little girls. From that stage of life itself, commences the eternal journey of inequality, deprivation, emotional harassment, restriction, and many other values that are in line with the patriarchal structure. 

However, some studies have shown that there is no direct link between women apologising several times and men’s lack of accountability or refusal seek an apology. It is, in fact, the way in which women are brought up that shapes their behaviour, irrespective of individual incidents or instances. But there is a thin line that connects the two claims or patterns of behaviour, as stated by several other theories and case studies.

A research conducted by Karina Schumann and Michael Ross of the University of Waterloo, titled ‘Why Women Apologize More Than Men: Gender Differences in Thresholds for Perceiving Offensive Behavior’, took into consideration two extensive case studies in which a group of people were interviewed to find out the possible relationship between gender differences and the custom of apologising. In the first study, several women reported to have apologised more than men and, at the same time, they claimed to have committed more mistakes that demanded due apologies. There were no claims of conscious gender differences or inequalities leading to the mentioned pattern of apologising. From this, it was inferred that men have a higher bar for what qualifies as a mistake or offence. The second study was a follow-up of the first one, to reach a concrete conclusion to the hypothetical inference gathered from the previous study. In this scenario, most men referred to several imaginary as well as real-life offences (for the purpose of the study) as less severe than the ways in which most women referred to the same. 

Thus, through such extensive research, it has been understood that in every institution within the society, there are certain ubiquitous regulations that govern our activities. And more than often, whether intentional or not, they are patriarchal and misogynist in nature. Hence, there is a need for women to apologise at almost every step of their lives. For example, it has been observed that women apologise more than men in corporate settings, especially in important meetings where senior professionals are present.

One of the recurrent methods of portraying command is by making women apologise for existing independently and by gaslighting them.

In numerous co-educational institutions, young girls are instructed to apologise for their acts of retaliation, rather than reprimanding the young boys for their offensive behaviour. In households, most girls are taught that they should be content with whatever they have been given, as opposed to teaching the boys to follow their dreams and fly high. Moreover, even in some cases where young girls are taught to follow their passion, very often there are certain pre-requisites that are set by the families, which are predominantly patriarchal in nature. 

Such practices, lessons, upbringing and social conditioning result in women constantly questioning their own choices and lifestyles. What is offensive for a woman to do is not as offensive for a man to do. This line of thought is what keeps patriarchal institutions alive and thriving. For centuries, women in every sphere of their lives have been apologising for the choices they make, the independent decisions they take and the ways in which they take control of their own lives.

The systematic, patriarchal backlash against several feminist movements, women’s struggles, revolutions and achievements have taken a heavy toll on women’s mental health conditions, lifestyles, interpersonal relations and familial bonds. Even today, after years of struggling for their basic rights, women are being subjected to inferior treatment and institutional domination. One of the recurrent methods of portraying command is by making women apologise for existing independently and by gaslighting them. This culminates into a cultural practice of apologising, which is adopted by the members of the upcoming generations too. Thus, in this manner, the patriarchy attempts to reinforce itself more vehemently. 

In order to transform this misogynist culture and bring about egalitarianism, women must be liberated from such emotional shackles and be left unfettered to take charge of their own selves. Women who make their own life choices must be treated with as much respect as a man who takes charge of his own life. Personal independence and self-sufficiency are not gendered in nature. So, we must stop adding gendered tags to these concepts. Well then, and on that note, sorry to mention that we are not sorry!


Featured image used for representational purpose only. Image source: New York Times

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