Why Women Apologize and other ridiculous generalizations

Thanks to M. LeBlanc at Bitch Ph.D. for a very edifying take on Clay Shirky's A Rant About Women where Shirky calls for women to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again! Oh sorry, I got carried away. I mean he says women should behave like:
arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks...self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards
Or, in his fresh new hole, the words digging him deeper are:
Now this is asking women to behave more like men, but so what?
I don't know that I even want to touch this with a 20 foot pole. There's a difference between a personal hope that more women (say an equal number as men) can be confident in themselves and their abilities versus asking women to strive for a heightened level of aggressiveness. Because while we like to talk about how Women Don't Ask and yet studies show that women who ask are penalized. Assertive behavior from women isn't rewarded, which is the likely explanation why studies show they are less likely to negotiate pay.
All this led me on an internet scenic detour to White Privilege: The Invisible Knapsack which should be required reading for every person in America. I can't believe it was written in 1988 and yet certainly the ideas in it were eye opening to me. All this gets me back to what Shirky's responsibility is as a citizen. It's all very well for him to hand out advice, that I'm sure he thinks is very pro-women and of a feminist nature. But where's the beef? If Shirky is in a position of authority, what measures does he take to mentor his female students in being more confident about their work or assuring that he has appropriate levels of diversity under him or that he makes sure the men he mentors are equally qualified and doesn't let them in because they are like him. Or perhaps even most importantly, how does he make sure he mentors his male students to be good citizens with an appreciation for equality and the rights of women and minorities to be heard, listened to, and respected.
My former boss got commended in an industry magazine with a brief excerpt about his work. In it, he expressed his desire to encourage diversity in the workplace and be a good mentor as well as boss. And you know what? He walks the walk. I've seen him make the effort to encourage everyone from white man to Asian woman and be inclusive and supportive. Not every boss has the balls to do that. Most are too busy looking ahead and keeping their eyes on their own prize to care what kind of environment they are creating beneath them. So Shirky, to thee I say, walk the walk. Then come back and tell us what worked and didn't work. Think of it as an academic experiment.
And for the daily personal anecdote, I am reminded of an incident at work. One where I should have spoken up about something that was happening (or felt I should have spoken up) but at the time lacked confidence in my own judgment and felt that those around me were certainly more experienced and intelligent and knew better than I, so I said nothing. When asked what happened later on when managers wanted some accountability for the situation, I said only that I didn't know better. But then later, in a guilt-ridden mood, I confessed to a superior that I wish I had spoken up and certainly felt doubts at the time but lacked the confidence. The supervisor than chided me not for speaking up but also for lacking confidence, as if I had just exposed two weaknesses at once. I thought this was over until he brought it up later, as an example of a personal shortcoming, or as an explanation for why I was not more successful in general. Well remember you said it was your fault for that incident. I was irritated. Had I not confessed this to begin with, surely it would have been written off to my inexperience, not seen as some personal shortcoming responsible for every failure in my life, and likely he wouldn't have even thought to place responsibilities on my narrow shoulders.
Then I realized: Of course, a man wouldn't have apologized.* Maybe in his head a dude thinks about what he did wrong. But he never would have felt the need to confess to self doubt. He would have only wiped the sweat off his brow in relief that the moment was passed and move on. Men only look back and question when it's football. I've got to remember to stop apologizing.
*FrauTech acknowledges this is ridiculous gender bias. FrauTech also realizes that an asterisk at the end of some blanket statement does not justify the use of that statement. Perhaps sentence should read, "The men I know wouldn't have apologized."


  1. Casey14:35

    Last week in a kung fu class, I was paired with another girl for drills where one person held a pad and the other either punched or kicked it, moving across the mat from one end to the other. Both of us were relatively inexperienced. Whenever the pad-holder moved unevenly, the kicker/puncher hit off-center and badly, and the pad-holder would say, "Sorry!" The teacher (a man, although that might be irrelevant) scolded us, "There's no 'sorry' in kung fu!"

  2. Anonymous20:40

    Men and women are socialized differently. And, yes, women apologize more, and in some circles the apology is considered not only an admission of weakness, but an admission of responsiblity.

    When you apologized you took ownership of the problem--now, in a hierarchy, the senior people are supposed to catch the problems that the junior people don't know about/how to. By apologizing, (indeed, a female trait) you took the responsibility away from the senior, and made it yours.

    It's a guy socialization thing, and it does sabotage women in male-dominated professions. Remember the Gibbs rule "Never apologize, it is a sign of weakness."

  3. It's lessons like the Gibbs rule as expressed by William the Coroner ("Never apologize, it is a sign of weakness") that make me fear that my job is making me a worse person. I'm not saying William is wrong. I'm actually saying there's a huge ring of truth to that statement. But I don't want to be the kind of person that thinks like that.
    I've spent a fair amount of time getting discouraged and being afraid that the only way to get ahead is by becoming an overly aggressive, ethically questionable person. Luckily, I found a really great role model before I abandoned all hope. This role model is a very successful, full professor who is kind, honest, and ethical. If he doesn't know something, he doesn't make something up and say it with authority. He says he doesn't know. But he says it with confidence and authority, not apologetically or with sheepishness.

    What I learned from watching this role model is not that I shouldn't apologize, but that I shouldn't feel bad and blame myself for so much stuff. And if I'm not to blame, then I don't need to apologize.