Today I came to a startling realization about my personality that I never really saw as a flaw until the boyfriend pointed it out to me.
A little bit of backstory: I’ve been fairly stressed out over the last month and a half due to various reasons. It does not help at all that I’m a perfectionist, so whenever something went wrong, I would shoulder the blame for it even though there were times where things were just completely out of my hands and out of my control. But, for some reason, I ended up apologizing for things that I wasn’t meant to be feeling sorry for.
Say today for instance. Aforementioned stressful situation made me upset. Call boyfriend to discuss it. After discussing the circumstances surrounding the situation that perpetuated the stress, boyfriend gets upset because I was already upset to begin with, which in turn led me to feeling even more upset, resulting in me apologizing for making him upset.
And therein lies the issue.
I never truly understood the problem I had until he said these words (or something along the lines of it, but you’ll still catch my drift):
“You need to stop saying sorry because how I feel is not your responsibility. You do this way too much and you shouldn’t.”
And by golly, is he right. It wasn’t until I had cleared my head (and cried for a little bit, I’m only human) that the harsh truth had set in. I apologize way too much for everything. Sometimes the reasons for my apology are legitimate and warrants genuine remorse (like that one time I forgot a very important meeting with my thesis supervisor), but there are also times when I just apologize about the most menial things that don’t even really matter (like that one time I baked a bad batch of brownies).
Furthermore, apologizing for how he feels is just an extremely insensitive thing to do. It just makes it sound like he shouldn’t be feeling upset when that is far from the truth. The man can feel whatever he wants to feel whether or not it was my fault (but really it wasn’t my fault this time, I promise), his own or someone else’s! Telling him otherwise just discounts his feelings, further perpetuating the stupid notion that men shouldn’t be emotional and feel feelings because it makes them look weak (WHICH IS UNTRUE, FOR THE RECORD). That is the exact opposite of what I want as a feminist who is completely against gender stereotypes!! But, that’s another long discussion for another day.
This incident reminded me of this video I’ve seen circulating around the vast space we call the Internet, filmed by Pantene that exemplifies EXACTLY what I’m talking about.
Some of the situations shown in the video are a little over the top, but that’s kind of what you need to do in order to get the point across. You know that awkward moment when someone is walking towards you from the opposite direction on a really narrow footpath? I can safely say that there hasn’t been a time when I didn’t apologize for doing that weird side-step “Oh no, you go first” dance that we all know well. For some strange reason, my first instinct was to be the first not only say I was sorry, but to also move out of the other person’s way when really we were both in each other’s way.
This led me to doing more research in my search for the answer to the question of why the hell do women tolerate so much negativity and then apologize for it even when they have nothing to do with it?
A study by Schumann and Ross (2010) have shown that women do tend to apologize more frequently then men do. Not only do women apologize more, but we also tend to view our past transgressions as more severe than men ever will. This stems from the very foundations of how our society is built upon the notion that women are taught to be polite and to basically be peacekeepers on account of our more sensitive, empathetic natures. On the other hand, men are hardly ever told to apologize for things. In fact, men are encouraged to be assertive — to stand by their decisions and to be the more dominating gender. To never apologize because it could make them appear weak.
The study went on to say that there is a possibility that men have a higher threshold for pain, both emotional and physical. This is where I call bullshit because I do not for a second believe that the general male population has a higher pain tolerance than women do.
Let me explain further.
For one, y’all don’t get debilitating period cramps for two days, once a month and you don’t have to deal with sore boobs that feels like someone’s punched them but really, it’s just your hormones! Secondly, I have one word for you: Childbirth. I also don’t think that men lack a similar capacity to feel emotional pain like women do. I believe that it’s all been indoctrinated by society into young boys who were told to never show “weakness” while growing up, as I’ve mentioned earlier.
Culture also plays a major part in this. Having been raised in a fairly traditional South-East Asian home, my mother drilled the concept of “filial piety” into us kids. Basically, we were raised to always show respect for our elders and to never question their decisions or opinions. So, if you make a mistake or even show any semblance of disrespect for your elders, the first thing you do? That’s right, you apologize. The old people are never wrong. After all, they’re so much wiser and have so much more life experiences, therefore you should always take responsibility for any wrongdoings because THAT is the Asian way. These days, I find myself apologizing for the sake of it even when I don’t mean it (although I don’t realize it at the time) just to save myself a world of hurt and pain from the hassle of having to deal with negativity.
One other thing that I’ve noticed is how much women tend to apologize for seemingly having an opinion about something. We say that we’re sorry for asking what we think is a stupid question when there are times when it could something totally genius in order to downplay our strengths. Why on earth do we do this? It is behaviour like this that tells young girls today that it isn’t okay to be smart. That it isn’t okay to play up our strengths and abilities because “women should only be seen, not heard”.
The biggest question at the end of the day is whether or not it is right for me to keep accepting blame for things. Should I even be using the word “sorry” as a crutch for making myself appear more “nice” or as a way to bolster my self-esteem because I just simply don’t have the confidence to stand up for myself more? Should I be saying sorry for things I have absolutely no control over and for wrongdoings that have been committed against me as a woman?
This word just occurs so often in my daily interactions to the point where it’s getting ridiculous!
I say that I’m sorry when I’m waiting to be served by someone at the coffee shop instead of saying, “excuse me”.
I say that I’m sorry for bothering when really all I want to say is, “Hey, can we talk?”.
I say that I’m sorry when I need information from someone instead of asking for what I want right away.
I even say that I’m sorry about the way I look some days when I’m not dressed up or wearing makeup because apparently, looking normal is a bad thing now.
Saying the words, “I’m sorry”, has become such a knee-jerk reaction to so many different scenarios that we don’t realize the negative impact it has on our self-esteem, relationships and our roles in society.
I am not saying that we should stop being apologetic. But, there is a time and a place for it. Saying we’re sorry all the time takes all the meaning out of the word. It leaves the word feeling empty and hollow. Sooner or later, the word “sorry” itself, will be seen as a joke to others because you’re needlessly apologizing when you don’t need to.
So, there you have it, ladies. We need to stop apologizing for everything we do and we certainly should not accept unnecessary blame. We need to be able to stand firmly on our own two feet, take a leaf out of the men’s book and stop worrying so much about what people think. At the end of the day, we are just as entitled to our opinions, feelings and rights. Most of all, we should never be apologizing for being anything but ourselves.
So, I sincerely do apologize for apologizing so much. I’ll try not to let it happen too often.