October 5, 2008

Essentially, I just apologized for being me....

Why do I apologize so much? This is a question I have often asked myself. In high school, we had a guest speaker come to assembly to lecture us about how females apologize too often. Basically, we were told that women are socialized to feel everything is our fault and to carry with us a disproportionate amount of guilt over things that might even be someone else's fault entirely. We always feel we've played a part in the problem. If we get pushed in the streets, we'll apologize for having gotten in the person's way, even if we were minding our own business, looking where we were going and not invading anyone's personal space. The guest speaker chick seemed to think all women are overly apologetic, and though I do not remember her qualifications, for the most part, she seemed right. Most women I know do apologize for EVERYTHING! Even for smiling and something someone else doesn't find funny, which I in particular see women do ALL THE TIME! Apologizing for having a sense of humour, wtf?

Perhaps I wasn't being self-reflexive enough, but I honestly didn't realize this stereotype applied to me, but it does. I am so fucking apologetic it's ridiculous. The other day, I was at a Clubs and Societies' festival at LSE. All the clubs and societies on campus set up booths and students walk around, figuring out which ones they'd like to join. All the societies devoted to nationalities were in the same building, which my friend and I trolled for The Canadian Society (We couldn't find them. All we could find was a note at their booth that said they'd gone to the bar), the Portugese Society (they had disappeared too) and the Armenian Society (Which was also nowhere to be found).

I decided to enquire about the Armenian Society's whereabouts, as they had left no note and I wanted to make friends with people who know how to cook pilaf. At the time I had this brilliant plan, I was standing in front of the Russian Society's booth. BEcause of the history of Russian occupation in Armenian before the fall of the USSR, I thought asking the Russians for the Armenians might be awkward, so i made the conscious decision NOT to ask the Russians. I didn't want it to be awkward. I walked to the next booth over instead, and without even looking at the flag behind it, I asked, "Excuse me, but can you tell me where the Armenian Society is?" As soon as I asked this question, however, I realized something unexpected. The young man and woman standing in front of me stared blankly with "WTF?" expressions on their faces; the flag behind them made it clear I had asked people representing the Turkish Society to tell me where The Armenian Society was. Yeah, WAAAAY more awkward than asking the Russians, right? Well, I immediately apologized to the speechless boy and girl who had seemingly decided to boycott my question by remaining in a sullen silence, ignoring the fact that I had asked a perfectly polite and clear question. I felt hot and cold at once. I felt invisible and I felt ashamed. Mostly, I felt scared. Scared that these two people I didn't know could find my question, with all its implications about my identity, so offensive they couldn't even face it. "I'm so sorry," I stammered and then walked away briskly. It wasn't until an hour later that it hit me, why the hell was I sorry?

Why was I sorry for asking what should have been an easy enough question to answer? Why was I sorry for asking two people who seemed to have an irrational hatred for (or an irrational disinclination to help) Armenian people/those looking for Armenian people to tell me where the Armenians were? Why was I sorry for making this awkward for them? Why was I sorry for just being me? I didn't make the situation awkward for them. Their refusal to help made things awkward for themselves. I don't hate Turkish people and I was being friendly and polite, so why SHOULDN'T they help me? I would have told them where the Turkish Society was if I had been in the same position at an Armenian booth. What the fuck was I apologizing for? The fact that I was alive? The fact that they seemed to hate me? Was I sorry for looking for the Armenians so publicly and proudly? Was I sorry for being ONE of the Armenians? Why did I feel so guilty? Why was I the one who felt the sting of shame that compelled such an obsequious apology? I wish I could take it back, but I can't.

All I have to say is, I know I have the apologizing disease. I apologized to two racist people for belonging to a racial group they hate. I have the apologizing disease. And, not only am I a woman, but I'm Canadian, so I'm doubly screwed, because all Canadians love to apologize - even men, though not as much as most Canadian girls I know do!

The problem with these apologize gratuitously is, when we apologize, we let people think that they were in the right and we were wrong. We let people blame us. We don't confront them with their own wrongs and so they might never realize them and will likely not change. Unnecessary apologies can be an impediment to education. They can stand in the way of making this world a better place. I know my recent one just did, in its own small way. And so my radical feminist act of the month is to stop apologizing when I haven't done something wrong. I will have to focus on that goal. I'll have to think about it all the time to make sure I avoid doing it, but I know I must do it. I want to help make this world a better place. If we all stopped ever allowing ourselves to be scapegoats, imagine how much better our world might one day be? At the very least, I wouldn't have to feel so complicit in my own oppressions.

1 comment:

Biscuit said...

I definitely have this disease too...It's such an immediate reaction, a built in reflex to say "I'm sorry". I'm going to have to work on this too.