Sorry for what? How Amy Schumer nailed the issue with women always apologizing

Amy Schumer I'm Sorry2

Amy Schumer I'm Sorry

//Photo Courtesy: Man Repeller //

Leave it to the undeniable Amy Schumer to get me riled up on women’s issues. Especially when her sketches typically just make me want to consume massive amounts of carbs and alcohol.  

I’ve written about my frustration with women constantly using the phrase, “I’m lucky” when referring to career success, and I’ve also discussed the affinity most of us have for always saying “Yes” to more work. But neither one of these angers me as much as the “I’m sorry” problem. If you caught the “I’m Sorry” sketch on Inside Amy Schumer this week, you unfortunately know what I’m talking about. However if you’re unfamiliar with this problem allow me to enlighten you.

You know that time someone misread your email or didn’t understand your point, and the first thing you typed before clarifying was: “Apologies, what I meant to say…”

Or how about when you were in a meeting and you and your male co-worker started speaking at the same time and you immediately said, “I’m sorry, no, you go ahead…”

See the problem?

Why are women conditioned to apologize for everything? This has been brought to light in recent years with powerful women calling more attention to issues with women in the workplace. Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In movement, or even with Mika Brezinski’s book, “Knowing Your Value”, for instance, identify that some of the biggest problems are actually our own doing. That WE are the ones that need to break our bad habits.

I had debated writing this article for a while, but held off since it seemed like everyone was talking about it. After all, what good was my story in a sea of presumably better, more impactful ones? But then Amy Schumer’s skit aired this week, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And since I live my life under the clause that if Amy Schumer goes there, I follow suit, then fuck it…I’m going there.

In my first job out of graduate school I was blessed with a team that had a full-time intern. It was thrilling to have someone to manage and delegate work to. She was a recent grad as well, an incredibly hard worker, and one the most genuine people I’d ever worked with. At the time, I empathized with her as an unpaid intern doing the work of a full-time employee. She got there early, stayed late, and did everything with a big smile on her face. Our team loved her, but months and months went by and she never received a job offer. I was puzzled.

Obviously there’s something I’m not telling you. My intern, while bright and capable, had the horrible habit of constantly apologizing…for everything. Things that weren’t even her fault or responsibility she was suddenly apologizing for. If she sat in someones chair in a meeting by mistake, she apologized. If she came up and asked me a question about a project, she’d apologize for “bothering me.”

When she walked away from my desk, I’d always think to myself, “Why are you apologizing for bothering me? I’m the one who asked for your help.” 

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not implying that THIS was the reason she never received a job offer from the company. I would never assume that. However, I do feel this habit of her’s inadvertently plopped her into this “forever intern” bubble. And once you’re in there, it’s nearly impossible to escape.

You see, if people consistently hear apologies from you, they subconsciously begin to associate you or your work with “less than capable,” or “sub-par”, or the absolute worst, “weak”. Nine times out of ten, this couldn’t be further from the truth, but what are people supposed to think? When you say “I’m sorry” you invite people permission to assume you have something to be truly be sorry about.

In the case of my intern it was hard to see her as strong and capable, despite all of her good qualities, because she was consistently putting herself down. The worst part was, she had no idea. She was just doing what felt natural.

Which brings me back to the Inside Amy Schumer sketch, where Amy plays a Neuro Physicist on  a panel of educated women scientist. Throughout the skit these smart talented women drive home the “I’m sorry” problem by apologizing for everything. The best moment: One woman gets her legs burned off after spilling hot coffee and apologizes for ruining the panel.  As a women, I cringed the whole way through, not because I found it alarming, but because I found it so tragically accurate.

//Courtesy: Comedy Central//

I was talking to my mom (a fellow Amy fan) about it and she shared my same sentiments about the sketch. But then she informed me that while she was cringing and laughing along with the show, her boyfriend sat there unmoved and uninterested, as if he didn’t get why it was funny or ironic.

I thought to myself, is it possible that women have dug themselves into such a deep dark hole, that men are now utterly oblivious to the problem? That they, from no fault of their own, watch a ridiculous sketch exaggerating an issue like this and accept it as normal?

And there lies the issue. Sheryl and Mika are correct, WE have to break the pattern.

It was after considering this that I knew I had to write about this issue. That I had to tell my intern’s story. If we can’t help ourselves out of this problem then how can we expect to get anywhere?

So perhaps my story is just one of many, but if it makes hit the backspace button the next time you start to write, “I’m sorry”, then I consider this post a success.

In the meantime, check out the Inside Amy Schumer full episode “I’m Sorry” on Comedy Central.