Women Saying Sorry

Interesting addition to our ongoing discussion about apologies: Check out this TedTalk about how women overapologize, and how too many “I’m sorrys” can relate to or exacerbate problems with confidence, participation, and voice. Canadian sociologist Maja Jovanovic starts with a fascinating story about women academics at a conference downplaying their own expertise. From this writeup:

Canadian sociologist Maja Jovanovic believes the “sorry”s we sprinkle through our days hurt us. They make us appear smaller and more timid than we really are, and they can undercut our confidence.

Jovanovic, who teaches at McMaster University and Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario, became interested in this topic when she attended a conference four years ago. The four women on a panel were, she says, “experts in their chosen fields. Among them, they had published hundreds of academic articles, dozens of books. All they had to do was introduce themselves. The first woman takes a microphone and she goes, ‘I don’t know what I could possibly add to this discussion’ … The second woman takes the microphone and says, ‘Oh my gosh, I thought they sent the email to the wrong person. I’m just so humbled to be here.’” The third and fourth women did the same thing.

During the 25 panels at that week-long conference, recalls Jovanovic, “not once did I hear a man take that microphone and discount his accomplishments or minimize his experience. Yet every single time a woman took a microphone, an apologetic tone was sure to follow.” She adds, “I found it enraging; I also found it heartbreaking.”

I like her observation that in many cases, we can substitute “Thank you” for “I’m sorry.” It reminded me of the “and stance,” in which the substitution of “and” for “but” in many contexts not only makes the statement more powerful but more accurate as well. Apologies should be intentional and specific, and they should not be working to damage self-confidence or undermine legitimacy/dignity.

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