I throw sorry around a lot but many times, I do not mean it as an apology for an infraction. It is my all-purpose verbal salve to lather concern, nurture, and meaningful meaninglessness to friends and strangers alike. But what lurks beneath my sorry?
One of the many facets that I appreciate about comedian Amy Schumer’s work is that she shines a light not only on the cultural conditioning that keeps women in restricted place, but also she exposes the misogyny that many of us have internalized from living in a patriarchal society. As some of her sketches intimate—women and girls have been known to do as good a job as anyone of objectifying, suppressing, or disempowering themselves.
I’m serious, watch the video first.
After sharing the video with a friend, we decided to observe how much we use the word sorry. She called me one evening. Thirteen seconds into our conversation, she said, “Gotcha! You’ve said ‘sorry’ three times already.”
I had begun our conversation by apologizing for not hearing her clearly, “Hello? Sorry, I can’t hear you properly.” Then I reeled off another apology for making her wait while I put on my earphones, “Sorry, let me just use my earphones.” My third apology was for speaking out of turn, “No, sorry, you go first; you were saying?”
We both had a good laugh, especially when she used sorry twice within the next ten seconds.
On the surface there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with our sorrys. Sorry aka pardon, excuse me, kpele, etc, depending on culture and context, is the grease that facilitates polite conversation. It is sympathy, empathy, and everything else in between. However, the video made me wonder if there isn’t an unhealthy self-effacement leaning towards unworthiness in a woman’s verbal and non-verbal sorry. To my mind, the women in the video were shrinking themselves. I am yet to meet a man I admire who does this.
We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My parents raised me to ignore gender in striving for my goals. There were no limits to where I could go; not even the sky could hold me back. However, they could not cocoon me from the realities of socialization—an aggressive, assertive, and assured woman is a no-no. How many bold moves have been paralyzed by these words, but you’re a woman?
Over the years, some of my mentors have given me different advice on how to “shrink” myself. In a man’s world, it’s expedient to be the neck that turns the head than to be another head, complete with brains, that complements the man’s head. My mentors are successful women in their own right. Who am I to argue? But, I struggle with this concept.
As I learn to assert myself, I’ve been called a strong woman. It was always by women. It was never meant as a compliment. I catch myself shrinking my abilities, achievements, voice, again and again. Habits are hard to unlearn. Still, I have not yet turned pretence into an art form.
©Timi Yeseibo 2015
Photo credit: cocoparisienne/ https://pixabay.com/en/woman-woman-portrait-head-mourning-850330/
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