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Kevin’s always getting onto me about how frequently I apologize for things that aren’t my fault. “Why are you saying sorry for that?” he asks often. And I never have a good answer. For me, needless apologies (for things like the cable guy being late when Kevin’s come home to wait on him, or to a server when the restaurant has screwed up my order) just come out — they’re virtually subconscious at this point. Which is kind of upsetting, when I think about it.

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So when I saw Pantene’s latest ad, “Not Sorry,” I cringed. Yep — that’s me. I’m the girl who says “sorry” when someone else bumps into ME. Who, far too often, says, “This might be a dumb question, but…” Not good.

It’s not good for a lot of reasons, as it turns out.

For one, it turns out all those apologies aren’t so great for the ole self esteem.

“By taking responsibility for things that aren’t your fault, you denigrate your self-esteem,” Linda Sapadin, PhD, author of Master Your Fears: How to Triumph over Your Worries and Get on with Your Life.

It’s something that likely is tied to women’s urge to nurture and try to make sure everyone is feeling included and content, but it can get out of control quickly, and is especially harmful in professional settings. We talk about wanting to be treated equally to our male counterparts in the workplace, but if we have trouble conveying opinions or insights without starting with “I’m sorry if this is a dumb thought, but…”, the deck is certainly not stacked in our favor.

Studies have shown that women’s tendency to apologize often doesn’t mean that we are more willing to own up to situations where we’re in the wrong. Men and women, in fact, are equally likely to say sorry when we feel we’re at fault. The problem is, women feel they’re at fault roughly a bazillion times more often. We beg forgiveness when a meeting ran over and we’re late for a coffee date. We say we’re sorry when we hit a red light. It’s reflexive for me, certainly, but I’ve become more aware of it lately and have started to drive myself a little crazy.

Watching Pantene’s “Not Sorry” ad reminded me of Lily Myers, a girl I saw perform at Barnard College’s College National Poetry Slam last year thanks to a link from Upworthy. Though it doesn’t inherently focus on the “I’m sorry” overload many women suffer from, there are parallels there to be certain. Lily talks about being amid the dichotomy that is her parents: watching her mother shrink before her eyes while her father expands. Observing the differences between the way her brother, as a male, was taught to behave and speak and react, versus the instruction — both spoken and inferred — she received.

Her words get under your skin as she points out these differences that have irrevocably shaped her, and so many other women, too.

“My brother never thinks before he speaks. I have been taught to filter,” she says. “I want to say, ‘We come from difference, Jonas. You have been taught to grow out. I have been taught to grow in. You learned from our father how to commit. How to produce. How to roll each thought off your tongue with confidence…I learned to absorb.”

I remember hearing when I was younger that the reason women cross their legs the way they do is to take up less space. To be less disruptive even with their physical presence. And I recall being so saddened while reading adolescent therapist Mary Pipher’s book Reviving Ophelia, shedding light on the shift she saw occur all too often as girls begin to leave childhood and enter adolescence, starting to become quieter and less confident almost before Pipher’s eyes.

It was sad to realize that despite the best intentions of our families, these influences can often trickle in just from society. Many girls escape it, and for that I’m so thankful, but too many still have their wings clipped by these “lessons” of smallness, of demureness, of inferiority disguised as being feminine.

Who’d have thought a shampoo commercial would drudge up such an impassioned post? And yet it has. And I’m thankful for Pantene for starting to bring conversations like this more to the forefront. Recognizing these societal trends and starting to talk about them will be what will eventually will help us move on from them.

 

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