Tami Reiss’ New Year resolution is to be less apologetic and she wants you to join her. In an attempt to make this resolution more achievable she’s created the Just Not Sorry (we really wish they’d called it Sorry Not Sorry) Chrome app which underlines self-undermining words and phrases in emails such as ‘I’m no expert’ ‘actually’ and ‘sorry’ in red as though they’re spelling errors. Holding your mouse over the underlined word provides an explanation for why you’ve been called out and why you might want to reconsider your word choice.
Tami and her fellow creators’, Steve Brudz and Manish Kakwani of Cyrus Innovation, main aim seems to be to make women more confident in their own assertions and make them more aware of the effects of their manner of speaking. It seems to be a positive goal. Since Just Not Sorry launched on December 28th, 5,000 people have downloaded the extension, and 2,000 have signed the New Year’s resolution pledge to stop ‘diminishing’ their voice. In her backstory for the app, Reiss says it’s their goal to “have 10,000 women sign the pledge” this year.
There are a couple of ways you can view this extension. You could see it positively; there’s this notion that women are more apologetic and that this is a result of generations of not being taken seriously. They’re apologetic because their language is policed, their opinions are policed and the habit has developed because this policing has undermined women’s confidence to the point that they’re unwilling to assert anything with certainty lest they seem ‘bossy’ or ‘bitchy.’ What this extension will do is try and stop this behaviour by inserting itself into our writing and telling us ‘no, you are valid, don’t doubt yourself. Speak like a man.’
The problem, my problem, with this is that it effectively just continues to police women, finding another way to tell them that their behaviour is wrong, the way they’re speaking is wrong. If women actually do say ‘sorry’ and ‘just’ and ‘actually’ a lot more than men, and I’d really love to see actual compelling figures or studies that explicitly prove this rather than just listen to endless anecdotes or jokes, why is it so wrong? Why is the unapologetic speech that is considered so inherently male considered the right way to speak? Why is it than women are saying ‘sorry’ too much, rather than men aren’t saying ‘sorry’ enough?
There always seems to be a reason why women are their own problem, stopping themselves achieving equality with men: ‘it’s the way you dress.’ ‘It’s your hesitant body language.’ ‘Oh, no, it’s the way you speak, it’s too aggressive. Pull it back. But not that much, now you’re minimising yourself.’ No, you’re minimising me. I will freely admit that I’m an incredibly apologetic person, I’ve apologised to inanimate objects, but I know many men just as apologetic as I and, actually, I find their ‘indirect’ speech much more pleasant to engage with. I don’t think it’s indirect speech that’s the problem, it’s this way of speaking’s association with the perennially wrong and in-need-of-fixing woman that makes people think it’s wrong. Language is far too complex to be simplified as falling into the camp of either ‘empowering’ or ‘self-demeaning.’ Words like ‘just’ and ‘sorry’ have many functions and context is key.
Enough is enough, my politeness doesn’t undermine me, perpetuating anxiety around the way I speak and telling me it’s holding me back undermines me. Why not create a Chrome app telling men that the way they speak is too hostile and they’d get more positive reactions from saying things like ‘Sorry to bother you’? I’d much rather retain my apologetic manner of speaking than aggressively swing my verbal dick. Sorry.
Main Image © iStock/AnaBGD