Rue is Me: Pantene Underestimates Us
By Jan Wilberg on June 25, 2014
I'm sorry, but my preemptive apology is the cotton swab I use to clear the wound before I dump the alcohol on it. Any fool who would actually think I'm sorry in the millions of little situations where I use it to serve my own purposes, much like 99% of the women who are chronic "I'm sorry" sayers, has my sympathy, I'm sorry you're such an idiot.
The little wee hubbub generated by the Pantene ad zeroing in on the overuse of "I'm sorry" is truly fascinating. It's amateur hour for punk sociologists and feminists who idolized Mary Lou Retton. What is being said is not, my friends, what is meant. Used properly, "I'm sorry" is a nuanced, finely sharpened tool that can offend, embarrass, extract, manipulate, tease, and, oh, actually apologize.
When a woman says "I'm sorry," it can mean many things.
- I'm sorry you're so boring.
- I'm sorry you're going to lose this argument.
- I'm sorry your child is so homely.
- I'm sorry that I will shove a pencil in my ear if I have to listen to you thirty more seconds.
- I'm sorry I picked you instead of someone else, this omelet, this dress, this vacation, this life.
- I'm sorry but this situation is going to end up the way I want it to.
In my world, "I'm sorry" isn't the self-deprecating reflex of the mousy and powerless. It's the hammer hanging from the belt, the wrench in the back pocket, a ubiquitous tool of superiority and condescension. I sound like a very unpleasant person here but I'm betting most women of any substance will say the same thing. Saying "I'm sorry" is about manipulating a situation toward one's own benefit. I'm sorry, it's a true fact.
Now, there is the actual apology. The spelled out words "I am sorry" that I have both said and had said to me in situations that were profoundly important or maybe important only in a small moment. It is possible to feel genuinely sorry about a small thing, even a late response to an email, without it becoming a symptom of women's spinelessness. I find it a nice thing when someone apologizes to me for minor things, being late, forgetting to include me in a discussion, bumping my tray in the cafeteria line. It's nice and considerate, shows that someone is thinking of someone else. And because I like it when people say I'm sorry for little things, I do the same. Then it's sweet and legit.
The rest of the time, it's a little mean falcon wearing a smile.
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