Hardwired For Sorry [1]

woman sorry

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?

Diahann Reyes writes in her post, Amy Schumer and The Art of Taking Up Space:

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.


In my view, Schumer’s video is exaggerated to jolt us out of complacency and take stock. To appreciate this series, please watch Schumer’s three-minute sketch: I’m Sorry.

I’m serious, watch the video first.


Unshrinking Myself

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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49 thoughts on “Hardwired For Sorry [1]

  1. That’s funny how you and she caught yourselves in the misdemeanor so many times. I think this issue will outlast us, but we (women) certainly have come far from the days before suffrage. Let us not apologize for that, now.


  2. Interesting topic. The Amy Schumer video was hilarious! The use or the over use of the word “sorry” is a social lubricant that needs to go. I find it quite annoying when someone male or female does this, It does tend to shrink the individual uttering the faux apology. My advice would be to eschew the “I’m sorry” phraseology from one’s vocabulary and come up with positive verbiage which would enhance ones demeanor and make oneself look stronger, not weaker in the eyes of the beholder.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. An intelligent message using an unobtrusive medium- comedy. Exaggeration was put to good effect, in my view. I laughed a lot and I’ve been thinking ever since …

      I agree Benn that ‘sorry’ can transport someone from a place of strength to weakness. These days, I’m learning to mind my language.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This was an absolutely brilliant post, very interesting to read. It combines comedy and information which I absolutely love and it also makes me check myself.

    Thinking of it now actually, we women do use the word sorry a lot more than we need to, what on earth we’re apologising for… I intend to find out.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. This topic has become such a focal point in my life recently, so much so that I’m researching it. I didn’t realise how much I said sorry. I’m going to be taking about it on my radio show tonight.


  4. Timi, this was a fantastic analysis piece and I do feel there are many more ways to handle things out of balance than apologizing. It is also being considered as a way to tip the scales in balanced relationships. Sometimes, backfiring for those who apologize too much.

    I love Mindy Kaling and Amy Schumer for their originality, sense of humor and creative thought processes.
    Women are able to overcome the equality gap if they try hard. No backing down or letting “Glass Ceilings” dictate their life choices. Oprah, Hillary C., Michelle O. and my past heroine, Eleanor Roosevelt made/make a differnce. Many more from farther back in history, like Harriet Beecher Stowe and Marie Curie.


    1. Indeed we’ve got some great role models. Now it’s up to the rest of us to dare to step out and become role models for others. Glass ceilings are just waiting to be broken …

      I have to check out Mindy Kaling. Thanks Robin!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I only apologize being late for a meeting, if I am. That apology is for any gender. 🙂

    I hope I don’t needlessly apologize just not to appear threatening. My big problem is keeping my mouth shut ….I’m not kidding. The older you get, you get devilish. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol @that apology is for any gender XD

      @I don’t needlessly apologize just not to appear threatening, hmmm…
      Isn’t it interesting that in the video when the man in the audience misrepresents the first panelist’s (Amy Schumer’s character), profession, she apologizes for not being whom he thought/expects her to be? Then she says sorry and starts to ‘mold’ herself to ‘meet’ his expectations?

      Lol @keeping your mouth shut… I guess if you have worthy things to say… 🙂
      Perhaps we grow older and wiser and surer of who we are …

      Thanks Jean!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I never really thought about things that way. I am always saying sorry and it drives my friends crazy! My parents also raised me to ignore gender roles when striving for my goals (that’s why I am an engineer) but I still find myself reverting to a passive and apologetic version of myself when I’m no longer at work. Thanks for another great and thought provoking post Timi. I really needed to read this today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Quinn, @ but I still find myself reverting to a passive and apologetic version of myself when I’m no longer at work, who knows? Maybe that degree of assertiveness isn’t needed in other settings?

      It’s good to think about these things from time to time. Thanks for sharing.


  7. Thought provoking post Timi, Thanks.
    Recently, a guy told me he got interested in me because he saw a glimpse of the strenght of my character. A couple of days later, he was turning nasty because he was not succeeding in shrinking who I am and making me a submissive pet. Now, where is the sense in that?

    As for the sorry, I used to be too stubborn to be saying sorry out of turn, only when necessary. But recently, I have come to realise that I have greatly increased the use of sorry, especially when it is not neccessary. Sorry, coyld you move a bit?, sorry, what did he say? substituting sorry for please for no reason. SMH.


    1. Hmmm, theories abound for why a man would want disempower the strength that attracted him in the first place …. Reminds me of something I heard: we want our kids to be independent until they show us their independence…

      I don’t think I’ll stop throwing sorry around any time soon, but I’ll be looking out for ways I shoot myself in the foot. In the video, the moderator ignores the third panelist when she tries to correct his mispronunciation of her name. But what is more telling is her reaction when he (mistakenly) pours hot coffee on her- she, not he, starts saying, I’m sorry! Talk of martyr syndrome! This is the kind of sorry that is worrisome to me 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Hmmmm. I like Amy’s concept and she definitely makes her point. It’s a good conversation starter as you and your friend figured out, too. I’ll have to see how much I use that word now, but I don’t think I use it very much. I believe in being polite, in fact I love your phrase for sorry, “depending on culture and context, is the grease that facilitates polite conversation.”

    So, it’s a good message for some women, but not all women 🙂 I’m more interested in saying sorry too much in fighting 😛


  9. I’m sure it has a lot to do with my age and my peer group, but I have actually found that men value my opinion more than other women. We not only don’t respect our own minds, but we don’t respect each others’.


    1. Perhaps this is true sometimes. Perhaps it is untrue sometimes.
      We cannot give what we don’t have. Diahann makes the point that:
      As some of Schumer’s sketches intimate—women and girls have been known to do as good a job as anyone of objectifying, suppressing, or disempowering themselves.

      I want to know why… then maybe I can chart a new course.
      Thanks Eileen for sharing.


  10. I definitely feel there is a place for sorry in our vocabulary- but the key is, where is it coming from within? I love how you track your power here and are mindfully tending to what’s beneath the subtext. I agree that it’s not about eradicating the word but what’s behind it. And I think so many of us, we do still grabble with the contradictions as they manifest within- but the key to that is awareness so the pattern can be broken.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I say ‘sorry’ so often, I have substituted it for ‘please’, ‘hello’, and ‘excuse me’: “sorry, can you move over”; “sorry, how do I get to apartment 12?”; *walks through a crowd*– “sorry, sorry, sorry”. I need Help!

    It’s a shame that we still live in times where women often have to ‘shrink’ to be elevated, because assertiveness in a woman, somehow indicates the rise of the spawn of satan.

    One would hope that things would have greatly improved, but nah. oh well…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, sorry, the multi-purpose salve 🙂

      @women often have to ‘shrink’ to be elevated, it’s interesting that in the video, the women are their own worst enemies 🙂 Somehow they’ve pushed past barriers and made it to the top of their game- they are in a Females in Innovation Conference. They’ve been given a platform to show their stuff and they flounder… Lol, maybe they don’t want to be seen as the spawn of satan XD

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Hello Timi,

    I am still laughing at “meaningful meaninglessness” as I can relate with this.

    I deliver “Please, Thank-you and Sorry” easily as I sincerely get a kick out of politeness.

    But now that I think of it carefully, a good number of my ‘Sorries’ are as a result of an almost nauseating need to not offend. I hear the need in my own voice and I sometimes wince.

    For me, it’s not so much a shrinking of self, it’s more like a shrinking of my fearlessness for confrontation. XD

    Oddly, I’m reminded of people who are hardwired to feel entitled to “Thank you”. Those for whom the act of giving has no oomph and falls flat in the absence of genuflecting and profuse publicly declared gratitude by the recipient.

    Have a lovely week!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Like you, I think we should soften the edges of our conversations with politeness.

      @an almost nauseating need to not offend, aha there you go . . . in the video one observes the women trying not to offend or trying hard to please…

      The second panelist, Professor Sacha, a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, clears her throat while speaking. She’s offered water,which she accepts with a sorry and, “but if you can’t, no worries.” She’s served a cola drink, and she apologizes for insisting on water. In her own words, “She feels like she’s being such a diva.” 🙂

      Lol@people who are hardwired to feel entitled to “Thank you” 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for sharing this, the video was humourous but there was an underlying depth that was really eye-opening. Ah! that was a lot of “Sorries” used in various contexts, I almost felt my self shrink just listening to sorry after sorry.

        Going forward, I will make a conscious effort to define the purpose of my ‘Sorries’ before they fly out of my own mouth. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  13. I really enjoyed reading this. I too, have felt weird for saying sorry wayyy tooo much.

    And man,society does make women shrink themselves. I was at a ladies day program in my faculty a few days ago. four men and two women (a professor and lecturer from my faculty) were invited. ugh

    two of the speakers boldly asserted that it is not a man’s world and this made me wonder if we were living in the same world. There was so much prejudice and emphasis of society’s place for women in their speech, It tookall the will power I had in me not to walk away.

    Anyway Timi I love this post. Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Aw, @There was so much prejudice and emphasis of society’s place for women in their speech… We’ve come a long way, but we’ve still got a ways to go!

      I’m glad you enjoyed reading. I suppose we need to look inward and understand what we’re saying sorry for. When the third panelist, the Pulitzer Prize winner, interrupts the moderator to correct her name, she prefaces her correction with sorry, and she’s ignored… ❓


  14. Fascinating post. I think I’ll start looking for “sorry”s. It’s definitely an overused word by some people. I’ll have to listen to myself to see if I’m one of them. A few days ago my son-in-law was complaining about the overuse of “so.” Oh, dear! I found myself using it far too often.

    It’s acceptable for women in some positions to be assertive. I’m thinking of teachers, nurses, maybe lawyers. Who’s going to complain? Managers and politicians are more likely to be accused of being bossy or shrill.


    1. Lol, we all have words we unknowingly flog. I guess with verbal and non-verbal sorrys, the issue is what we’re really apologising for …

      Interesting comment about assertiveness… bossy or shrill

      An article in The Telegraph, notes that former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, took lessons in the 1970s to make her voice seem firmer and more powerful. The post goes on to say: Powerful and persuasive, yet at the same time soft and cajoling, Margaret Thatcher’s distinctive voice was one of her most potent political weapons.

      Still, they titled the article: From ‘shrill’ housewife to Downing Street: the changing voice of Margaret Thatcher 😕



      1. Voice is important. Hearing may not be as primitive as smell, but it’s close. I don’t think Reagan would have been president without his soothing voice. If you weren’t paying attention to what he was saying, you could almost agree with him.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. I never understood the man who is threatened by, hostile toward, defensive about, or needing to reassert dominance over a smart, confident woman. Doesn’t he want to learn something new or be intellectually challenged or simply enjoy the company of a person who has something to say?

    As for the “sorry” thing… Just the other day a woman apologized to me for a male co-worker missing a deadline. I’m not her boss, the male coworker is not in her department, and he should have been apologizing to her since it’s ultimately her project (I’m a liaison and facilitator in this scenario). I asked her why she was apologizing to me and she apologized for apologizing. This kind of thing happens a lot in an office, unfortunately.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. A curious thing indeed… some say there are men who admire a smart confident woman. They pursue her, get involved with her, and then do all in their power to dampen her confidence and smarts o_O 😦

      Lol@ apologized for apologizing XD
      It’s interesting that in the video, Amy Schumer’s character, a lead scientist behind prenatal neuro-peptides …, apologizes to a guy in the audience who refer’s to her as ‘broad’ and thinks she’s some kind of doctor(?). She wants to leave her seat on the panel to get him something for his stomach …. what a ‘nurturing’ sorry 🙂


  16. I’ve never been a “shrinking Violet.” Perhaps I missed that memo. 🙄

    In college, law school, while practicing law, while running a domestic violence program, and while working at a University, I was surrounded by women who kicked ass and took names. Great role models for those of us who refuse to go through life by apologizing for taking up space.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When we look for “strong women” as role models, we find them. Everywhere. Even between the pages of books.

      One of my favorites ~> Elizabeth Bennet:

      There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.

      ~ Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, ch. 31

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Good for you Nancy!
      Like many women, I internalized subliminal messages about how high a woman could jump. They play out in various ways, including innocuous sorrys. I’m finding my feet, getting the right balance…

      I try to be shrinking violet, but my personality often gets in the way 😛

      Liked by 1 person

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