The first time I saw a woman’s face on folding money was in Canada. Not only did their money have color (not all green all the time!), but there was a young Queen Elizabeth, looking regal, being worth something, and everyone just going about their business, thinking nothing of it. I was only in my twenties, but I knew what would happen if someone even suggested putting a woman’s face on a twenty-dollar bill in the United States of America. All hell would break loose.
Here we are nearly fifty years later. A few months ago we were discussing the possibility of a woman’s face on the twenty dollar bill by the year twenty twenty. So poetic. And to replace the repugnant Andrew Jackson. He of the act of genocide against the Native Americans. Wouldn’t it be a relief to all of us every time we pulled a stack of twenties from the ATM machine to not have to look at his arrogant face? What if instead we saw the gentle but fierce face of Harriet Tubman who led her people to freedom via the underground railroad? Or the lovely aristocratic profile of the lesbian first lady Eleanor Roosevelt? She would have been a beauty if they’d have had orthodonture in her day. When an informal vote was called for, I cast mine for Ms. Tubman. I know in my heart that Ms. Roosevelt would be happy to be on the more humble five dollar bill, or even the one. She always championed the worker, the poor, the underdog. Ms. Tubman never had the opportunity to rise to her proper standing, let’s put her there now.
But no. Just as we get comfortable with the idea the decision of a woman on the twenty by twenty twenty has been made, an announcement comes: the treasurer lets us know he will decide on a woman’s face to grace the ten dollar bill. Of course, Alexander Hamilton’s face won’t be completely removed, he’ll simply be shifted from his current central location to another spot yet to be determined. The woman will have to share space.
Meanwhile, women have suddenly noticed we are apologizing too often. Not that we are wronging people more often than usual. Not that we have suddenly become insensitive to the needs, desires, or feelings of others. Maybe not even that we are apologizing more often that we ever have. But suddenly we are awake to the fact we are apologizing, and we are sorry, so sorry, so often. I wish I could tell you I started a count this morning and could tell you how often I’ve said “sorry” already today, but I’m sorry, I haven’t. And I haven’t even spoken aloud to a single person today. Not in person, not on the telephone. I’ve emailed, I’ve texted, I’ve tweeted, and I’ve been on FaceBook, and I can tell you I have apologized way too many times. How do I know? Let me check. Yes, I’m still female.
I’m not talking about the use of “I’m sorry, but…” which is actually a passive-aggressive way of starting a statement. I’m talking about apologizing for something for which I’m not sorry at all, nor should I be. Such as when I haven’t heard from a person who was supposed to contact me weeks ago, but hasn’t. Why am I saying “sorry to bother you, but I haven’t heard …” Bullshit. I should just say, “I haven’t heard.” Mind you, maybe I didn’t hear because I accidentally deleted her email in which case she’ll come back and say she sent the email (maybe send me a copy of it) and then I can legitimately apologize. We women have drummed this into ourselves, into our children, as if apologies were the same as being polite, when in fact they are not.
Yes, do apologize when you have wronged someone. Otherwise, find another way to be polite. “Excuse me, this salad has sand in it. May I please have another?” Not, “I’m sorry, I can’t eat this salad, it has sand in it.” It’s not your fault it has sand in it. Is it? Did you put the sand in it? I didn’t think so. I recently apologized for my own food allergies when I was served a meal with corn in it. In that case, I hadn’t told them I had corn allergies, I didn’t expect to find corn in whatever it was I ordered. I did feel bad about having to send it back. I should have checked first. But you shouldn’t have to ask whether there will be sand or dirt or bugs in your salad.
How will we stop this habit? Because it is a habit. It’s not a failing. It’s not a character flaw. We’re trying to be good people. We’ve mistaken being apologetic with being polite, that’s all. So let’s knock it off. I plan to start by noticing. I’ll congratulate myself (silently, of course) when I get it right, and I won’t kick myself when I get it wrong, I’ll simply notice it and try to do better next time.
Canadians are known for being polite. Women and men both. I wonder whether the women there apologize as often as women do here. And whether having the Queen staring up at them on their twenty dollar bill helps in any way. You know QE2 never apologizes for sending back a salad.