Guest Post: Fly Free

By Tiffany Sanderson

If you want to witness the Patriarchal Wound in action, take yourself to any theater in Utah County, Utah.

Two nights ago, my family and I had the privilege of attending a community production of Les Miserables. (It was extremely well done. My compliments to all involved!) This particular theater in Alpine, Utah, is quite old. It’s small, but the seats are arranged such that there is plenty of space for bodies to move between rows, with only minor adjustments from those already seated.

We arrived about fifteen minutes early and sat visiting together before curtain. As we were waiting, I began to notice a pattern of behavior from those still filtering into the theater.

A woman would arrive at her designated row, pause to locate her seat, and then begin to shuffle down the row of seats. As she shuffled by, she would apologize profusely, and repeatedly. “Sorry! Sorry! So sorry!” Every woman, without fail, apologized for walking past us.

A man would arrive at his row, pause to locate his seat, and as he shuffled by, he’d smile politely. Every man, without fail, was comfortable taking up space.

This experience is generally consistent with my trips to any of the public spaces I’ve visited near my home, in the nearly twenty years I’ve lived here. Women in pretty much any crowded area always apologize for occupying space, but it’s easily observable in a theater setting.

It reminds me of a Women’s Circle I had the privilege of facilitating last August. I had been invited to facilitate with an incredible group of leaders and was asked to focus on opening the heart chakra through an experience, for my portion of the Circle. I had prepared myself with big words of introduction, undoubtedly meant to stir and inspire the group, but which I can no longer recall.

During the Circle, as I got up to introduce my experience, my inner knowing took over. I found myself off script, asking the women what sorts of things they find themselves apologizing for. I was blown away by the answers. Among them: Breathing. Eating. Not being enough. Being too much. Being too loud. Being too quiet. Taking time for themselves. The way they look. The shapes and sizes of their bodies. Taking up space. And the BIG ONE: existing!

Let that sink in. Women often feel the need to apologize for their existence.

I told these women, as I will tell all women: you do not have to apologize for existing! Things that require apology: when you’ve done harm to a person physically, mentally, emotionally, or energetically, or damaged their property; or when you’ve caused harm to any life. Nothing else requires apology! NOTHING else requires you to be “Sorry! Sorry! So sorry!”

Practice taking up space without feeling sorry for doing it. Shuffle politely down aisles, confident that you, as a resident of planet Earth, are worthy of taking up space on this incredible planet.

Fill your lungs with glorious air, giving yourself permission to breath, and exhale knowing the sound of your breath is the sound of the miracle of life in motion.

Fill your stomach with sumptuous food, knowing you’re allowed to take up space and are not required to make yourself smaller to please others. Give yourself permission and time to savor every bite. You are allowed to eat food for any reason. All forms of hunger are valid. Honor your body and feed it what it asks for.

Run and jump and play with your people. Hike and swim and nap and work, relishing the gift that is your body. Marvel at its ability to do what you need it to. Your body is a good body in every shape, at any size, because it faithfully carries you through this life. Stop apologizing for it! Live in it and love it.

Be confident that you are an excellent arbiter for your voice, as the only one with actual experience using it. As such, you’re the only one truly qualified to determine what level of sound, and which words, are appropriate at any given moment. Don’t ever allow anyone to make you feel small for having the nerve to use your own voice. Be as loud, or as quiet, as you damn well please. How you look is exactly right. No one else looks exactly as you do. No one. Your uniqueness is so ridiculously beautiful, it’s difficult to comprehend. As you fall in love with your self each day, relishing this gift of life, you’ll find that fears about how you look will fade into the background. How you look to others is just not as important as who you are. Let yourself fall in love with every splotch, freckle, mole, and scar. Admire the ways in which the expression of your light shows on the outside. Turn up the shine, because your light is needed in this world of dark corners. You are perfectly, stunningly, incredibly made in Her image, a solitary specimen of what womanhood looks like. You need not ever apologize for that.

You are worthy of your time, and as deserving of it as anyone in your life. Never apologize for taking time for yourself, and do not wait until you’re in crisis to feel as though you’ve “earned” the right to some of it. Your well being matters as much as anyone’s.

Sisters, I release you from apologizing for self. Release yourselves from a cage constructed to keep you captive in your own mind, and fly free!

Tiffany is an advocate for self empowerment and healing, fermenter of foods, writer of streams of consciousness, lover of the human race, and keeper of the old ways, from Lehi, Utah. 

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12 Responses

  1. Chiaroscuro says:

    thank you for taking time to point this out. I wish I didn’t feel like I had to apologize all the time. how did things get so bad?

  2. Dani Addante says:

    Thank you for this amazing post! I myself am trying to stop saying sorry when I’m trying to go past someone at the grocery store. I’m trying to remember to say “excuse me” instead. I got very used to saying “sorry” when I worked in customer service. That’s something I was taught to do, since the customer is always right. A customer once asked me, “Why are you apologizing? You didn’t do anything.” Her words have stayed with me since then.

  3. Brooke Booth says:

    I have also noticed women are socially programmed to be deferential. Articles like this are so important to coax us out of this pattern of behavior. It takes a great deal of awareness plus courage to go against the norm. When we are able to reach some sort of tipping point I believe this planet will truly be a better place.

  4. Josi says:

    Yes!!! Love this. Thank you.
    I remember noticing how even teenage boys moved down the halls when I was in High School. It was like a game of chicken. I’m not even sure they are aware that they are doing it, but girls and younger students had to move or else they would physically collide. If there was a bumping of the shoulder, it would never be the alpha males’ responsibility to apologize.

    This also happens in the grocery store. When there are two women in an aisle looking at a product in the nearby vicinity they pause and excuse themselves with a polite chuckle. I find it interesting however that when a man is in that territory he doesn’t understand or doesn’t choose to see how women excuse themselves and apologize for being in his space. It is so interesting and unnecessary.

    • Risa says:

      We talked about this in a sociology class in college. Our professor challenged the women in the class to not move out of the way of men. I’ve been doing this ever since. Some men get out of the way, some men apologize if they bump me, and some men act absolutely offended that I didn’t move out of their way (instead of them moving out of my way).

      It’s an interesting sociological experiment.

  5. Erin says:

    Definitely! One thing I’ve learned to try to do is to say “thank you” rather than “I’m sorry”. Thank you for waiting for me, thank you for your patience, thank you for listening to me, etc. It makes the person feel kind and generous instead of making me feel small.

  6. Fiddlesticks says:

    62 year old white man here. One should never say “I’m sorry” when needing or sharing public space someone else is in while moving through aisles, doorways, stairs or whatever. I recommend “Excuse me” which doesn’t create a mental kowtow to the other person. “I’m sorry” connotes some regret for injuring someone, which didn’t happen.

  7. DB says:

    I can’t help but wonder how much of these distinct behaviors of men and women, apologizing vs. not apologizing, are cultural traits and how much are inherent biological traits. And if cultural, how much of that culture developed from the natural inclination to either apologize or not? I can only speak as a man and for myself but the idea of apologizing for the items listed, breathing, taking up space, existing,etc., has never even been a consideration for me so the fact that it is commonplace among women is something that I truly don’t understand.

    • B says:

      Definitely cultural. I live in a country where both women and men confidently take up space (to a degree that can be maddening, as people are often very comfortable blocking pathways and doorways). As a girl, my American parents pretty explicitly trained me that I needed to avoid inconveniencing others, in a way that they didn’t do with my brothers. My volume and tone of voice, the way I sat, the clothes I wore, etc., were also policed more heavily. My brothers could do what they wanted, but I needed to constantly monitor my surroundings, anticipate what other people wanted, and adjust my behavior to satisfy those people. This was reinforced by experiences the other commenters have described, such as collisions or dirty looks when I didn’t make enough space for others. (If there’s a biological component, it’s just that people may feel more comfortable elbowing past a smaller woman than a larger man). Now that I don’t live in the U.S., the instinct to apologize for moving through space has almost disappeared. In situations where I’m comfortable (with friends) or know that I’m the boss (at work), I rarely think to apologize, even if I’m partly or totally to blame for a collision. And honestly, everyone’s fine.

    • Dani Addante says:

      I wonder if personality type also has something to do with this. Both my husband and I are introverted, and we sometimes use “I’m sorry,” with others, not to apologize for something, but to be polite.

    • DB says:

      Thinking about this some more, I see a cultural side of this but actually the opposite of what was described which is probably why I didn’t realize it at first. Growing up and being raised in the south, I was always taught, from a very early age, that as a boy and eventually as a man, I was to always make room for and provide for the comfort of girls and women. Make room for them when passing through a hall or other narrow space, always allow them to pass through a door or enter a room first, always offer up a seat to them, etc. To do otherwise was disrespectful and inconsiderate.

      • B says:

        Yeah, I think apologizing is a way to avoid confrontation or perceived rudeness (on occasion I’ve actually apologized to men who groped me in public… ehh). Rudeness is socially constructed and people can have very different ideas about space and who is entitled to more of it, even in different parts of the U.S., as DB points out. I’ve lived in places where when you’re in public transport, strangers are literally crammed on top of each other and nobody says anything about it, whereas in other places you might be expected to apologize for brushing somebody’s sleeve. In my current city, an apology seems strange if nothing is injured or broken, and it’s a relief to not apologize constantly for bumping into people, which happens a lot in crowded spaces.

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