Friday, February 8, 2013

Why Do Women Apologize So Much?

Don’t tell the feminists but women are physically weaker than men. And don’t tell the feminists that forcing everyone to qualify the word "woman" with the word "strong" over and over again does not enhance anyone’s physical strength.

It makes you look like you have taken leave of your rational faculties.

Nowadays good feminists are looking in their mirrors and solemnly intoning: Who is the strongest of them all? At the same time, they are filling their conversations with apologies. For all the apologizing you would think that liberated women are a sorry bunch indeed.

At some level, all of those apologies are adaptive behavior. Being the weaker and the fairer sex women want to avoid conflict. Apologizing is a way of avoiding conflict. Thus, women are prone to do it more often. It’s a survival mechanism. Darwin would have had no problem explaining it.

All of this assumes that we have a basic understanding of the social ritual called apology. Saying you are sorry may be an apology, but it may not be. It’s a murky area, indeed.

Writing in Jezebel Karyn Polewaczyk suggests that women apologize too much, and that if they want to be good feminists they should stop being so weak.

In her words:

While it’s easy to chart the number of times someone apologized during a scientifically-controlled study, I don’t think women are genetically programmed to act like this, or that men have a “higher threshold” for offensive behavior. I think it’s that women are expected to be exceptionally grateful for the crumbs tossed our way—and so we show our gratitude by cushioning our wants with a series of, “I know this is asking a lot, but…”, “I hate to ask, but could you…” and “I might sound like an idiot for wondering, but…”-isms.

As a rule feminists do not believe that women or men are genetically programmed to behave one way or another. But Polewaczyk’s errs when she compares apology to expressions of gratitude.

For the record, when you apologize you taking personal responsibility for having offended, slighted, failed or otherwise committed an error. By doing so you are saying that the mistake was inadvertent, that you swear not to do it again and that you will humbly withdraw from human commerce in order to make amends.

Apologies are usually divided into sincere and insincere. If the apologetic individual does not look like he is suffering severe moral anguish then the chances are that he does not mean what he is saying and will go back to making the same errors at the earliest opportunity.

If someone looks like he is apologizing sincerely and fails to honor his implied vow not to do it again, his apology is insincere.

If someone looks like he is apologizing sincerely and does not feel that he needs to withdraw for a time from human society then his apology is insincere.

If Polewaczyk is saying that some people apologize so often that their apologies cannot be sincere she has a point. Apology can be constructive, but just as it is possible to have too little of a good thing it is also possible to have too much.

If her friends apologize too often with too much feeling for small things, they are not really being sincere. A friend who is sorry for everything is sorry for nothing. She will  break another appointment in a heartbeat if she finds that keeping it is inconvenient.

People who keep apologizing have obviously missed the point: if they had kept their word and shown themselves to be trustworthy they would not have had to keep apologizing.

As for the pre-apology that many women seem to use as a preface when asking for something, it seems to annoy those who believe in mindless self-assertiveness. 

In truth, it’s a rhetorical ploy. It might be overused, but that does not make it a bad thing.

When a woman says that she is sorry to have to ask for something she is saying that you  should have offered it without her having to ask for it. Such an apology is face-saving; it saves the other person’s face. Count it as a sophisticated social skill, one that is designed to make it appear that she is not accusing the other person of anything.

When you use it effectively, the person of whom the request was made ought to express some degree of contrition for having put you in the position of having had to ask for it.

At the least we should understand that apologizing for breaking an appointment is not the same as pre-apologizing before asking the waiter to fill your glass of water.

Emily Esfahani Smith, an author I admire greatly, addressed the issue yesterday and managed to confuse it even more.

Like Polewaczyk she confuses gratitude with apology. Receiving a gift puts you in someone’s debt. If you fail to express gratitude you are an ingrate and a taker. 

But gratitude does not express vulnerability. It represents an acknowledgement of your connection with the giver. It places you within a transaction where no one has done anything wrong.

When apology is at issue, someone has done something grievously wrong. The distinction is not immaterial.

No sensible person has ever imagined that gratitude is a sign of weakness. No sensible person has ever imagined that an apology is anything other than a sign of vulnerability, of self-abasement.

Allow Smith to express her view:

To admit that you did something wrong and feel bad about it also makes yourself completely vulnerable, vulnerable to the other person and his judgement of you. Will he forgive you? Or will he not? But for exactly these reasons, saying sorry is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. Apologizing is hard and you have to be pretty secure about who you are to put yourself out there like that. Apologizing requires courage. So does, by the way, saying thank you.

Between us, vulnerability is not a strength. Also, anyone can say they are sorry, many people utter the empty words every day, that is the point of the discussion. Strength enters the picture when the person who has committed the fault corrects his or her behavior.

It takes no courage to say thank you. It takes discipline and decorum to say thank you, but you are not showing courage when you write a thank you note. An apology is designed to correct an error and to repair a relationship. When you send a thank you not you are reciprocating good behavior.

When you apologize, Smith says, you are allowing yourself to be judged. True enough. But still, when someone apologizes to you, you are obligated to forgive him. If you are in doubt about his sincerity you are still obligated to forgive him. If, however, he has apologized for the same fault over and over again and has not changed his behavior, you need not forgive him.

It is true, as Smith says, that an individual who apologizes is working to repair a relationship that she has damaged. But, an apology followed by forgiveness does not repair the relationship.

When you commit a fault, apologize and receive forgiveness you are on probation. The relationship will not be fully repaired until you establish a pattern of consistently ethical behavior, to the point where the fault you committed is clearly not indicative of your character or of the esteem you hold for the other person.


Anonymous said...

No sensible person has ever imagined that gratitude is a sign of weakness.

many(most) women and children do act as if being greatful is a sign of weakness. It is one of the core beliefs of feminism. It has made our culture depressing.

Dennis said...

Being able to apologize and show gratitude are both signs of character. It should not be hard to understand why feminists don't seem to like attributes that might demonstrate character.
It would seem to me that the people who are actually waging war on women are feminists. This obsessive desire to control women is truly dangerous.
Most women are good people just trying to live their lives to the fullest. Is it any wonder that feminism is increasingly isolated to failed "blue model" areas.
One wonders how degraded by feminism women have to become before women have finally had enough?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Count me surprised. I hadn't known that feminists had been attacking gratitude as a sign of weakness.

It's amazing how poorly thought out their ideas really are.

Dennis said...

Just to reenforce my statement above"