The most recent issue of Marie Claire magazine featured an interview with Anastasia Danias, the president of the NFL. She talked about gender differences in management styles: “I think one of the mistakes that many women make, and one that I made early on in my career, is a tendency to be apologetic. I can’t tell you how many women come into my office and say, ‘I’m sorry to bother you with this.’”
That sounded rather familiar. I apologize when I’m still three yards away from the boss’ door, when no one can hear me. In fact, if I could knock and say, “I’m sorry to bother you with this, and while we’re at it, I’m sorry that my hair is frizzy today, that my appointment book has pages sticking out, that I didn’t send you an email about this instead of dropping in and that my parents believed my conception was a good idea,” I absolutely would.
After I read the article about Danias, I did searches for “I’m sorry” and “I apologize” in my email. I got hundreds of results—emails I’d sent to professional contacts and friends groveling for mercy. But there were just as many grovels sent to me as from me—all of them from women. I found only two “I’m sorry” emails from men: one offering condolences on the death of my dog; the other from a polite Midwesterner saying, “I’m sorry it didn’t work out the way you wanted it to” in reference to not getting a sandwich I wanted for lunch or something equally benign. Men don’t second-guess themselves over email. They don’t request a do-over. They don’t over-explain themselves. And when it comes to the corridors of political power, they succeed.
What would happen to Philadelphia if the men in public positions here were suddenly stricken by an illness that caused them to be as apologetic and deferential as the women Danias laments? To find out, I sketched out some sample conversations, taking all the below apology language from text messages, IM transcripts and emails from the Liz Spikol Apology Archives.
City Councilman Mark Squilla at City Council meeting: “Sorry to just be just blathering on about this. I know it’s boring. It’s just I kind of feel like this AVI thing is important, you know? If someone else wants to talk for a while that’s fine. I know I can be chatty.”
Arthur Evans, commissioner of the Dept. of Behavioral Health, in Mayor Nutter’s office:
“I apologize if this is a really strange request, and I know you’re super busy, but I’m wondering if there’s some way we can get some money in the budget directed toward mental health services.”
Mayor Michael Nutter on IM to City Council Prez Darrell Clarke after lunch: “Sorry if I was being too bossy today at lunch. Was I bossy?”
Tom Corbett in email to Chris Christie : “I’m really sorry to bug you, Chris, but I wonder if we could just have a quick talk about this video slots thing when you get a chance. I don’t want to be a pain in the butt—I’m guessing I just need 10 minutes.”
Union boss John Dougherty in an email to lawyer Richard Sprague: “I apologize for sounding like an insane person, Dick, but I could swear there was an Inquirer reporter camped out on my front steps this morning.”
Email from developer Bart Blatstein to developer Eric Blumenfeld: “I apologize for being so self-absorbed these days, Eric. We haven’t even talked about what you’ve been up to. What’s going on with the Divine Lorraine? I forgot to ask!”
Email from City Controller Alan Butkovitz to Committee of Seventy’s Zack Stalberg: “I’m sorry I was so blah last night. I hate Excel! I promise I’ll be better company for you at the next Committee of Seventy Beef ’n’ Beer.”
Text from Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey to Rep. Chaka Fattah: “Sorry for the dropped call, Congressman. Next time we talk I’ll be sure to call from a place with less gunfire.”
Voicemail from Daily News staff writer left for Eagles Coach Chip Kelly after a press conference: “I hope you don’t mind that I put you on the spot today, Coach. Sorry if that kind of came out of nowhere.”
In Marie Claire, Danias said, “It’s far more productive and confidence-inspiring to be direct and straightforward.” This is something men in power—and women like Danias—have internalized. So here’s a direct statement: Women, get a spine. Don’t apologize for yourselves. Do what needs to be done, what you believe to be right, and walk away without qualms. Stop being dishrags!
Wait, was that too mean? Too direct? If so, I’m really sorry. I apologize.