Sorry is not actually the hardest word, but it is contentious

20160201_222846It’s almost a reflex to start a blog post with apologies and excuses as to why there hasn’t been a post in a while. I’m not going to do that this time. I’ve been busy. Who hasn’t? I’ve been busy and my priority has been living and managing life, rather than analysing it online.

That’s not to say I haven’t been having Deep Thoughts, but this is the first time in ages I’ve done my nails (I’m handing out badges at a work event this evening and red sparkles may be the only entertainment I have. Unless I can send an intern to fetch me some Glühwein…) and I need to not touch anything until the topcoat is dry.

Apologies are funny things. I’ve been doing a lot of work on what the British say and what the British actually mean (see: Very British Problems for the definitive guide) and “sorry” comes up a lot. Sorry as a softener to bad news, an interruption, a disagreement, etc etc.

Women say sorry a lot. Women apologise a lot, generally. We are the gatekeepers of society, constantly patrolling the emotions of a situation and protecting our wards from discomfort.

Men don’t bother with this emotional labour.

I’ve sort of reached the end of my tether with it, to be honest. I’ve actually become known at work for (rather counter-intuitively) harassing our female interns to stop entering rooms and apologising

Office. Knock on door and intern enters.
Intern: “Sorry, can I just..”

Me: “STOP! Don’t apologise for your existence. Don’t begin our interaction being sorry. Would a MAN do this? He would NOT. He would knock, enter and then state his business! Take up space in the world! Let’s do this again – go back out there and then come back in!”

Cowed intern shuffles back outside, enters and looks sheepish.

Me: “Now, what would a MAN do? Declare your intention!”

Intern: “Umm, here’s a thing…”

Me: “If you feel you need to say something at the start as an introduction, you could try “hello, do you have a moment?” Okay, what do you actually need from me?”

Cowed intern then delivers papers or whatever.
Scene ends

Let’s be clear here, I was exactly the same. I will still say sorry when someone else stands on my foot on the tube, but I’ve made a conscious effort to stop doing it at work unnecessarily. I saw a tote bag with the words Have the Confidence of a Mediocre White Man and it struck me as pure genius. Mediocre White Men don’t walk into rooms apologising.

Mediocre White Men are the status quo. It feels like everything is in relation to them.

For example, in this country we’re generally required to throw the word “female” round as an adjective when describing careers because the standard is male. No one is saying “male politician” or “male doctor.” Our nouns don’t have genders the way European languages do, so few of our words have suffixes to show what gender a role is.

Some of those with suffixes (actress, for example) are slowly being eased out (not without complaint from the ridiculous anti-PC bridgade) for equality, but this still requires an adjective or the declaration of a person’s name. “Nicole Kidman, actor, bought a new house” or “Female lawyer makes complaint against colleague for harassment” because the assumption is that an actor is otherwise male.

There’s not much I can do about equality, but encouraging my younger colleagues to have the same levels of self-confidence when entering a room feels like a start.