Girls wear pink and boys wear blue. Society places these firm expectations on people even before birth. Prescribed gender roles also come with specific habits that aren’t innate but learned through observation and experience. Male-identifying people learn that they must take up space to feel acknowledged and confident; thus “manspreading” has become a norm in the male posture vocabulary. For those who identify as females, two words are expected to be said in one form or another almost constantly: “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry, but do you think I could get another napkin?” “I don’t know if this is stupid or not, but could you explain that again?” “This might be a dumb idea, but we could go bowling tonight.” These are all ways in which women apologize for a legitimate idea. The act of apologizing reinforces female stereotypes such as passivity and politeness.
These submissive phrases give the invitation for someone to shoot down or reconsider the validity of an idea without knowing they’ve done it. For women, apologies are second-nature — a subconscious tick that can’t be controlled. It’s a habit that can be detrimental to a woman’s confidence and success.
Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue and one of the least-apologetic female leaders of this time, recently did an in-depth interview with CNN in which she mentions the struggles she’s faced as a woman in a position of power. She stated, "Sometimes there has been a certain level of personal criticism directed at me that, possibly, might not have been [used against] a man in a similar position.”
Wintour explores the idea that men are questioned far less than women as their thoughts are validated simply because of their gender. Planned Parenthood outlines harmful stereotypes such as the idea that men should be “strong, aggressive and bold,” while women should be “polite, accommodating and nurturing.” These character traits automatically point toward the problem of apologetic women. If a feminine person is supposed to be polite and accommodating, they’d naturally feel the need to apologize for anything that sounded too strong, aggressive or bold. They’re inherently apologizing for being too “masculine.”
The concept of gender roles and gender fluidity is a whole other conversation, but Wintour shows her support for women to take on these bold and empowered roles. "I don't think it's a moment not to take a stand ... I believe, as I think those of us who work at Condé Nast believe, that you have to stand up for what you believe in and you have to take a point of view,” Wintour said. If women want to fight for equality of the sexes, they can’t continue to apologize for the very rights they are demanding.
Wintour also discussed Vogue’s recent turn toward politics. "I think it's very, very important to have a point of view, and we profile women in the magazine that we believe in,” Wintour stated, “After the defeat of Secretary Clinton in 2016 [in particular], we believe that women should have a leadership position and we intend to support them."
By featuring women the company supports, it’s furthering a feminist agenda and not apologizing for the female audience it knows it can pander to. Also, by allowing more female voices to be heard through the company’s magazine, it can ensure that women are not hiding behind their accomplishments, but are instead applauded for their strides toward equality.
New York Times writer Sloane Crosley said it best when she wrote, “The ‘sorrys’ are taking up airtime that should be used for making logical, declarative statements, expressing opinions and relaying accurate impressions of what we want.” There’s no reason why women can’t state their opinions in the same way men do. It’s not aggressive or even assertive, it’s simply efficient and confident.
If women begin to make the conscious decision to state their intentions, they can change the assumption that women will bow down with a simple “I’m sorry.” Men can support this too by allowing women to speak their mind, avoiding “mansplaining” and encouraging females to stop apologizing for their beliefs. By breaking down this facet of gender expectations, society can take a step forward in the fight for gender equality.
Ryann Sheehy is a sophomore theater and media arts and design double major. Contact Ryann at email@example.com.