As I’m heading to class on a recent morning, I spot a male student moving toward me. He bumps his shoulder into mine. In an automatic reaction, the word “sorry” leaves my mouth. The boy continues on without speaking.
Even though it was clear that he was the one who bumped me, I apologized immediately. Neither of us were guilty of malicious intentions, but why was I so quick to assume fault?
As I thought about this, past experiences came to mind. I thought of the time a female friend was called on to share her homework responses. She prefaced her answer with, “Sorry, I don’t know if this is correct.” I remember going grocery shopping and hearing the woman ahead of me profusely apologizing for having a large amount of items to bag.
When Hillary Clinton’s campaign issued an apology after the candidate fell ill with pneumonia, I immediately thought of the defensive statement President-elect Donald Trump released after being caught on tape bragging about sexual assault. I reflected on all the times I have witnessed women and girls apologize for things they didn’t do.
It’s as if apologizing regardless of fault has become commonplace for us female-identifying people. Given the history of gender roles in this country, it’s not hard to see why. In the 1800s, Victorian, corset-wearing women were deemed too delicate to work.
In the 1950s, suburban housewives tossed away their own aspirations for the sake of the family. Today, mothers are expected to put careers on hold in order to raise kids, while being a stay-at-home father is viewed as emasculating.
Some say that in our society as a whole, masculinity is associated with assertiveness, while femininity is linked to passiveness and politeness. Time and time again, I’ve witnessed men praised for their confidence, while women are criticized for attempting the same behavior.
Through media consumption and parental guidance, females are taught that we must soften ourselves. It’s no surprise that a number of young women at Grant say they feel an emergence of apologetic tendencies and uncertainty as they reach adolescence.
There’s data to back this up. In 2010, faculty at the University of Waterloo conducted a study on how often male and female people apologize. The results are telling. Researchers concluded the rate of apologizing when participants deemed themselves responsible is nearly identical between the sexes.
However, the study states that overall, “men apologize less frequently than women because they have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior.” In 2014, an experiment conducted by George Washington University found both men and women tend to interrupt women more often.
Members of the Grant community have felt the consequences. Rachel Karplus, a junior, recalls auditioning for choir and saying sorry every time she thought her voice was off-pitch. “I was like, ‘Why am I apologizing for so much when it’s not something I should be apologizing for?’” she asks.
Sasha Bartoo-Smith, another junior, describes the gender disparities she sees in classroom conversations. “They are often male-dominated,” she says. “If someone who’s not male tries to insert their opinion, (they get) talked over or people cut them off or don’t listen to what they’re saying.”
And a number of teachers note that while females outperform males academically, gender disparities in the confidence of students’ answers are apparent.
There’s no denying strong female voices exist in our culture. For example, Beyoncé has a net worth of $450 million and continues to be a commercial success; the 115th U.S. Congress will feature a record of 21 female senators.
The past election managed to bring gender issues to the spotlight. Trump blatantly berated Clinton in the debates, using her gender against her. His attacks became commonplace. For me, it was difficult not to draw parallels to classroom environments at Grant.
Now, having elected a misogynist into our nation’s highest office, we need confident female voices more than ever. So, I’m calling for females to get rid of the uncertainty and push past restrictive gender roles to speak with authority.
We have been apologizing for far too long. I, for one, am not sorry for that collision in the hallway. I am not sorry for having strong opinions. I am not sorry for speaking my mind. I am not sorry for being female.
And nobody else should be either. ◆