File this under characterization and character development:
As sad as it is, it’s a Thing: Women apologizing for things they shouldn’t have to apologize for.
Off the top of my head, here are stupid things I used to do:
Apologize for asking a valid question in class: “I’m sorry, Professor, but how many words should the term paper be? It’s not on the syllabus.”
Apologizing for making a statement: “I’m sorry, but can we get some menus.”
Apologizing for correcting someone: “I’m sorry, but a square is a type of rectangle, but not all rectangles are squares.”
Apologizing for going through a door with a stroller. “Sorry. Sorry. Sorry about this.”
Apologizing when someone walks into me.
Apologizing to male business men from out of town when they cut in front of me to buy coffee at a cafe I’ve been going to for five years. “I’m sorry, this is where you’re supposed to stand.”
Apologizing for being sick.
Apologizing for taking up space in an elevator.
Apologizing for putting my week’s worth of groceries on the checkout belt and the man behind me makes an impatient noise.
It’s not being polite, it’s because I felt I was doing something wrong. I was inconveniencing someone. There’s a societal expectation for how men and women should act and I was reinforcing it even as I was going against it. I was apologizing for having an opinion, for wanting attention, for owning my space.
My sister and I text each other when we read a fascinating article, and one day, she told me about The Apologizing and how it’s an ingrained woman-specific behavior. I started catching myself doing it and becoming more aware of my peers doing it. Particularly, which peers and why. (Men did it rarely, and usually drew attention to the fact that they were doing it: “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there!”)
I also started seeing it in stories I read and stories I edited. Generally, it softens the person apologizing, makes them meeker and weaker, despite what they have to say.
Apologizing for a Good Idea automatically frames it in doubt. As in, I doubt this is a Good Idea, but I want to say it anyway. Or, I think this is a Good Idea, but I doubt it’s going to be up to your standards. Or, I have a Good Idea and I think you’ll like it too, but I don’t want to make waves with everyone else.
Apologizing can weaken a character, especially female characters, if what they’re apologizing for is something beyond their control (I’m not talking about a huge death or something like that.). Examples: illness, weather, ruined meals. Like, I’m sorry, I don’t feel so good. I’m sorry it’s raining and we can’t go on that romantic date. I’m sorry about the terrible food you ordered.
Reexamine your purpose for having a character, especially a female character, apologize for something insignificant. Deep down, it might be an echo of real life in that you, the writer, are trying to make the character likable. After all, that’s part of the reason why women, in real life, do it. In that instance, though, do you want her to be “realistically” likable at the sacrifice of character strength?
But here’s how The Apologizing works the other way: when withheld, apologizing can further strengthen an already “strong” character. A “strong” character, ie. the badass leader of a band of questers, the sullen rogue who constantly butts heads with the party leader, the intrepid ship captain who repeatedly defies the Prime Directive, rarely, if ever, apologizes. But when she does, it’s for a difficult choice or to take blame for nearly wiping the party. The power of the apology comes from being proportional to the mistake.
Ultimately, what it comes down to is, are you doing it on purpose, or were you unaware that your character was apologizing for culturally ingrained reasons?
Are you purposely using The Apologizing to make the character meek and weak in relation to the other characters, or is it unintentional?
Are most of the apologizers women, one specific character, or do you have the apologies spread out?
(Yes, I know that’s a male dog in the featured image. But look at his apologetic little face!)
NEWS! NEWS! NEWS!
My writing group will be presenting another Writers Workshop! Topic this month: DIALOGUE. We’ll cover the basics like punctuation, as well as some advanced topics like beats and caesuras. Come join us, meet other writers in the Bay Area, network, and sandbox ideas.
Presented by: The Black Hats Writers Group (est. 2010)
When: Friday, March 18th, 2016. At 7:30 p.m.
Where: Book Buyers in Mountain View: 317 Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94041
Parking: Several free parking structures and lots off Castro Street.
Hang out in my mental playground! My short are stories available on Amazon, Fresh Cuts: Breaking Volume.