Apologies are a powerful thing. When trying to restore connection, relationships or justice, they are an effective tool. But there’s another kind of apology that is powerful in a very different, soul-destroying kind of way. It makes you invisible. It reinforces the belief that you do not matter nor deserve to take up space in this world.
It’s happened to all of us hundreds of times. You’re walking along and someone is coming from the other direction. Unless one of you moves, you will collide. My heart will beat slightly faster. I direct my gaze down to avoid eye contact, trying to avoid any confrontation. There is an internal dialogue racing through my head: “Is he going to move? I should move. If I don’t move, what will happen”.
Asking myself “What will happen” may seem like catastrophising. But enough of us have had encounters with men that left us feeling violated or scared. And unfortunately, you can’t always tell from the outside if a man is an asshole or someone who will treat you with respect.
Better safe than sorry, I move out of the way. To top it off, I usually apologise as well, “Sorry”.
And that apology is the powerful, soul destroying kind. Because I just apologised for the most imagined slight that I might have caused. I just apologised for being.
This incessant feeling that I need to apologise extends well beyond this particular type of encounter. It also happens when:
I’m out with my child and he is being loud, excited, playful – pretty basic kid behaviour.
I can’t answer a colleague’s question. Because I wasn’t at work.
Refusing the advances of a man.
I have literally removed men’s hands off me after unwanted sexual advances and said “No, sorry”.
When I am sitting there terrified, because I have already given a 100 signals that I am not interested. When I have told him I’m not available, resorting to referring to myself as another man’s property “sorry I have a boyfriend”. In a bar full of people having to overtly refuse a man, a stranger, access to my body, saying no equates to needing to apologise. After all, I have just refused him something he wants.
I know that I am not the only person who feels like that. A quick Google search “apologising for taking up space” shows many other articles like mine. Whilst I feel highly validated that I am not alone, I also feel sad. Actually no – outraged, because there are many other women like me who are going through life apologising for the space that they take up.
I know part of the reason why I apologise. I have been conditioned to meet the needs of men. “How to please a man” is the cover of many a magazine. My religion is largely male dominated, with women taking serving, not leadership, positions. My mother’s comments as I became a teenager would always reflect on how my behaviour, thoughts and feelings would not attract a quality man. Essentially, systemic sexism and gender stereotypes has taught me what my place is as a woman. And it’s to do whatever I need to do to please him. Whether that is getting out of the damn way, shutting up, or have unfettered access to my body.
I have decided to stop apologising for taking up space or for saying no. I realised that a more appropriate reaction than being demure and saying sorry to a man trying to assault me is to yell “fuck off” at him.
I feel like I am now in open rebellion of what I have internalised my whole life. And that is necessary, because some people don’t play the game by the same rules that I do. In my rules, no means no, stop means stop, you apologise for wrongdoing. Turns out some people play the game chaotically, willing to break rules, or even the game, for their own gain. So I will not be apologising anymore when that apology is something that causes me to become invisible, powerless or broken.
No more apologising for taking up space.
No more apologising for enforcing my boundaries.
No more apologising for being me.
I’m taking after Blake Lively in A Simple Favor and kicking this awful female habit!