A Woman Is Apologizing

The 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 is a Ms. contributor and a staff writer for the International Rescue Committee. Her poetry, articles and reviews have appeared in The Sun, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, McSweeney's, The Rumpus and more. She is a 2019 Lincoln City Fellowship recipient in poetry.