I want to try and address two very different situations, involving the word sorry, and explain why, although on the surface the arrangement primarily benefits me and disadvantages everyone else*, I’m not sorry for saying I’m sorry in the one situation, and I wish you would stop saying you’re sorry in the other.
So first, the situation that should be sorry. There is so much ballyhoo about we womenfolk saying we’re sorry. We’re almost bombarded with this message, from feminist blogging, to worrisome study results measuring the concerning level of sorriness among women, to advertisers (damn you, you make us cry anyways) who sell us woman power by criticizing our behavior, and even from our feminist boyfriends who chide us for saying we’re sorry. I was particularly taken by Amy Schumer’s latest contribution to this conversation.
In the video, a panel of women scientists are apologizing over each other, and the situation is used to essentially poke fun at the way women act. Now, I really do like Amy Schumer. But normally, when we make fun of women for being women, … that’s sexism. When we implicate that there’s something wrong with women, that their preferred behavior is implicitly wrong, and that they should just be men (because men and their behaviors are superior), that’s misogyny. But we give feminists a pass to attack women, if they’re attacking women for saying they’re sorry, or for all the other behavior more common among women that some feminist or another has arbitrarily adjudicated as furthering the patriarchy. And we never ask why men don’t say they’re sorry more – we just attack women and tell them to stop apologizing – that itself should be a clue that something is… hinky.
I’m not so down with this. Scratch that. I’m so not down with this. Look, Teri, Ms. Schumer, everybody. I don’t think you understand why I apologize. This is most tellingly clear in that you don’t pay attention to all the things I’m not sorry about. I’m not even vaguely sorry for being a feminist. I’m not very sorry for bringing the revolution. You interpret me as being sorry for the space I occupy, sorry for the air I breathe, sorry for the attention I demand. What you fail to understand is that I – and I believe, a lot of the other women out there “over” apologizing, we – apologize not because of remorse or regret, but because our apologies act as a social grace. We say we’re sorry because it bridges a gap between you and us. We say I’m sorry, when we sit down next to you, because it covers over the awkwardness that lingers in the air when we sit and say nothing. And we’re also giving you an entrée to make a little small talk, or strike up a conversation with us, if you like.
Because here’s the thing. We really like it when you’re comfortable. This is perhaps a sine qua non in your budding understanding, if you’re not high femininity, of your very feminine friends and loved ones. This is really important to us – and although, on the surface, we do it for you, we ultimately do it for us, as a recognition of who we are, and for our own joy. Just like women who like to look pretty, not only like to look pretty themselves, but like to have pretty things around them**. And while we cultivate that prettiness for ourselves, we take joy in your enjoyment of it. A thing which no feminist is very willing to talk about but which any high-femininity woman knows perfectly well is this: we’re not very interested in being feminine in the middle of a forest, where nobody is around to see it***. And this scares a lot of feminists away from femininity itself. Because they’re so busy trying to rid women of objectification that they fail to understand that femininity is the oldest of performance arts.
It’s such an old art that it’s embedded into the architecture of your world****. It’s actually really important to you, too – you just don’t know it, half the time, because you float on an air cushion of our social graces without even realizing it. Just like you appreciate our beauty often without appreciating the line between a woman being the object of your admiration and a woman being objectified. You don’t notice that, when you’re around us, and we’re “over” apologizing, you’re fighting less, you feel better. And then you apply the lens of how you think, to us, because you still think we want to be like you*****.
Now maybe, we do care too much about other people’s comfort and not enough about our own. But your “intervention” in the form of criticizing what I do without understanding it isn’t helping – it just makes me feel badly about myself (which wasn’t why I said sorry in the first place, and if you thought it was, you may actually create the very problem you’re trying to avert). No. This is how many women, how femininity in general, does things. Get used to it. And masculine folk, maybe you should try extending more social grace to others. Maybe, who knows, you’ll like it as much as we do. Or maybe at least you won’t get into as many fights. Maybe your partner will even find it hot. Or, if you really can’t say you’re sorry very often, don’t – it’s okay to just apologize when you’re actually sorry. But stop criticizing my sorries – if you want to help me, because you think I don’t take care of myself, do it by investing in me and supporting me, not by criticizing me.
Right. So here’s the switch to not sorry, as if you thought I wasn’t pressing hard enough already. Now I know you ain’t gonna dig this. Christians, this one’s for you. And your campaign to come to Pride and say you’re sorry. Yeah, stop doing that. Oh, come to Pride. You belong – you don’t have to be LGBTQIA+ to be Family. But come because you belong. And quit with the “I’m sorry”. Quit with the “Not All Christians.” And (if you are really clueless), quit already with the #BlameOneNotAll.
If you’re not white (although I’m kind of guessing you are, #SorryNotSorry), you probably already know why. Hang in for a second and let me educate the majority culture, please. In the 1990s, there was an era of “I’m sorry” events – I think inspired by the beauty of the reconciliation in South Africa, without understanding any of its problems. A group of white people would get a group of black people to come to them, and they would apologize, and then cry and cry over their healing of racism. Yeah, and you probably don’t get why this is a problem, do you…. It’s a problem because the black / non-white people in this dynamic were basically props – they were there to get the decor right for the white people to feel the sense of forgiveness that they wanted. If you ask them, and they’re being really honest, they’ll tell you the whole thing was kind of awkward and not healing for them. They’ll tell you they didn’t ask you for an apology (and can we talk about back income, if we’re really saying we’re sorry here, write me a check). Moreover, they probably (but you may not) know that you left those events and you didn’t change the world******. And this is the way in which this process differed deeply from the goals of South Africa’s racial reconciliation – in the 20 years since those “I’m sorry” events of the 90s, those people who were sorry built communities that were more and more segregated, so that they could spend less and less time with the people to whom they were supposedly sorry. If anything, in many ways, things got worse instead of better, and in any event, while what happened was an important step, racial healing isn’t what happened.
And there it is. Changing the world. Here’s the thing straight Christian allies frequently fail to get. We don’t need you to tell us God loves us “even though” we’re gay, or “no matter” what we are. We already know that. God already knows that. It’s not even in dispute. The only ones who don’t know it… are Christians. We don’t need you to apologize. We don’t need you to tell us you’re not like the rest, any more than we need men to tell us they’re not rapists. What we need you to do, is change the world. Or more particularly, change not God (who is just fine), not Christ (who is just fine), but change Christians (who need to get back to God). Make them confront how they took religion and turned it from a vehicle of love to a vehicle of hatred. Call them out and call them in – make it clear that exclusionary practices are deeply and fundamentally inconsistent with core Christian values, but that they can return to what they once believed in. Tell them that, if they walk away from the idea that Jesus died on the cross for everybody, then whatever it is that they’re doing, it’s not Christian, and it isn’t holy, and that you can’t support their lifestyle choice, although you will not stop praying for them, nor stop hoping. If they’re the sort of people that put up angry billboards or protest marriage equality, particularly, don’t put up a competing billboard telling us you love us. Help them remember the time before their hearts were filled with hate, and help them teach themselves to love, again.
So remind them that they need forgiveness, that it’s not too late for them, and that God still loves them, even if they stopped loving God (because you can’t hate us and love God… if that’s what you think, there isn’t anything about your own religion that you get, at all). And if you haven’t figured it out, don’t do this work at Pride, because that’s not where the problem is. Go do this work at your church, at all the churches. And recognize that the problem has nothing to do with the LGBT community but is about the hearts of Christians.
And again, when you come to Pride, come to celebrate, because that’s what Pride is there for – celebrate because it is so, so good to be. Good to be me. Good to be you. Greater gift has no one ever received than this, and when you don’t get that, you struggle to belong at Pride not because we don’t accept you (we do), but because you don’t understand what we’re doing or why we’re gathering.
So stop saying you’re sorry, and get to work. And stop saying I need to stop saying I’m sorry, and get to work, and let me do the work I need to do. Because there is so much work to be done. And doing that work alongside me is the only thing that can make you my ally.
* Interestingly, I have been accused both of apologizing excessively and of being excessively unapologetic. Curious and curiouser. But you’ve got ninety nine problems, and this bitch ain’t one. Speaking of which. I’ve been meaning to write a piece about bitch pride. But you’ll have to wait for that, pups. Even though you recognize that this footnote is nothing more than excuse to use the word bitch. Three times.
** And the gender binary is at the heart of why they make an exception when it comes to men, who they might legitimately not value heavily on their prettiness, but whom they value for a host of other characteristics.
*** In defense of pointing out the obvious, especially to ourselves as obvious, I would point out that intersectionalism, which often seems to blow the minds of mainstream feminists, was not really an attempt to say something profoundly new, but to inject what had always been obvious to black women, just from having to integrate feminist movement into their complicated lives, into the feminist vernacular, in essence to remove the invisibility from it so that white feminists could see what was directly in front of their own noses. But that’s what happens when you bathe in isms – obvious stuff gets hidden in cloaks of invisibility.
**** So like any great architecture, if you stand back and take it in, it’s breathtaking, but you’re also allowed to let it make you whole and nourish you while barely even noticing it is there.
***** The most savvy of readers will note that I used to rail against the idea of difference feminism. The reason I hated it was not because I didn’t believe in difference – viva la difference – it was because there was no critical assessment of women’s beliefs or values in most of difference feminism. I believe very much in that critical assessment, and in fact, I claim that I’m offering a deeper, more nuanced, and truer assessment of this whole business of us saying we’re sorry, than the people who are telling you to stop apologizing.
****** Which to me, is maybe the second most damning of sins, behind failing to live for oneself.