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An Apology to Women

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research.

(Image credit: Flickr user butupa)

How to make science popular with the fair sex
by Sylvester Bames, PhD.
Royal Academy of the Sciences London, England

It has always dismayed me that women dislike science. It needn't be so, though. There is a simple way to make science comfortable and appealing to females.

The Differences Between Men and Women
An American author called Deborah Tannen has written several books in which she examines the differences between men and women. Tannen has discovered a basic technique that I would recommend to every scientist, and indeed to anyone who writes about science. The secret is simply to use the phrase "I'm sorry."

Tannen eavesdropped on many conversations between men and women. She also listened to tape recorded conversations that friends and colleagues had made for her. One of the great differences between the sexes, Tannen discovered, is thai women utter the phrase ''I'm sorry" in almost every conversation. Men say "I'm sorry" only when they are apologizing about something.

The Success of Women
When women say "I'm sorry," they are not apologizing. They are using the phrase as "a ritual to grease the conversational wheels." All women understand this, Tannen explains. They do not expect the words to be taken literally. However -and this is the key point- women expect everyone to use this same ritual when speaking to them.

The Failure of Men
Men do not say "I'm sorry" all the time. This is a grave mistake. As Tannen neatly puts it, “This can lead to resentment on the part of the ritual apologizer." In other words, when a man fails to say a ritual ''I'm sorry," he comes across as a self-centered, domineering lout.

This is useful knowledge, and we should all be grateful to Tannen for pointing it out.

How to Make Science Appealing to Women
Whether you are lecturing about science or writing about science, here is how to make it palatable to women.

Prepare your lecture or your paper in the normal manner. When you have polished it, and are prepared to deliver the talk or publish the report, you must take one extra step. It is a simple thing. At the beginning of your report, just add an apology. There is no need to specify what you are apologizing for. Just begin with the words ''I'm sorry." At the end of your report, apologize again.

If your report is lengthy, you need to sustain the interest of the females. It's not a bad idea to add an apology at the beginning of every new chapter or section. An average of one apology every ten minutes will suffice.

Do this, and you will soon find that your scientific reports are as fascinating to women as they are to men. Professionally, it will expand your circle of influence. Socially, too, it will work wonders. You will be amazed that, after years of thinking that females are put off by scientists, you have become the life of the party.

Sorry Advice
To summarize-when you talk about science, say "I'm sorry," and say it often. Then you will never have to apologize for being a scientist.

(Image credit: Flickr user Andrew Yee)

That's Not What I Meant!: How Conversational Style Makes or Breaks Your Relations With Others, Deborah Tannen, William Morrow, Ballantine, New York, 1986.

You Just Don't Understand, Deborah Tannen, William Morrow, New York, 1990.

Talking from 9 to 5. Women and Men in the Workplace: Language, Sex and Power, Deborah Tannen, Avon Books, New York, 1994.


This article is republished with permission from the May-June 1998 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can purchase back issues of the magazine or subscribe to receive future issues, in printed or in ebook form. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

Visit their website for more research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.

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I used to be in a bad situation in which I had to frequently apologize for things I hadn't done wrong. When I got out of it, I intentionally broke myself of the habit of using the phrase "I'm sorry" for anything other than an apology for something that I was actually responsible for.

It has creeped back into my vocabulary lately, but I'm no longer as concerned about it.
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Really? Every man I've been close to (um, married to) thought that I was apologizing all the time when I was really expressing sympathy.
Me: "I'm sorry."
Him: "Why? you didn't do anything."
Me: "I meant I feel sorry for you."
Him: "Oh. Then why don't you just say that?"
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When women say they are sorry, they can mean any number of things, like
1. I feel sorry for you.
2. Could you repeat that? I didn't hear you.
3. Could you repeat that? I can't believe you said that.
4. I'm about to tell you something you don't want to hear.
and, occasionally
5. I apologize.
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Unmentioned in this post but there is also the resentment in the other direction that men feel toward people who use 'sorry' as a social ritual when they clearly aren't sorry.
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