ladies, stop apologizing

I am standing in someone’s way in the dining hall. “Sorry,” they breath softly, as they slide past me on the way to the panini press. You’re fine!

“Sorry,” I hear, as an elbow gently brushes my backpack while I stand in line. Didn’t even notice! 

Someone’s foot inadvertently jiggles mine under the table as they switch the cross of their legs. “I’m so sorry,” they blurt out, eyebrows crinkled beseechingly. Don’t worry about it, friend!

I am walking down the hallway and do that little dance with someone who’s walking on the same side as me. Left, no right, no left, then back again and finally past each other. “Sorry,” they say, with a tinny laugh and downcast eyes. It’s just an oops!

I interrupt someone as they are about to speak. Or they interrupt me, it’s hard to tell. “So sorry!” they say, and their hand quickly covers their mouth. “You go first.” But I’m more interested in what you wanted to say!

Ladies, this is ridiculous!

Stop apologizing for your bodies taking up space in the world. Stop apologizing for the ways your limbs connect with other human limbs. Stop apologizing for your ideas straining to find outlet in the minds of your friends. Stop apologizing for existing. 

You do realize that this is what you’re doing, right? You are apologizing for being the gendered ‘other’ in our society. You are apologizing for being non-male, for being, perhaps, non-white, for being non-upper-body-strong, for being non-domineering in [conversational/physical/emotional/psychic] space. You are apologizing for being present and being imperfect.

Apologizing in this way is for those who society has stripped of their space, their self-worth, their feeling of being deeply valued members of society. Apologizing is for the demure lady. But it doesn’t have to be for you. I’m asking you to try and see yourself not as a lady, but as a full person. As someone whose very existence is valuable and good, someone whose friends are grateful for their existence. I value you. I believe you are good. I value your existence.

I’m not asking you to stop seeking forgiveness. Asking for forgiveness is one of the most humble, the most brave, and the most right thing to do if you have done a wrong. We all do things wrong. I’m a racist who’s working on it, someone with class privilege who is trying to confront that, physically space-taking and trying to create space for others, too. When it is appropriate, I ask for forgiveness. When the space is not mine for the taking, I do my best to learn something and try again to do better.

I’m also not asking you to become the oppressive physical/verbal presences that lots of male-bodied people can be. We will not solve this problem by taking on the mannerisms of our oppressors. As Audre Lorde so eloquently puts it, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

But we CAN think about the reasons behind the constant sorries sometimes dripping and sometimes gushing out of our mouths. We can think about what makes us feel that our presence is fundamentally a problem. And instead of “sorry,” we can request pardon or understanding or patience, because after all, nobody’s perfect.

It is also within our power to be similarly gentle with those around us, to see their transgressions not as aggressions, but as earnest attemptings. We can learn to be considerate of others, see them for who they are trying to be, and accept them for who they are right now. ***

I just don’t think that the only answer to either my oppressions or my privilege is to apologize. It is, instead, my prerogative to confront my oppressiveness and oppressions head-on, be willing to make mistakes, be willing to defend my sense of self-worth. And I hope that those around me will find the strength to do the same. It is time to construct ourselves a dazzling, fierce, strapping, forceful and gutsy femininity.

It’s time to repeat after me (in a nod to The Help):
I am smart. 
  I am kind. 
    I am important. 

*** Important caveat here: I am speaking, primarily, to those in places of privilege confronting others in places of privilege. It is ridiculous to sit back and expect gay people to educate heterosexual people about homophobia, POC to educated white people about racism, poor people to educate rich people about class privilege, even though this is often how it ends up working. It is even more damaging to require those same people to educate their more privileged counterparts without anger, frustration or impatience because anger, frustration and impatience are natural and expected reactions to confronting systemic injustice everywhere you go. 


3 Comments Add yours

  1. mos-health says:

    I am not sorry to tell you, dear Friend, that what you describe and attribute to gender oppression (among other societal faults) is common among men, too, and more or less common in other societies. “Con permiso,” “pardón,” etc., (phrases you know very well) are common expressions of politeness and humility in the midst of the often over-crowded Latino world. That is not to say that some of us never over-use such expressions. We do. We apologize for ourselves when such apologies are neither necessary nor helpful, to others or to ourselves. An awareness of when and how we use such expressions is worthy of attention and occasional discussion. “Why do we say such things ‘all the time’?” Why do I? That’s a worthwhile question to ask and answer, as well as one can. And for you, the answer seems to be weightier than it is for me. So, another question for you: Are you really so oppressed or feeling so? And if so, what is that about? You are pretty free and privileged in comparison to the larger body of young, female, human beings in the world, and in comparison to human beings altogether. Is your space in the world truly threatened, as it no doubt is for others? And if so, is that a symptom of male oppression? If so, I am sorry.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mmm. Some interesting points. To go in reverse order, you’re totally right that I am much more privileged than most other female-bodied people around, and part of that privilege has meant not having to deal with as many people threatening the physical space that I take up in the world. It is also true that the *extra* space I take up with my privilege can silence others. Part of why I wrote this piece, actually, is that I don’t usually feel oppressed by the patriarchy, and so when I do, it really sticks out to me. That being said, though, while on a mundane daily sort of level my space is not threatened, my female body is in many ways ignored, made to disappear or made to feel that it is inadequate by the broader society that I live in. I could mention anything from the super-skinny models, to lack of access to free birth control, dieting ads, and all the things I talked about in my last post. I think it’s possible for me to be oppressed on one axis and not on others without diminishing the experiences of other people.

      I also wanted to address what you mentioned about humility and apologizing. I go back and forth a lot about apologies. On the one hand, when I apologize to someone, I am centering myself instead of centering them, the person I supposedly wronged. That seems backwards. If I wronged someone, shouldn’t that mean that I try and do my best to listen to them and their needs instead of centering my needs and asking for forgiveness so I won’t feel so guilty? My focus should be on reducing the likelihood that I’ll do the same bad thing again and make sure that action is aligned with what the other person wants. On the other hand, though, to have someone come to me out of true humility and apologize is powerful to witness. I don’t want to diminish that act, though I do think that it’s incredibly damaging to force kids to apologize when they do something wrong.


  2. says:

    Hi Savannah,

    Well done! I like this post, and the way you express yourself using new phrases, even new words!

    You get the reader’s attention. Responses should be interesting. Varied?

    I’m going to try to ski this afternoon, though we have had melting and ice. Today it’s 38F, so the snow should be soft.

    Much love,

    Gramma Dede

    —————————————–From: “the savannahbug alights” To: Cc: Sent: Sat, 27 Feb 2016 17:04:31 +0000 Subject: [New post] ladies, stop apologizing

    savannah rose posted: “I am standing in someone’s way in the dining hall. “Sorry,” they breath softly, as they slide past me on the way to the panini press. You’re fine! “Sorry,” I hear, as an elbow gently brushes my backpack while I stand in line. Didn’t even notice! Someon”

    Liked by 1 person

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