The actress Tracee Ellis Ross is having her moment, feeling it, and living it. She’s got her shows “black·ish” (Hulu) and “mixed·ish” (Hulu), she’s answered Vogue’s 73 questions, and she’s done her TED talk, “A woman’s fury holds lifetimes of wisdom.”

I recommend her TED talk. She opens with the story of a woman in a post office who was literally moved out of the way by a man who wanted to get at something behind her – an envelope, a form, it doesn’t matter. He literally put his hands on her and moved her out of the way so he could get at the thing. And she was furious.

I have unthinkingly moved women throughout my life. Never strangers, but, you know, coworkers, friends, family members. Sometimes, the women have responded with affection because, you know, I am sometimes an unthinking dolt acting on the patriarchal impulse…but they love me. Sometimes the women have responded with understandable annoyance because, you know, I am an unthinking dolt acting on the patriarchal impulse. Sometimes the women just allow me to move them because, you know, they are just too tired to express their frustration amidst the daily amount of belittlement that women face from strange men as well as the men in their lives.

I’m sorry, and I will try to do better.

But that’s not why I am writing this little piece of punditry.

As I was listening to Ross’ TED talk, my mind turned to the women in my life who say “I’m sorry.”

If something doesn’t go right, go according to plan, or goes awry, too many times I have heard a woman apparently place the burden of the unfortunate outcome on her shoulders and say “I’m sorry” or just “sorry.” They may have had nothing to do with the outcome, but they still utter “sorry.” Sometimes they say “sorry” in a neutral or even good situation as an opener or a non sequitur.

Why and how have we – society, the patriarchy, the matriarchy, parents, whomever – instilled in our girls and women the need to take on the burdens of the world? This is not just me thinking this. This behavior is a thing (here, here, here, etc.).

I wish that I could just say, “stop saying ‘I’m sorry’ all the time.” I did that and it didn’t work, so I have stopped. Probably because I was being like the guy who moved women’s bodies out of the way when I said it.

Professional people who know so much more than me have advice on the subject (here, here, here, etc.). So there’s that.

What I can offer the women in my life is support. I know they had nothing to do with it and that it was not their fault. I should just let them have their own words.


Photo: TED

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