Perhaps you’ve heard about this summer’s controversy surrounding a T-shirt for girls sold at The Children’s Place. The shirt implies that female students excel at shopping, music and dancing, not math (or any other traditional school subject). Hopefully, you don’t agree, and even if you do, there’s no reason to reinforce the thought on the chests of little girls.
After a firestorm of complaints from Moms, the store pulled the shirt from its inventory and posted an “apology” on Twitter and Facebook:
“We take feedback from our customers very seriously. It has come to our attention that some of you view our Best Subjects T shirt as insensitive towards girls and women. This was not our intent. There are countless women in all walks of life who excel in math, including our very own CEO. We have pulled this product from our stores and we want to express our apologies to anyone we may have offended.”
My point: A focus on “anyone we may have offended” is not really an apology. Ever.
Sadly, the non-apology apology has become all too common, and even has its own listing on Wikipedia! Examples include the Tennessee CEO who compared Michelle Obama to a monkey. David Letterman’s “joke” about Sarah Palin’s daughter. Almost any episode of reality TV’s Real Housewives franchise.
Whether a comment or action is perceived to be sexist, racist,or just plain hurtful, a true apology features an admission that your actions were wrong. Period. You cannot say “Gee, if you were outraged by my behavior, I’m so sorry.” That’s blaming the victim, not yourself. Saying that “everybody else” thought your actions were OK doesn’t work, either.
Jezebel offers this tip: “If ‘sorry’ is immediately followed by the word ‘if’, ‘you’, or ‘you’re’, then you are most likely not apologizing.”
There’s lessons here for women, including NotMoms who refer to mothers as “breeders” and Moms who deride the childfree as “selfish” or tell childless women they’re sure to be lonely old ladies. When confronted by someone impacted by thoughtless labeling, offer an apology. A real one.