Apology Not Accepted

Categories: #MeToo

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, through a series of weather-related delays, I ended up missing a connecting flight home and was forced to reschedule a new different flight at Delta’s customer service desk. During the course of my conversation with a representative, I learned:

  1. No more flights were leaving that evening
  2.  No hotel or meal vouchers would be provided
  3. I would be forced to sleep in the airport by myself and at my own expen
  4.  It was going to be a long and tiring night

And yet, after learning about all of these frustrating inconveniences, the first words out of my mouth were not a complaint or an objection, but, “I’m sorry, but what time is my flight supposed to leave tomorrow?”  This sentiment was a seemingly polite, practical, and innocuous question, but one that made me cringe nonetheless because of two small words—I’m sorry.

I’m ashamed to admit, but for much of my life, when faced with the slightest hint of confrontation, my instinct has always been to apologize. I’ve apologized for asking questions (“I’m sorry, but what did you say?”), I’ve apologized for expressing my needs (“I’m sorry, but could you turn up the thermostat?”), I’ve apologized for stating my opinions (“I’m sorry, but I disagree with what you’re saying.”), and—if we’re being really honest—I’ve even apologized for taking up space (“I’m sorry, but you’re in my way.”) 

“For much of our lives, society has explicitly and implicitly signaled to us that we, as women, are inconveniences by virtue of our existence.”

This impulse to apologize is not unique to me as an individual, but is a gendered phenomenon that many women regularly demonstrate. For much of our lives, society has explicitly and implicitly signaled to us that we, as women, are inconveniences by virtue of our existence. That we are to be quiet, passive, and take up as little space as possible. That any singular act of female autonomy automatically warrants an apology. That even when we are the ones who are wronged, we are the ones who ought to apologize because we are lesser, while men, who are greater, should never have to apologize.

Never have these patriarchal perceptions been more evident than in the potpourri of press releases issued by various high-ranking men accused of sexual misconduct. Within the context of politics, one need look no further than the actions of Alabama senatorial candidate Judge Roy Moore (R-AL), Senator Al Franken (D-MN), and Representative John Conyers (D-MI) to observe the all-too-predictable routine of how men choose to “apologize” in the face of growing allegations. When first confronted with clear evidence of their wrongdoings, their initial instinct is not to apologize at all, but to deny any responsibility. That their accusers are mistaken or unhinged. That the evidence against them is false. Yet, when the truth persists and it becomes clear that the accusations are not going to disappear, they turn to non-apologies, seeking remedy, but not genuine remorse.

They apologize for how others may have felt, for how their actions may have affected their loved ones, for how they have undermined their constituents’ trust, but they never directly apologize for the ways in which they violated women or to the women involved. In fact, the formulaic nature of these empty press releases has become so laughably predictable that The New York Times recently ran a satirical template for men facing allegations of sexual misconduct entitled, “Choose Your Own Public Apology.”  

These men may utter the word “sorry,” but they’re not sorry. They’re sorry that they’ve been exposed and they’re sorry that this exposure will cost them their power, but they’re not sorry for what they’ve done. To truly be sorry is to adopt responsibility for one’s wrongdoings. However, I have yet to see any true responsibility being taken because all of these men are still either running for or holding positions of authority.

And, what’s worse is that while these men are busy issuing their non-apologies, there are political operatives who are serving as apologists for these men’s gross misconduct, and others who are expecting the victims themselves to apologize for compromising these men’s character. I’m tired of being a woman who chronically says “sorry” and takes responsibility for actions that I shouldn’t even have to apologize for. But I’m even more tired of living in a world where there are men who chronically refuse to say “sorry,” while expecting others to make apologies and take responsibility on their behalves.

Emily Wasek recently graduated from the College of William & Mary with a major in Government and a minor in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. While in college, Emily served as president of Women’s Initiative in Leadership, an organization dedicated to cultivating the next generation of female leaders
Much of Emily’s previous work has focused on the intersection of women and political progress. Her honors thesis, “A Women’s Place in the State House: Exploring Backlash Effects of Women’s Increased Descriptive Representation” examined whether women’s increased elected presence resulted in a legislative backlash that could increase policies counterproductive to women’s interests. As a research fellow for the Project on International Peace and Security, her white paper “Mobilizing Change in Central America: Fostering Women’s Networks to Combat Gang Violence” analyzed how women’s coalitions could be used to enhance anti-gang policies in Central America.