A Woman Is Apologizing

16697918095_3e906e31b1_zThe idea for this poem came after an incident that occurred while walking down the street in a big city. A man knocked into me, hard, and kept going—which was surprising. I was just as surprised to hear myself apologize to him. After that, I started hearing myself apologize all the time: at work, at home, at the store. I noticed other women doing it too and asked female friends about their experiences. 

I would like to live in a world where women can speak up without feeling the need to dismiss themselves. When they do speak, we as a society need to listen and show that their contribution is welcome.

A Woman is Apologizing 

To the jackass whose shoulder clipped her
on the sidewalk, the guy who kept walking
didn’t flinch. She’s apologizing in classrooms
with her hand half up: sorry to waste
time, can you explain that again?
She’s apologizing for her
messy living room, what she is
wearing or not wearing.
She’s ringing her neighbors:
sorry to bother you, can you turn
the music down? Tapping the grocer:
I’m so sorry, these tomatoes have fungus.
Right now, she’s hesitating
to say her ideas or ask her questions or claim
her raise because she thinks
you’ll think she’s selfish, brash.
Ungrateful. Unreasonable.
Unlikable. Unfeminine.
Tonight a woman is apologizing
for everything she wants to say.
Her sentences weighed down.
Mouth struggling to get
words out, if she chooses
to speak at all.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user Matthew G licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

Emily Sernaker

Emily Sernaker is a writer and activist. She holds a MSc in equality studies from University College Dublin and currently studies Creative Writing at Pacific University. She lives in New York. 


  1. Beautiful poem and so true. We as women are made to feel constant guilt, which is whats unreasonable, and its crippling and disempowering effects- mentally, emotionally and in every other way. Thank you for making it all so clear in you beautful poem.

  2. Thank you so much to my wonderful friend, Chris, who calls me on this all the time.

  3. caroline says:

    So many thanks for sharing this.

  4. Gita Sharma says:

    Thank you. You spoke my words. I am apologizing for having the ideas i have, i am seeking permission to express them, i hope that others will not feel offended because i actually exist and i have ideas. I am apologizing…
    So familiar… thank you.

  5. camille zahajko says:

    Ok. I just decided to stop doing that!
    And I am NOT SORRY FOR IT!

  6. Wonderful poem, thank you.

  7. Lele Lisana says:

    wonderful!!! i am sure it rings true for many!

  8. Marg Evans says:

    This is how we were brought up to be ladies in our catholic school in England. It is what we were taught in our childhood. Hard to shake.

    However I do have a loud voice now — Thank God !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Sarah Grussing says:

    This is me, has always been me: apologizing, always, for everything I do or don’t do, even for just breathing. I was asked to apologize on a frequent basis while growing up, especially for “talking back” to my parents or other authority figures. Now, I apologize incessantly to family and friends. I apologized in the classroom, I apologized at my very successful Ph.D. dissertation defense, I apologized to my students, I apologized to my colleagues in meetings and conferences. When I decided to leave academia because it was sucking me dry, I apologized to everyone for my failure to suffer more years and stick it out. When my husband left me for his secretary after 22 years of marriage, I apologized profusely to my children. Now that I am living a fulfilling and happy life at 49, I apologize to everyone for not achieving more. It is so deeply ingrained in most women’s way of existing in the world that it is even more painful to try to stop apologizing once we are conscious of how frequently we do it than to just keep doing it. So I’m sorry if I keep apologizing; the effort required to not apologize is just too much and the crippling need to apologize is just too all-encompassing.

  10. Sara Cuenin says:

    I have and will continue to feel so very sorry for women who apologize for everything. It drives me crazy. I try to give them a friendship that is totally equal and I refuse to accept their apologies. I have at times yelled “Stop apologizing!! It is Me you are talking to!!It saddens me to the depths of my soul when they are unable to stop. Each of us are important to this world, this life, right now. If not we would not be here.

  11. I read an article about women apologizing some time ago and it was eye-opening. Since then I simply stoppdd apologizing for anything that didn’t require such and encourage other women and girls to do so.

  12. Emily Sernaker, Thanks for saying this for all of us. I also appreciate the comments it inspired, especially this profound statement, which we all need to hear:
    “Each of us are important to this world, this life, right now. If not we would not be here.”
    Sara Cuenin, April 22, 2016 at 10:38 am

  13. Matt Powers says:

    I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the way that jackass just bumped into you and kept walking without a glance back, without a heartfelt apology. I’m sorry that there are guys like that. I’m sorry that I feel the need to apologize for him as though him and I have anything in common.
    I’m sorry that I’m a man and therefore somehow responsible for every jackass out there. I’m also sorry that I’m somehow responsible for every militant woman that uses jackasses as an excuse to be a jerk herself. And I’m sorry for the woman that feels a need to apologize for everything just like me- because somehow I caused that too.
    I sorry for being white.
    I’m sorry for being middle class.
    I’m sorry that I only pay 50% of my paycheck to those people and institutions that believe they have more of a right to it than me.
    I’m sorry I can only work about 120 hours a week anymore.
    I’m sorry that I’m tired when I get home.
    I’m sorry that I didn’t rub your shoulders after giving the girls a foot rub. I’m sorry that I gave the girls foot rubs and now that’s why they will have problems with men later in life.

    I’m sorry for driving 80 while emailing- but my wife’s in the hospital and my kid is sick at school and I’m supposed to be on a plane to Germany even though I can hardly see the road through my tears. I’m sorry that I didn’t close the deal and I’m sorry that we can’t take that trip. I’m sorry that we can take that trip and there are people that can’t.
    I’m sorry for staying up all night to finish my project. I’m sorry that I didn’t.
    I’m sorry that I don’t know all the things I’m supposed to be sorry about- I’ve been a little busy being a middle-class, middle-aged, middle-sized, workaholic, American male that’s just trying to be the best Husband, Dad, Son, Employee, Colleague, Family Member, Neighbor, guy that he can be.
    And I’m sorry I wrote this but it’s also how I feel most of the time- at least if I have a minute or two to feel at all.
    -The Middle Everything Guy that you never hear from because he’s too busy to speak that just happened to see this on his nieces FaceBook wall. (Matt Powers)

  14. Peggy Jenkins says:

    This is maddening when I do it (and I do) but at the growers last night a man clipped me, said nothing as he hustled past the invisible me, and his female companion apologized saying “we’re sorry.” She became confused when I actually responded that she should not apologize for his rudeness and male privilege.

  15. powerful. thank you

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