We're also sorry for our opinions, and sorry for not being qualified to voice them. Because, of course, we're never smart enough, or accomplished enough, or important enough. Or pretty enough, or thin enough; or have big enough breasts, or slim enough hips, or small enough nose, or full enough lips. Or, or, or...
Basically, we're sorry for simply existing and taking up space. (Were women just as sorry a century or two ago, when their voluminous hoopskirts and enormous hats took up much more space?)
Two women I know--one a nice Southern Methodist girl who helms a prestigious cultural organization, the other a nice New York Jewish girl with a PhD and daunting CV--pepper their conversations with so many apologies that it gets to be annoying. Or funny.
Several times, I've told each of them to stop apologizing so much. Their response: "I'm sorry."
We were on a committee together, where most of their statements were prefaced with, "I'm sorry." Their one-on-one conversations took twice as long as necessary because they constantly interrupted each other to apologize. I wish I'd kept count of how many times each said "sorry"; I could have sent the tally to Guiness for the record book.
In my Book Promotion 101 workshops and consulting practice, I've noticed that women are constantly apologizing: for being inexperienced at publicity, for not writing the "right" kind of book, for reading poorly aloud, etc. One author--an excellent writer, tall, gorgeous, naturally blonde and pencil-slim (with year-old twins!)--apologized because her first novel, a futuristic urban fantasy, wasn't "literary."
I said to her and the class, "Don't apologize for your work. You write the book you need to write, the only way you know how. If you could write a 'literary' novel, you would."
I've been mulling over all this for the past couple of months, but my thoughts were crystallized this morning by a piece I read in the NY Times: Stop the Presses, Boys! Women Claim Space on Op-Ed Pages. The article focuses on author Catherine Orenstein, who leads workshops that train women to write opinion essays.
Of the next four women who spoke, three started with a qualification or apology. “I’m really too young to be an expert in anything,” said Caitlin Petre, 23.
“Let’s stop,” Ms. Orenstein said. “It happens in every single session I do with women, and it’s never happened with men.” Women tend to back away from “what we know and why we know it,” she said.
Next she asked the participants why they thought it important to write op-ed articles....She then proceeded to create ... [a] list that included fame, money, offers of books, television series and jobs.
The Rev. Dr. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, an Episcopal priest and the executive director of Political Research Associates in Boston, frowned. “It’s not why I do it,” she said.
That, Ms. Orenstein declared, is a typically female response: “I never had a man say, ‘That’s not why I do it.’ ”
“What I want to suggest to you,” she continued, is that the personal and the public interests are not at odds, and “the belief that they are mutually exclusive has kept women out of power.” Don’t you want money, credibility, access to aid in your cause? she asked.
Cristina Page, a spokeswoman for Birth Control Watch in Washington, leaned forward. “I’ve never heard anyone say that before,” she said. “What you’ve just said is so important. It’s liberating.”
It's time for women to channel Benjamin Disraeli:
"Never apologize, never explain."And Erich Segal, with an important revision:
Having XX chromosomes means never having to say you're sorry.