You hear it all the time. You know – it’s that exchange where, say, a man accidentally rolls over a woman’s foot with the wheel of his shopping cart in the grocery store, and instead of the conversation going like this:
Man: I’m sorry for bumping into you.
It goes like this:
Woman, quickly: Oh, sorry!
This exact interaction takes place hundreds of times every day in offices around the country. Nearly every time a woman steps off an elevator first, gets interrupted while she’s talking, or isn’t heard the first time she asks a question, she feels compelled – almost compulsively – to apologize. But why?
At first glance, it seems odd that this would be the case in 2016, which can seem so far away from the pervasive chauvinism and harassment that typified the female work experience in America until just a few short decades ago. Upon closer examination, though, it is not so strange. After all, those decades were only ten years long each – which means that in the scheme of things, feminism came about just yesterday, and Women’s suffrage only the day before. Still, just because it’s not that surprising doesn’t mean that it should continue happening. As women, we need to stop overusing the words “I’m sorry,” both because with too much use, the phrase will lose its meaning, and because we should feel no compunction to apologize when we’ve done nothing wrong.
Of course, changing a habit like this, which is deeply ingrained in many of us and often done without thought, is easier said than done – but I’ve got a suggestion for a good way to take the first step. Simply take a trip to your local grocery store and listen to a couple of strangers have The Interaction once. Trust me – after you’ve seen how jarring it really is in person, you’ll find yourself thinking twice about saying sorry the next time someone spills their drink on you at a restaurant.