By Kelsey Begin
Whether you think of it as a harmless children’s game, the irreplaceable precursor to any boy named Charlie, or simply a word that can cut you some slack when you make a mistake, “sorry” is a part of everyone’s vocabulary.
At a financial services recruiting event up in New York a few weeks ago, I was shocked to discover some of the pitfalls that accompany this overused word. One of the analysts on the women’s panel was discussing her take on gender stereotypes she sees on a daily basis in the office. From golf outings and March Madness brackets to sushi nights and mani/pedis after work, numerous discrepancies between male and female interactions have emerged over her past few years at the firm. The divisions over sports, sushi and primping made perfect sense to me, but here’s where she caught me off-guard: I’m sorry. In her experience, the times the male employees say this phrase are few and far between, and lie in stark contrast to the frivolity with which her female coworkers toss it around.
Although the words “I’m sorry” sometimes convey politeness and genuine regret, their unnecessary inclusion only serves to demean the person saying them. In an article published by the Huffington Post titled “Actually, I’m Not Sorry at All Sorry I’m Not Sorry,” Ani Vrabel boldly claims that these off-hand apologies indicate meekness and inadequacy. Fed up with the liberality with which this phrase is used, Vrabel states: “This isn’t about not holding myself accountable for my actions; it’s about no longer reflexively blurting out an apology I don’t really owe. It’s about changing my default setting from unnecessary guilt.”
Citing situations where “I’m sorry” makes its unwarranted appearance; Vrabel calls women to stop apologizing for things that they aren’t actually responsible for. One shouldn’t have to apologize before asking a question, stepping around someone on a crowded sidewalk, shuffling through a sea of briefcases to exit an elevator, or arriving to work late due to unforeseen traffic. These situations simply don’t warrant an assumption of blame; they happen, but not because of something one particular person has done.
As an undergraduate woman preparing for life in the professional world, patterns like these are incomparably crucial in determining the success with which I will meet with later in my life. I don’t want to be seen as meek or inadequate, and I certainly don’t want to have a hand in perpetuating those descriptors, so I must remain constantly aware of the words I choose to say to others. Apologizing is an important aspect of being a genuine and heartfelt person, but even the strictest Miss Manners coach would have to concede that overusing these words is just as bad as not saying them at all.
Next time you’re at the office, riding the metro downtown, or just hanging out with friends, be cognizant of how often your female and male peers say they’re sorry for menial occurrences. Chances are, the men won’t be quite as charitable with these offhand apologies, but that shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a bad thing. We, the women of the world, must stop burdening ourselves with excess blame and stand tall in our patent leather pumps and sassy oxfords as we cast off the submissiveness of the S-word. So say you’re sorry when you really are to blame for something gone wrong, but if you’re arbitrarily throwing out the words in a façade of politeness, it’s about damn time you own it.