Do Women Apologize Too Much?

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Women of the world: Stop apologizing so much, urges Alison Fairbrother at Politics Daily. Women tend to apologize more than men, and for far more trivial transgressions, Fairbrother observes. She spent a week tabulating her apologies, for bumping into someone, for not buying paper towels, for her wireless cutting out during a gchat. "The average person asks for forgiveness four times a week. I do it about five times per day, mainly because I am one of those super-polite types, forever trying to smooth things over with my extreme graciousness," she writes. Does this constant apologizing make women seem weak?

When men do apologize, they often don't know why—they just want to "end the drama." Women shouldn't have to change their behavior to fit in at male-dominated offices, Fairbrother says. "But it seems that if many men are issuing apologies without understanding why, and women are both issuing and demanding apologies with greater frequency, there is an obvious misalignment. This can be dangerous, particularly because of the power relations involved in being the apologizer versus the aggrieved." (This was on full, weird display last week, after Clarence Thomas's wife Virginia called Anita Hill to ask Hill to apologize for testifying before Congress that the soon-to-be Supreme Court justice sexually harassed her.) Basically, the powerless always end up apologizing to the powerful.

Recommended Reading

"I'm sorry" is a performative statement—it's true because the speaker says it is. That makes it hard for the rest of us to tell if the apology is sincere—especially because of the ubiquity of the apology. And it's particularly hard to tell when it comes from unfaithful lovers, insincere politicians, and not-quite-contrite Wall Streeters, the latter two neatly tied together in Joe Barton's apology tour for apologizing to BP. (We should note one further example: the clause "I'm sorry, but..." which is one of the most obnoxious uses of the word, as it signals "I'm about to be a jerk," just as "I'm not racist, but..." tends to warn of an oncoming racist remark.)

Fairbrother's solution is the "non-apology apology"—a trick imparted by a woman who arrived to their meeting late and said simply, "I appreciate your patience." Fairbrother swoons,

It was a brilliant move. Instead of becoming a supplicant, earnestly asking me to forgive her transgression, she was sincere in her attempt to make it up to me (she bought an omelet) and showed respect for a character trait of mine that I value. Pop psychologists would call this "empowerment." Any frustrated feelings I had about her lateness were deflected, and she didn't have to prostrate herself over missing a bus.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.