This past weekend brought about a beautiful, raucous, wild, atomic collision of feminist literary splendor. Through feats of great timing and kind generosity, in a single 48 hour period I was able to see 3 of my [s]heroes speak about books, feminism, music, art, activism, humor, and pretty much everything I value about being a human. By the time the clock tolled midnight on Sunday, I was vibrating with the energy of having fed my brain with the thoughtful wit of the truly talented and my soul with the enlightened reflections of the of the truly wise.
Last Friday my husband treated me to an evening with Carrie Brownstein in conversation with Maria Semple in support of Carrie's new memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. It was fantastic, and I'll have a lot to say about it in a later post.
I didn't get a decent pic, so let this perfect moment when Carrie threw out the first pitch at a Mariner's game serve here instead. Photo Credit.
But right now, women (and I know that men read this blog, too, but now I am talking to my sisters here), we need to speak frankly. And by "speak frankly," I mean I need to yell at you. Well, at us. Because, women - feminist women - I spent a good quantity of time in crowds with you last weekend and felt irritated and heartsick as I heard the familiar chime of your frequent "sorry's." And, I feel dirty admitting it (though I am NOT sorry to say), but I chimed in myself, too.
I know you know what I mean. You walk in front of someone to move to your seat? You say "sorry." Someone walks in front of you to move to their seat? You both say "sorry." Bump into someone making your way out of a theater? "Sorry." Pass someone on your way into the bathroom stall they just vacated? "Sorry." Reach for a napkin at the bar, brush against someone while draping your coat over a seat, ask the usher for directions, "sorry, sorry, sorry."
But are we sorry, sorry-saying women? Are you sorry? Was I? And should we be for those transgressions we've committed? You know the sins I speak of. Those cardinal sins of taking up space, moving about publicly, being visible and tangible, asking for what you need, and literally reaching for what we want. Do we need to apologize for doing these things in general? Do we need to apologize for doing these things while female?
OF COURSE WE DON'T. And we don't really think that we do, do we? It can't be a real apology, because I don't even make those when others truly deserve them. No, this kind of "sorry" is a linguistic tic, like upspeak or the undermining qualifiers ("I think," "In my opinion," "I'm not sure this is right, but...") that we women often unknowingly add to our speech. It's voluntary weakness in an instance where no weakness is demanded, and I regret it in myself as much as I hate hearing it from others. Because why on earth would we give up our power in the name of unconscious conversational convention? Politeness doesn't even demand this kind of linguistic self-abnegation. Manners are important, and I don't advocate for social brutishness in the name of gender equality. But, if we mean "excuse me," then we should say "excuse me." If we mean, "Would you please tell me where my seat is?," then there is no reason to say "I'm sorry, I can't find my seat."
Especially, women, especially when we are all together in a space that our valued speakers - our heroes - have built for us to celebrate our struggles for equality in the arts, in politics, in life. Carrie Brownstein helped construct a community wherein a feminist-rockstar-turned-feminist-comedian could be revered for her art, thereby making it allowable for all of us to be guitar-windmilling rock banshees/insightful goofballs. And together we brought our sorry "sorry's" into that sacred space that she built and desecrated it. It was the same with the Gloria Steinem and Cheryl Strayed event. Those two women, Gloria especially, have worked most of their lives to build a culture in which we don't have to apologize for fully engaging in the world as women. How sad that we couldn't even cohere to that value in a hall filled with fellow feminists. It's disheartening to think of dozens of women voluntarily apologizing for coexisting publicly with other women while in the presence of undeniable feminist greatness. Gloria and Cheryl didn't deserve that. I didn't deserve that. And, women, you don't deserve that. We don't deserve the micro-erosion of constant, casual apology. We deserve so much better.
Think I'm overreacting? Have a gander at these statistics that prove that women apologize more often that men do.
Don't think it's a big deal to say that we're sorry all the time? Think about it in terms of scientific theories linking body language, confidence, and success. (If we behave as if we're subordinate to others through our language, our feelings of self-possession and possibly our actual achievement could suffer.)
So, friends, to close, please, oh please, instead of being sorry, let's remember the world that Carrie, Cheryl, and Gloria have worked so hard to build with us and to build for us. I'll do my best to erase casual apology from my speech if you'll do your best to remove it from yours. Let's not be sorry when we are not sorry. Let's not apologize as a matter of course for nothing and for everything. We've been sorry long enough. It's time to be strong, courageous, fierce, funny, witty, sagacious - anything, anything but sorry.
*I hate the phrase "Sorry, not sorry." If you're not sorry, then why say anything? Just shut your trap and let your confidence speak your power in a way that cutely acknowledging that social convention requires you to apologize for something you don't regret just can't.