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I’m Sorry… it’s a Feminist Issue

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Have you ever noticed how much you say “sorry” in your daily life?

There’s a big buzz about a new Pantene ad in the US which calls attention to how the apology is too often used by women as a crutch and a way to downplay their power. Time magazine and Forbes are writing about it. And it does seem to be a trait which defines women, rather than men.

And I’m not just talking about sorry when you bump into someone. But sorry if they bump into you and spill your drink down you.

It’s madness. A cultural epidemic amongst women. And we do it unconsciously all the time.

I find myself apologising with huge frequency to my friends that I’m not a good enough friend, to my husband that I’m a crap wife, to my children that I’m a terrible mother. The worse my headspace the harder I find it to live with myself, the more I apologise, the more I hate myself for 1) being such a failure of a human being and 2) that I am apologising at all, because actually I rock… a lot of the time I’m apologising to gloss over others’ failings and short comings so we can put them behind us and move on.

I found myself opening my workshop last weekend with an extended apology:

I was sorry that my workshop title was weird, that it was the first time I had taught it, that I hadn’t had long to prepare… I was sorry that I talked too much (at my own workshop) and I didn’t apologise (but wish I had) that the reason this was is that there were twice the amount of participants to the limit I had set, and therefore I was having to improvise as I went. And that my bra strap was showing at the back!

I have also apologised at each of my online book launches about possible imperfections, and the price of, my books. I have not apologised implicitly about certain book covers but I think it.

I apologise regularly for being weird and too niche. I always start my blogging course by apologising that I am not a techie whizz or as famous as they might hope.

Seriously. WTF is it with all this apologising.

I am convinced to the depth of my being that I will be… am… a disappointment to those who know me, hire me, pay me… that I am worse than a failure… despite knowing that actually I am one of the hardest working, biggest hearted, bravest, most creative people I know.


And as I thought a bit more about it I realised that “I’m sorry” is really my insurance policy. It stands for:

  • Please don’t sue me/ complain/ attack or destroy me physically or verbally
  • Please like me/ approve of me.
  • Please know that I know I am flawed, in fact that I am a total fucking failure, and therefore how incredible the creation of this thing was in the first place and that any benefit you get from this is truly miraculous.
  • I am fallible – and I know it.
  • I take up space… and I know that it might not be OK.
  • Please don’t call me bossy/ aggressive/ inappropriate…
  • Please do not excommunicate me… please let me live.
  • “Women know they have to be likable to get ahead. Apologizing is one way to make yourself more accessible and less threatening,” says Rachel Simmons, author of The Curse of the Good Girl. “Apologizing is one way of being deemed more likable.”  Sorry is simply another way of downplaying our power, of softening what we do, to seem nice.

It feels really primal. That as a woman and someone who holds a lot of non-mainstream views, I am genuinely at risk of attack at all times… and therefore need to shroud myself in apology.

In fact. I never go out without an apology on, whatever the weather.

I feel like however much I give it is never enough. It never could be. Christians talk of original sin. My original sin is that I’m crap. So I’m sorry. I’m truly sorry that you have to share this planet with me, that you have to hang out with me, or read my book, or eat what I’ve just cooked.

It runs that deep.

Basically it says “I’m sorry that I’m me.”


I’m sorry I’m too hairy, too fat, too English sounding, too posh, not American, too talkative, too shy, too hippy, too opinionated, too poor, too successful, not famous enough – yes I’m sorry for both at the same time.

I’m sorry leads to women who are perfectionist, competitive, insecure… who can never do enough, be enough, but will kill themselves trying.

There are very few times in my life when I feel completely at peace and at ease in this me-ness. And it’s usually post-creative, post-oragsmic, post-meditation.

So here goes. Let’s call ourselves out on it. And not be sorry that we’ve said sorry. But just aware, with great compassion that at that moment we feel threatened, unsafe, vulnerable. At that moment we need a blanket of words to cover our power. That at that moment being a woman in this world, exactly as you are, feels distinctly not OK.

So whilst I won’t say it, I’m sorry that this post isn’t perfectly written, that the logic might be a bit fuzzy and that you had to take time out of your sunny Sunday to read something below par.

Which I wrote. For you. For free. When I had a couple of precious child-free hours.

Oops, I did it again! 😉

Please tell me, how epidemic is apologising in YOUR life (would love to hear from my male readers too on that)… and how have your gotten over it?

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  1. Emily Curran
    Emily Curran01-27-2015

    Wow, this is such an interesting post! (Sorry, I know it’s from a while ago.)

    I have definitely noticed this in daily life…if I’m going somewhere I usually end up saying ‘sorry I’m so late!’ or ‘sorry I’m a bit early!’ even if I’m not really. And in the end, what I am basically saying is, ‘sorry for being here.’ ‘Sorry for taking up space and existing.’
    This is just one example!
    Thanks so much for your post.

    P.S I am re-reading your book ‘Moon Time’ again and loving it! 🙂

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