Some of my best lessons have come from women senior to me giving me a good scolding and a solid whack.
In graduate school, the always bold Cecelia Tichi called me into her office and said, "you have a great voice, but when you talk in seminar, you let it get thin and weak. Stop doing that."
Recently, I taught my first public yoga class. For the purposes of full disclosure, I told everyone as much. And at various moments, I found myself apologizing--for the music not being right, for get left side and right side confused, for looking at the lesson plan, etc.
The following day, I saw a woman who was in the class. She thanked me for the class (which was free), and I immediately replied, "thank you; it was my first class, so I hope it wasn't too bad, etc., etc.." The woman, a stranger, responded by whacking me on the arm. "Stop saying that," she said, "you didn't seem like a novice. You should stop apologizing."
And she's right. Many women have a tendency to apologize for themselves, which is an undermining and unprofessional behavior. I can think of two young women graduate students who use the word "sorry" in the way that Valley Girls say "like." It is as though they are constantly apologizing for the very fact of their existence--"I am so sorry to be imposing my presence on the world."
In yoga and university classroom teaching, some young women would also pepper their teaching with apologies, weakening phrases, putting commands as questions, and verbal uptick (making the end of their sentences sound like questions). Instead of saying, "take out your assignments," or "come to the top of your yoga mats," women ask "would you do x."
Particularly for young women, the tendency to apologize for and to undermine the self goes against the principle of Ahimsa (non-harming). Most of us would not undermine someone else in the same way, so it's time to stop doing it to ourselves.
Get a Life, PhD
The Professor is In
The Thesis Whisperer
Tenure, She Wrote