Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"Woman Talk"

Some of my girlfriends and I were getting ready to leave for a night out when the topic of conversation suddenly became a lot more heated. Strong opinions were being tossed back and forth, with the occasional conspiracy theory being thrown in to spice things up.

Basically, we were discussing law/politics/business (in a very nerdy fashion) and having a great time sharing our views! What really struck me, however, was that this is not something that is expected of us in social settings or happens often enough when we are in a group... and the other women agreed.

How sad!

Our initial reaction was that we sounded like our fathers arguing at a party. Our mothers discuss how the kids are doing, the latest department store sale, and great new recipes... and all of our mothers are highly educated working professionals, not limited to a domestic sphere! Why don't our mothers feel the same need to share their views on the world as our fathers? Why were we surprised to find ourselves talking "like guys?"

I think it has a lot to do with society's expectations of women and how the media portrays relationships among women. Women in "chickflicks" don't sit around talking about substantial topics, it's mostly just a discussion centered around boys/makeup/social drama (i.e. Sex and the City). My friends agreed that it was really unfortunate that we were surprised to find ourselves getting passionate about important topics while at the same time acknowledging that our guy friends have these kinds of conversations all the time, even in a party setting.

That's not to say we don't discuss these topics a lot among ourselves, but it's usually one-on-one. Why is that?

Maybe it's just that nobody wants a serious conversation when we are getting ready for a party, but somehow that's not a problem for a group of guys (at least based on my observations).

Perhaps this is all just my narrow experience, but when women are in groups we seem to revert to our comfortable social roles and back to topics found in women's magazines. While there is nothing wrong with light conversation, I wish that "girl talk" meant business/politics/law/science/etc. !

Maybe that should be called "woman talk" :)


Kate said...

This is an excellent observation. I think women's reluctance to talk about politics is a combination of several really deep-seated stereotypes and expectations of women.

First, there's the pressure to be nice and not aggressive. Obviously it's hard to talk about serious, controversial issues without butting heads and that can be pretty scary for women.
Second, I think men tend to be much more confident in their opinions (even when they're factually wrong) and women tend to be much less confident in their opinions (even when they're factually right). There's been quite a bit of discussion in feminist blogs over the last couple of years about "mansplaining" (a.k.a. men who explain things) regarding this phenomena. I think this is also related to the pressure to be nice- if women often feel bad about correcting someone who's in the wrong, the fear of accidentally correcting someone who's right can be paralyzing.

That said, my understanding is that there really is a gap between how much women know about politics and how much men know about politics which I think ties in to reason number three, lack of leisure time. Women have to work the second shift of house work and child care and are typically expected to put time into their appearance than men. It's unsurprising that much of women's time and thoughts are taken up by these topics and that women don't have the same leisure time as men to devote to learning and talking about politics.

Fourth, I think a lot of political topics can be a lot more painful and personal for women. Women are more likely than men to directly affected by things like abortion, rape, child care accommodations, or poverty, so discussing these issues is often much more emotionally loaded and less abstract for women than for men.

Finally, I have to speak up in defense of the women's magazines. :) I know Marie Claire, at least, has a lot of really thoughtful, important articles on issues like human trafficking, reproductive rights, etc. I think this ties into your point about women being more comfortable talking about important issues one on one. Women may be comfortable reading about these issues in private, but they don't necessarily feel comfortable discussing it in public.

Betty said...

This is so interesting and rings very true in my life, as well. For the most part, at least. While I am fully capable in engaging in intellectual conversations about the law or politics (or science or business, etc) as much as any other male (or female, of course), I make the active choice not to simply based on preference alone. I don't find it as interesting or as personally engaging to me as discussing the new restaurant that just opened up or the most recent episode of Gossip Girl (yes, guilty, I am a viewer. Anyway . . . ) I think this can be analogized on the male spectrum of things, not to generalize too much, to males preferring to talk about sports or cars.

Okay, I'm done stereotyping. I think the bigger issue here is not personal preference or interests, however, but because of the fact that the fields and subjects of law/politics/business have always been a primarily male dominated field(s), and so the natural evolution of that of course spills into the fact that more males are going to talk about it or prefer to.

The current problem, as Kate mentioned above, then, is that there is obviously a proven gap between men and women and that it is stemmed from somewhere - the fact that less women actually tend to be knowledgeable about subjects like these. But what proves to be hopeful is that there ARE women out there who are knowledgeable about these topics, many more so than men. We just need to keep going. :)