You to your partner: “Honey, I’m sorry to bother you again, but do you think you could buy some milk?”
You to your boss: “Sorry for the interruption, do you have a moment?”
You to the cashier: “Sorry, I don’t have anything smaller.”
Of course, these are just daily situations. Every woman, however, recognizes them because women are more often than not the ones apologizing. Of course, this doesn’t mean men are incapable of saying sorry. Nevertheless, according to studies, this pattern of behavior mostly belongs to women. A 2011 survey conducted by the Canadian University of Waterloo found that women apologize more often because they see the need for it faster than men. In contrast, men find that an apology is only required if a mistake has been made. Asking to be forgiven for anything less than this risks status and shows weakness.
The misinterpretation of the female apology
Now, we as women do not necessarily apologize because of a self-perceived sense of submission. Instead, we intend it as a gesture of courtesy, and the harmony or sympathy created by this ensures that our counterpart takes it the same way. The problem is that this is not always the case. This is because women often humble themselves with this empty “sorry.” It’s instead an admission of guilt, associated with the one apologizing. It’s the same when the sorry is used only to sugarcoat something.
There is a social foundation for women wanting to be so obliging. Here, and in many other cultures, girls are often raised to be nice, well-behaved and modest, as well to always keep the well-being of others in mind. In contrast, boys learn to assert themselves, to be active and show strength. Luckily, in recent years a shift towards more gender equality in educational methods has occurred. Even so, we have not yet freed ourselves from these social constructs completely.
The different types of the female apology
There are very different types of the female apology, as they come from very different motivations, according to the Süddeutschen Zeitung editor, Julia Rothhaas. There’s the “please like me” apology which aims to create harmony at any price. The “don’t be angry” apology, which primarily avoids conflict – especially when different levels of hierarchy are in play. The worst kind of apology is the “I’m sorry, I failed” apology, which is completely unnecessary – because it stems from a false ideal of perfection: the perfect mother, the perfect partner or the perfect boss.
An apology also shows strength!
As detrimental as the female apology can be, with its wide-ranging and profound consequences, there are also advantages. Due to their communication style, women are often more approachable and, above all, relatable, as according to communication expert, Isabel Garcia. It’s for a good reason that female leaders are often more subtle and elegant than men in achieving an agenda. Additionally, it can actually show grace to be the one to make an apology. However, only if you were actually the one who caused the issue.
Does it follow that women should then accept “male” behaviors and offer up unnecessary “sorrys.” No. However, the mimicking of male behaviors is just reproducing the patriarchy and definitely does not strengthen the role of women in society. Instead, self-reflection is certainly helpful. When is an apology actually expedient? When does it denigrate your own words? Think about what the core of your message is and leave the unnecessary packaging by the wayside. Blunt statements can be formulated to be friendly yet direct at the same time.
Autorin: Friederike Hintze