The nine things women can’t stop saying sorry for


Illustrated by Austin Watts

Over-apologising among women is so prevalent that there is even a drama group dedicated to helping women become more assertive and stop saying sorry. At a Feminism in London 2013 conference at the weekend, a workshop aimed to “explore how we women can find ourselves and our voices to enjoy a place in the world, rather than play under it”.

Here are the most common things, in my experience, women just can’t stop apologising for:

1. Not wanting to have sex

A quick poll of my girl friends suggests this is THE most common apology. They feel guilty when they say they are too tired for sex or just aren’t ‘in the mood’, and always apologise when they don’t want to have sex with their boyfriends.

But a reverse turn of events involves their partners passing out in a beery haze without so much as a slurred sorry. So much for equality.

2. ‘Girlie’ tastes

The more girlie women out there will recognise the feeling of wanting to ask men to swap the football for Bake Off, or beer for wine. But when faced with the pressure of saying ‘No’ and being ‘the stereotypical annoying woman’, these women either bite their tongues or over-apologise as the men begrudgingly switch off Sky Sports.

3. When they don’t mean it

The passive aggressive apology is commonly used by a woman who wants to scream at the person standing opposite her. Instead of unleashing her anger, she will bite her tongue and apologise, hoping it will provoke the clueless person opposite her to follow suit. They rarely do. Common examples include being unfairly criticised, facing casual sexist comments and being pushed on the Tube.

4. Getting ready

It is an unavoidable fact that most women take longer than men to get ready – mainly because it is near impossible to shave their legs, choose an outfit, do their hair and layer on make-up in the same time it takes a man to stick some clothes on.

Women are then left with the very limited options of either foregoing their beauty regime and sticking it to society in one swift move, or apologising for blow-drying their hair, creaming their legs, painting their nails, lashing on the mascara … The list goes on.

5. Periods

“I’m really sorry I can’t … I have my, um, period.” Just like number one, this is a sex-related apology.* Some women feel an instinctive need to say sorry on behalf of their monthly menstruation – even though it affects them far more than it does anyone else. The only time this phrase is uttered happily is by girls trying to get out of swimming classes at school.

*Other sex-related apologies can include not having waxed/ shaved, not being on the pill and wearing Bridget Jones-style big pants underwear.

6. Not looking ‘nice’

A now-feminist friend tells me she once apologised to the postman for not having any make-up on, because she felt she ‘looked a state’. Aged 17 and wearing last night’s make-up with unwashed hair, I once did the same to my driving instructor. Not once did he ever apologise to me for constantly wearing tracksuit bottoms and sitting with his legs so wide apart I once mistook his knee for the gear stick. But that’s another story.

7. Saying sorry

The truly skilled over-apologiser is so used to being apologetic that she cannot stop. When confronted with a ‘but you don’t need to be sorry,’ she will automatically apologise without thinking. She then typically laughs at herself while crying a little on the inside, at just how far gone she is on the apology scale.

8. For everyone else

Over-apologisers don’t just feel bad about things they have done – they take responsibility for everyone around them. No guilt is out of bounds for these women, and they can apologise on behalf of partners, friends, kids and even strangers. It can result in extreme exhaustion and a general feeling of un-appreciation.

9. Having feelings

Generally thought of as purely female terrain, emotions can lead to almost immediate apologies. The classic line ‘so how do you feel?’ can induce a fear so intense in a man that a woman feels obliged to apologise as soon as she says it – or smile nonchalantly and pretend she doesn’t really want to discuss feelings. But – news alert – men have feelings too.


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