I'm sorry, I have a question. I'm sorry, I have something to say. I'm sorry, could you repeat that? I'm sorry I bumped into you. I'm sorry, this isn't what I ordered. I'm sorry I have emotions that I displayed in public. I'm sorry for taking up space, for asking for your attention, for breathing your air. I'm sorry for being here, for being in your way. I'm sorry for being.
I'm sorry. This two word abdication is so routinely woven into women's language that most of us don't even realize we're saying it. But say it we do. We say it All. The. Time. Start tuning in--to your language, to the words of women around you. I'm sorry falls from the lips of women as easily as breath, with the simultaneous and irreconcilable force of a whisper and a wrecking ball.
I'm sorry is a sneaky, subversive habit. Spoken before a sentence, it subtly but effectively cancels everything that follows. I have this question, this opinion, this need, but we all know that I shouldn't. Uttered, as it nearly always is (by women and men), immediately upon the exhibition of even a mild emotional response, it confers shame. I regret that you had to witness this sloppy display of my humanity. I have failed at keeping my truth appropriately tucked away. When used to excuse a blunder--a dropped call, a brushed shoulder, a short delay--it confers a vague regret, more for our state of being than any particular action. I'm sorry that I took more space, more time than I am worth; I'm sorry for my failure to control the elements, traffic, invisible signals bouncing from Earth to satellites and back. I really need to work on me. I want you to know I'm aware of these shortcomings. I'm sorry.
I'm sorry is so grotesquely over-used that, like the boy who cried wolf, its power to confer any urgency, any true call to action, is lost. These two words are our culture's Get Out of Jail Free card. When our children do something society deems inappropriate, we tell them "say you're sorry." When a professional athlete, actor, or political figure makes a misstep, they are expected to apologize. Never mind the presence or absence of any actual feelings of regret. We don't care if you plan to make amends, or even if you're going to do it again next week. Just be good and say you're sorry.
And should you wear the leaden cape of cultural expectations labeled HERS, you'd best prepare to say you're sorry any time you've hurt someone's feelings. Or it's possible some feelings in the vicinity of you may have been knocked slightly off-kilter. Or if you imagine you might have, possibly, in some small or unintended way, damaged the feelings of another. Nice girls don't hurt people's feelings. Be nice. Say you're sorry.
It's no wonder women so often lead with this linguistic dyad. If we're to be responsible for all the feelings, all of the time, we're going to spend a lot of our time sorry. Kindly ignore the fact that feelings are generated from within an individual, igniting inside each human in response to their original thoughts about the world around them, not as a direct result of that world (or the not nice women in it). Why would you bring that up? That's not nice. Say you're sorry.
Well guess what? I'm not sorry. I'm not sorry if I don't move aside on the sidewalk or in the aisle and my body might enter your space. You, too, could move aside, and I've noticed you're never sorry when you run into me. I'm not sorry when we both arrive in a doorway at the same time, and I'm not sorry if I go in ahead of you. I'm not sorry if my body spills out of my seat and into yours, or if the sight of my body invokes some primal fear in you. I'm not sorry if my sensuality, the suggestion of my sex, triggers your unacknowledged wounds. I'm not sorry for the space I occupy--physical, energetic, or otherwise.
I'm not sorry that I speak out loud. I'm not sorry when I have questions, opinions, or things I want to share. Not even when those things are contrary to yours, to society's, to what is popular or generally considered nice. I'm not sorry that I have huge feelings, nor am I sorry for sharing them verbally or behaviorally. I'm not sorry that, when my body gets full of these emotions, they leak out of my eyes. I'm not sorry for misaligning with our culture's near phobic avoidance of public displays of emotion.
I'm not sorry about a damned thing that I need, nor anything I want. I'm not sorry when I ask for these things, be they clarification, more room to spread out, more time to think, a drink of water, my food the way I ordered it, a trip to the bathroom, a touch, your attention. I'm not sorry for the mental space I take up in this world, with my own thoughts or by requesting the focus of others.
I'm not sorry you have thoughts and feelings about me. I'm not sorry if you share them with me, nor am I sorry if you choose to keep them to yourself. I'm not responsible for how you feel, and I'm not sorry about that, either. I'm not sorry for resting comfortably in my own emotional sovereignty, nor for letting you sit in yours. I'm not sorry if you don't agree with me, if you find my ideas offensive, preposterous, obstreperous. I honor your thoughts, feelings, and experiences with zero regret.
I'm not sorry that I have a voice, a vagina, a menstrual cycle, nipples that are supposedly pornographic (versus the same nipples located on a man's chest), or any other womanly bits that you find confusing or threatening. I'm not sorry that I refuse to behave in a ladylike fashion, to stay within my prescribed lane, to be seen and not heard like a good girl. I'm not sorry that society didn't make a space for me, so I made my own. I'm not sorry for inviting so many other women to join me here, and for making one hell of a ruckus in our hard-won space. I'm not sorry for overturning the patriarchal apple cart. (I'm really not sorry for that one.)
I'm not sorry, and I'm inviting you to join me in this space. In fact, I'm challenging you to meet me here. For the love of all that's holy, stop saying I'm sorry. Strike that two word curse from your vocabulary. Encourage your friends, your sisters, your mothers and aunties and cousins, to do the same. Just. Stop. Being. Sorry. Already! You can have questions, needs, desires, and opinions. You can take up space, time, and energy. You can expand, demand, and reprimand. You exist, and that's no accident. Stop acting like it is!
Stop being sorry, for everything you do and everything you are. And while we're at it, let's reclaim the power of a true apology, shall we? I'm sorry is so 1999's Robert Downey Junior. Once you've become accustomed to taking up space, asking questions, and having feelings, go ahead and burn your Get Out of Jail Free card. When you fuck up, own it. Don't toss out those weak words you've been programmed to provide, without thought or intention. When you truly feel regret, when you have wronged another human (or yourself), when you want to apologize not out of habit or from a sense of cultural pressure, but because you honestly wish to atone, use a new two-word sentence: I apologize.
Treat these two words with the reverence they deserve. Don't go throwing them out everywhere, for any minor or assumed transgression. We're not creating a new version of I'm sorry here. We're resurrecting a lost art, honoring one of the deepest expressions of personal power. I'm sorry is chocolate flavored candy: cheap and waxy, easy to find and just as easy to forget. I apologize should feel like dark Belgian chocolate: rich and to be consumed sparingly, at just the right moment; a nuanced experience that lingers.
I'm not sorry, but I do apologize. I apologize when I am wrong, when I am responsible for a mistake, when I have learned and know better. I hold this sentence like the jewel it is, nestled in my crown. I'm not afraid to use it, but I never use it out of fear. And I'm not sorry about that, either.