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15th Mar 2024

Sorry but we need to start teaching girls not to apologise

Anna Martin


It can feel like we girls apologise for everything

For some reason, it’s like our brains just have a way of making us take the blame even when we’re not the ones at fault.

While apologising and holding yourself accountable can be a good thing, sometimes it can backfire.

For example, a woman starts a sentence with “Sorry, but…” or “I might be wrong, but …”, it might feel like they’re being polite but can also be interpreted as a lack of confidence.

So why do we do it?

Focusing on empathy

Credit: Getty

As women and girls, we are thought to be soft and empathetic, if not at home then by society.

A study of college-aged men and women claimed that both sexes apologised in equal proportion for what they considered to be offensive behaviour.

The main difference was that women reported committing more offences than men, indicating that their threshold for perceiving offence was much lower.

This is believed to be because women are thought to be more attuned to, and responsible for, how their behaviour affects others.

American psychologist, Dr Stephen Hinshaw explains that girls are “more often rewarded for focusing on others’ feelings while boys are more often rewarded for asserting themselves.”

Being called bossy

While assertive boys often garner praise, girls who show confidence in their ideas could be labelled bossy or conceited.

Ironically, they tend to be shamed by their female peers more often if they seem to be too pushy or forward.

“No one wants to be seen as bossy,” stated Dr Rachel Busman, a clinical psychologist.

“So it can be tempting for a girl to use qualifying language to avoid being viewed in a negative light by her peers or authority figures.”

To prevent being seen this way, girls start adding sorry into their language and instead of making statements they begin to stage them as questions.

For example, “I know” may turn into “I’m not sure but…”

How can we change things?

One of the best things we can do for younger generations is to lead by example as they will mimic our behaviour.

It does mean retraining ourselves to stop doing some of the behaviours we have been practicing for years but it will be beneficial for both parties.

Watch your language: The first thing we can do is tune into our linguistic habits.

Dr. Busman explains that girls who hear parents, especially their mothers, over-apologising are likely to pick up the habit themselves.

Being mindful of your language will set an example of confident speech and show her you support her learning to do the same.

Praise directness: One of the reasons girls apologise is because it feels more polite.

Although all genders are encouraged to have good manners, a heavier value is often placed on a girl’s ability to be nice, polite, and compliant.

There’s nothing wrong with being polite—if the situation calls for it but prefacing questions with “excuse me” when she’s not interrupting sends the message that she feels like she needs permission to express her thoughts.