(Content warning: gendered slurs)
I’m a bit late to the party with this post. Sorry. Anyway, I thought at some point I should probably give my thoughts on the latest video from Patene’s #ShineStrong campaign, which asks: why are women always apologising?
Now, anyone who’s read one of my posts or comments or looked at my Twitter or, well, spent at least two minutes in real-life conversation with me will understand why this really piqued my interest. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. If I were any sorrier, I’d literally be David Tennant. I definitely apologise more than the average woman – I’ve written about this (and why) before – but as with every other woman, patriarchy’s made a big contribution to this. So, I have to admit, it’s great to see the issue being addressed; women apologising for generally existing and taking up space is so commonplace and normal that you often have to get to my extreme level of sorry before it’s even noticed, so it’s normalised and perpetuated constantly.
However – and sorry to rain on your parade – I have a few reservations.
Firstly, there’s the whole “beauty industry co-opting a feminist message to make you buy their products” thing, which was been widely pointed out elsewhere on the release of the first video on sexist labels and double standards. This one, though, creates an additional problem; it almost veers into blaming women for the effects of patriarchy. Overall, the message could be construed as “if only you would just magically overcome an entire lifetime of social conditioning, you’d be taken seriously and treated as a human being”; whilst pointing out the problem is helpful, it’s really not easy to break the habit of a lifetime, especially when doing so could mean you’re seen as pushy, aggressive, selfish, and whatever else apparently warrants the “bitch” label. The general “stop apologising” rhetoric, although very well-meaning, may unwittingly create yet another sexist double bind; if you don’t pre-empt every action or word with “sorry”, you’re a bitch, but if you do, you’re a doormat.
I’m really worried that attitudes towards the unnecessary “sorry” will morph into the attitudes currently surrounding the unnecessary “like” – another speech pattern commonly associated with young women, most likely due to having our self-esteem undermined at every turn (and that merely pausing for thought often results in being interrupted and talked over by men, but I digress), the “like” filler and “upspeaking” are constantly mocked and treated with disdain with absolutely no consideration of why they’re so prevalent. It also reminds me of the fairly recent advert for a product aimed at men, I forget which one, which begins with “Girls – why so many beauty products?” This is another common double bind – women are pressured into using these products to look “normal” and are then mocked for doing so.
Again, I do think the “sorry” conversation is one that needs to be had (although maybe not as a marketing ploy to make us all buy shampoo…), but it’s massively important to go to the source, refer to the structural inequalities, microaggressions and impossible standards that are really behind all this apologising. Otherwise, there’s a real danger of descending into “LOL WOMEN ARE SILLY” mockery whilst absolving the patriarchy/men of all responsibility; indeed, it’s very telling that the advert begins with the question “Why are women always apologising?” when, once you’ve seen the whole thing, it’s apparent that the question is rhetorical, much like the patronising remark about women’s use of beauty products above.
I’m sorry to say this interpretation of the problem falls into the same old traps.