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Dear women: Thank you – and I’m sorry

female looking at the viewer with hands clamped together

I have two things to say to women: "Thank you” and "Sorry.” Let me explain.

I recently stood waiting to use the restroom on the ferry. The door opened and a woman emerged. As she left, she smiled and said "Sorry.” 

I assume her "Sorry” was shorthand for, "Sorry, I occupied this space while you needed it.” It's the same kind of "Sorry” I frequently hear from women as we cross paths in public and one of us needs to go through first. Almost always, the woman says "Sorry.”

Rarely, if ever, do I hear that word come out of a man’s mouth in the same circumstances. A man might gesture and allow me to go first. Or he might move through the space first without acknowledging me. But only once in a blue moon do I hear the word "Sorry” come from a man's mouth.

Women have a high degree of sensitivity about space and how to share it, understanding that it requires a bit of negotiation. Women of all kinds, shapes, sizes, ages and cultures share their space so graciously, I rarely even notice. It’s as if I unconsciously believe I deserve the space more than women.

So I want to say "Thank you” to all women for being gracious. Thank you for offering me the best parts of the chicken even though you might prefer it yourself. Thank you for picking up after me. Thank you for all the gifts you give without even letting me know you are doing this.

Now don’t be so "sorry"

Now I want to challenge you. If you and I enter a doorway at the same time, we both deserve it. Saying "Sorry” feels like a statement that you, as a woman, deserve this space less. It contributes to my unconscious belief that this is true. I would prefer a gesture that suggests "After you, dear sir” or a smile and "Thank you" when I let you go first.

And now I want to say, "I  am sorry.”

I'm sorry for not having noticed the graciousness behind the word "Sorry.” I am sorry for not recognizing you for your giving nature. I am sorry for that unconscious male tyrant in me who believes he is more worthy than you. 

Perhaps, as I notice the giving nature of women and offer the same in kind, I will become more caring and able to sit powerfully in my truth. And, above all, I'll be able to always remember and honor what women have done for us men from time immemorial.

Thank you, and I’m sorry.

Dr. Keith Merron is a senior associate at The Gender Intelligence Group. He is the ci-author of Gender Intelligence: Breakthrough Strategies for Increasing Diversity and Improving Your Bottom Line.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.