I’M SORRY FOR APOLOGIZING:
My thoughts and beliefs are valid. Why am I apologizing for them?
By Camille Mohsenin
I remember learning to apologize.
It was the only phrase I really wanted to practice: I’m sorry, I feel bad, I shouldn't have done that. I repeated these words like a broken record, whenever anything went wrong. I would be the first to speak up. I was proud too -- I would look at my parents wide-eyed for confirmation that this was the right thing to say.
In retrospect, I now know that the look on my mother’s face was not one of pride or affection, but confusion. Why, as a seven year old girl with open eyes and big dreams, did I take it upon myself to practice apologizing for the things around me instead of learning to make room for my mistakes? I confused kindness with excuses and traded learning opportunities for blame.
Why now, as a young woman with cloudy eyes and challenged dreams, am I still apologizing for the society around me?
I have always been challenged by the women in my life: my sister who scolded my dad for interrupting her while she was speaking, or my grandmother who has exampled time and time again how to provide for herself and her family. I yearned to be like them, to internalize their strength and spread it the people in my own life.
And of course this environment raised me into the empowered feminist I am today. My news feed, timeline, and daily discussions are flooded with unapologetically powerful women. I am thrilled to scroll through my day-to-day life and see images with captions of “Empowered Women Empower Women,” “The Future is Female,” “We Are Stronger Than Fear.” I allow this feminist air to fill my lungs and hope that breathing enough inspiration will give me the power to truly voice my opinion.
And it has, at times, enabled me to push those that are more wary of these movements to engage in such conversations. Recently, one of my close guy friends had no interest in the Women’s March. It simply “wasn’t his kind of thing." As I tried to reason with this in my head, I couldn’t. Women’s issues and the fight for gender equality should be everyone’s thing and the only way to break this impossibly high glass ceiling is to put ourselves in situations in which we feel uncomfortable.
Because of this, mixed with my aggressively stubborn attitude, I convinced him to come to Downtown LA the morning of January 20th to take part in the march. I thought, at the very least, he would walk away having witnessed something he never had before. However, as the speeches continued and the crowd filled, I could see the discomfort growing in him. As the person that dragged him to DTLA early that Saturday, I felt horrible. All I wanted to do was apologize to him. Once again, why was I at the fucking Women’s March and feeling guilt for trying to share this experience with someone who I thought would truly benefit from it?
This issue spans larger than my own personal remorse. "Women might have a lower threshold for what requires an apology because they are more concerned with the emotional experiences of others and in promoting harmony in their relationships," says Karina Schumann, a researcher at the Department of Psychology at University of Pittsburgh.
In our contemporary society, women tend to consider more things offensive than men in the first place. This gender difference leads to women feeling the need to apologize more, particularly for situations that men don’t think warrant an apology. The root of this cycle cultivates in a series of things: we’re raised differently, we consume different media, and we inevitably follow the feminine and masculine ideals laid out for us.
Further, this gender inequality becomes catastrophic. It's the reason why women, on average, ask for $7,000 less than men in job interviews. This leads to an inability to see our own worth and our inherent struggle with imposter syndrome, feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. This vicious cycle continues to spiral into the wage gap, an institutional issue that seems impossible to tackle.
It’s time for women to stop trading niceties with apologies. Being polite is not synonymous with blaming oneself for the deeply embedded patriarchy we face every day. Men are not the only ones who can hold the door for us just to turn around, lock it, and take advantage of us. I will hold the fucking door, I will make room for myself at the fucking table, and I will stop apologizing for being a strong woman in this society.
With this revitalization of feminism unfolding around us, it’s more important now than ever to hold men and women responsible for breaking down the continuous system of unjust blame.
This is not to say that all men are rude and unapologetic, or all women are the inverse, but there is something larger going on that can’t simply be chalked up to reflexive politeness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still learning when to apologize and when not to. I don’t know if the pang of guilt will ever completely disappear when a bad sexual experience leaves me wondering what I could’ve done differently. It may always be hard for me to stand up for myself when someone interrupts me and all I want to do is apologize for even talking.
These changes cannot be passive, but active. My conversations with new people, particularly men, inevitably turn to a discussion of women's issues and undoubtedly end with them sighing “you’re the feminist type, huh?” I won’t apologize for this, so I’m learning to practice a new phrase: “Yeah I am, and you should be too.”