Watching Lena Dunham's character speak in Girls feels like watching the archetype of many a young woman's linguistic styles. As Hannah Horvath, Dunham peppers her sentences with "OK, like," a colorful inventory of curse words that any modern-day lady would be proud to have in her vocabulary, and countless unprovoked apologies.
Although people often assume that Dunham's personality is like her character's, in reality, the two are quite different — except perhaps for the fact that both Dunham and Hannah share a penchant for saying sorry that many women can attest to having, too.
In an essay published on LinkedIn on Wednesday, Dunham wrote about her exhaustion with what she called her "apology addiction":
Apologizing is a modern plague and I'd be willing to bet (though I have zero scientific research to back this up) that many women utter "I'm sorry" more on a given day than "Thank You" and "You're Welcome" combined. So many of the women I know apologize like it's a job they were given by the government (we'll save the whys of that for a massive sociology text). We rush to say it when we're interrupted. We scream it across a crowded restaurant when someone else arrives late so we've lost our table. We mutter it when a man walks too close to us on the street.
It's a habit not unfamiliar for many women; whole studies have been conducted on why women apologize so much more than men.
Dunham wrote that since ascending to a position of power at work, she's been much more aware of how often she apologizes.
"I am a woman who is sometimes right, sometimes wrong but somehow always sorry. And this has never been more clear to me than in the six years since I became a boss. It's hard for many of us to own our power, but as a 24-year-old woman (girl, gal, whatever I was) I felt an acute and dangerous mix of total confidence and the worst imposter syndrome imaginable," Dunham wrote. "While my commitment to my work overrode almost any performance anxiety I had, it didn't override my hardwired instinct to apologize. If I changed my mind, if someone disagreed with me, even if someone else misheard me or made a mistake... I was so, so sorry."
Making an impassioned plea to young women everywhere, Dunham recalled when she made a concerted effort to apologize less:
What do you replace sorry with? Well for starters, you can replace it with an actual expression of your needs and desires. And it turns out when you express what you want (without a canned and insincere apology) everyone benefits. Your employees know what you want from them and can do their jobs with clarity and pride. The dynamic remains healthy and open.
Cover image via Jaguar PS / Shutterstock.com