“I’m sorry, I just have a question…”

“I’m sorry, but…”

“…that’s my opinion. I’m just saying, though.”

I want to talk about this common habit us women are taught from the time we are small children: the need to apologize for taking up space in the world. As women, we tend to, at much more regularity than men, preface our relevant questions and heartfelt opinions that we have to offer with an apology.

I recently watched a video of a young woman named Lily Myers performing a spoken word poem (slam poetry) entitled “Shrinking Woman” (watch here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=zQucWXWXp3k).

In her poem, Myers speaks of growing up and subtly picking up on her mother and grandmother’s passive, apologetic mannerisms without realizing the conditioning taking place, as her mother drinks wine from a measuring cup and deliberately leaves small bites of uneaten food on her plate to ensure that she doesn’t consume too many undeserved calories. All of this, while the men in her family happily indulge, growing larger and more masculine. Myers says, “I wonder if my lineage is one of women shrinking, making space for the entrance of the men in their lives.” As she speaks this line, the audience goes wild in affirmation, because this is an experience all women can relate to if we are honest with ourselves. How many times do we women shyly approach the potluck line for seconds, if we dare to receive seconds at all, or vocally justify to those around us why we chose both a brownie and a cookie on our dessert plate? As women we are taught that such indulgence are a threat to our femininity, and if we must indulge, we should seek forgiveness. We should apologize for our human desires; we should apologize for our humanity.

Another profound, relatable statement that Myers makes in her poem is this:

“I have been taught accommodation.  My brother never thinks before he speaks. I have been taught to filter…I asked five questions in genetic class today, and all of them started with ‘sorry'”

As women we are taught to be soft spoken; we can have opinions, but we must only insert them at the proper moments, prefacing our statements with apologies or concluding them with “just saying”, lest we come across too aggressive or resolute. We are taught to not let our thoughts take up too much space in the conversation.

The resounding question Lily Myers is asking, which she first asked herself when she would hear her mother sneak into the kitchen to eat plain yogurt in the dark, “a fugitive stealing calories to which she did not feel entitled”, is this:

As women, how much space do we deserve to occupy?

In Lily Myers’ family, “the men have been taught to grow out; I have been taught to grow in”. 

And this is the story for so many women throughout the centuries:

Don’t become too educated, as a man might feel uncomfortable having a girlfriend or wife who is smarter than him.

Don’t become too successful in your career, as a man might feel uncomfortable if he makes less money than his female significant other.

Don’t be too self-confident in your appearance or accomplishments, as you might come across conceited or proud, intimidating the men.

So we shrink, and when we do let ourselves shine, we apologize.

“I’m sorry, I just have a question…”

“I’m sorry, but if I can offer my opinion/suggestion/knowledge…”

“I guess I’ll have this last piece of pie if no one else is going to take it…”

“…this is what I think. Just saying, though.”

“A circular obsession I never wanted, but inheritance is accidental.” –Lily Myers 

Ladies, let’s stop this cycle for our posterity: we have to stop apologizing for taking up half the human population.

We have to start owning our existence.