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Women Should Be Sorry, But Not Sorry, That We Say Sorry So Much

It seems it's not the hardest word.

01/08/2017 10:42 AM AEST | Updated 01/08/2017 10:42 AM AEST
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"Perhaps that innate sense of wrongness fused into our DNA somewhere along the line, and sorrys formed on our lips before we even realised what we were doing."

In my estimation I've apologised for irrelevant things about 632 times today. I'll apologise for taking up space, saying things that could sound faintly contradictory, being in a not-so-wrong place at a not-so-wrong time. What's worse, I even preemptively say sorry... I haven't even done anything yet but the fact that I could say something inconvenient prompts an apology, just in case.

When I was at the hairdresser the other day I apologised so much -- my bag needed to be moved, I stood in someone's way when I was being shown to the basin, I moved my chin in the wrong direction when they wanted to take my 'after' photo for Instagram -- the apprentice had to tell me to stop.

I'm a decade older than her and she had the sense to tell me to stop saying sorry. I'm a grown-ass woman! It's an illness.

In my own world, I'm fierce. I know my mind, I'm hugely opinionated. But, as soon as this private sphere intersects with the public, I default to penitence; it's as if any moment I feel awkward or oppositional I need to express regret to the world. I hate it.

When I've expressed this frustration with myself to female friends, it seems I'm not alone. So many of us say it without realising we're doing it. For many, 'sorry' almost becomes its own punctuation mark, it breaks up ideas as fluidly as a comma, ends sentences as definitively as a full stop, fills silences that could stretch into endless ellipsis.

Women can shape language however they want, but if that language is rooted in submission and subservience, we need to interrogate it.

We ease into emails with acquiescing salutations, cautious, apologising if we need to make a demand, regretful of taking up time. We say sorry if we make minute mistakes, stall when changing gears in conversations, feel too much, too little, too everything. We say it as a question, ashamed of ourselves if our ears couldn't catch the words of another. It's a defense, a query, a pause, a breath.

Now, women shouldn't feel burdened to apologise for apologising. The point of calling out our tendency to express regret isn't to shame the habit, women can replace every second word with 'sorry' if they bloody well feel like it. There's nothing wrong with the word itself, it's when apologising is used to paper over a deep sense of deficiency that it becomes a problem.

Women can shape language however they want, but if that language is rooted in submission and subservience, we need to interrogate it.

So, I've tried to stop. Like easing out of any long-held habit, the going ain't always easy. I feel preemptive remorse rising from my subconscious, and even though I catch it more often than not, those sorrys can still slip out. My awareness has made the difference, though, and I've noticed a great vacuum in the place where my profuse apologies used to take space.

I've had to rethink how I express myself, how I tended to edge around a conversation instead of bellyflopping in with my own opinions. Now, in my post-apology recovery, I question the impulse for penitence and shut that sucker down. I sound less unsure, I'm less second-guessy, I come across more direct and confident.

In short, my inner and outer selves are correlating, the certainty and motivation I feel in my guts isn't watered down by my baffling caution. It makes for some awkward pauses, but I'd rather that than fill the blanks with remorse.

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It's a long road ahead. I'm sure there will be moments where I feel flustered and clunky and apologise for no reason, but it's liberating to finally be aware of the way my constant sorry-ing declares something about myself that I'm actually not comfortable with.

It's always felt more than a nervous tic, it connects into generations of women who have been made less-than, forced to feel inferior and awkward and wrong.

Perhaps that innate sense of wrongness fused into our DNA somewhere along the line, and sorrys formed on our lips before we even realised what we were doing. But we are not wrong, we don't need to keep repenting for opinions and ambitions, or even just taking up space.

To reject the 'sorry' is a great rebellion against a suppression of value and worthiness that so many women have been (and still are!) forced into. And so, I'm removing it from my everyday vocabulary, reserving it only for times when I've truly stuffed up.

I'm resisting the verbal -- subconscious -- agreement that just because I'm female I have something to regret. I -- we -- have so much more to say, and think, and do, without prefacing an assertion of self with disclaimers. So sorry not sorry, but I'm done with all that.

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