What Would Have Happened
This is what America wants

Sunday Night Journal — July 15, 2007

Idiot Winds

You probably saw the news story that appeared in the past week or so giving an account of a study that claims to have disproved the common notion that women talk more than men. (It’s a common notion among men, anyway—women in general may not agree.) Clio has an amusing yeah! in response.

I’m not convinced that the study’s conclusions are correct. It was, after all, only a few weeks ago that I ran across another news item (which of course I can’t find now) about another study which claimed to have established that women’s brains are far better equipped for verbal communication than men’s. I believe the researcher illustrated her findings with a metaphor comparing a six-lane freeway to a country lane. If those findings are true, well, it stands to reason that there would be more traffic on the freeway.

But let’s assume for the sake of discussion that the first study is indeed correct, and that most women don’t use a statistically significant greater number of words in the course of a day than most men do. What would account for the perception that women talk more? Supposing that the perception is held and propagated by men, I think it might be a result of the fact that men and women tend not to be interested in the same things, or rather not equally interested. If you are talking about something in which I have little, zero, or negative interest, I will probably think you are talking too much.

Any generalization about male vs. female psychology should be preceded by a big flashing sign acknowledging that it can never be more than broadly accurate. So consider such a caution as being inserted here, and here is my generalization, unsupported by any evidence other than my own observations: women in general are more down-to-earth than men in general. I’ve often been tempted to say that women (please assume the qualifier “in general” after the words “women” and “men” in the rest of this piece) are more practical than men, but that’s not really correct, as it implies effective practicality, and I don’t necessarily think that’s predominantly the case. But men are more likely to be interested in the abstract, the general, the large, and the grand, women in the concrete, the particular, the small, and the humble.

This, I think, is at the root of the conviction widely held by members of each sex that the other is sort of stupid. A man may think less of a woman’s intelligence because she is uninterested in big ideas, big systems, big plans. The same woman might think the same man is an idiot because he has no idea what’s going on right under his nose.

It’s also, I think, unquestionably true that women are more interested—more actively and consciously interested—in human relationships than men are (cf. The Lifetime Channel vs. Spike TV). It’s not so much, as men charge, that women want to talk about their “feelings” as that they want to talk about their relationships with other people. Arguably, I suppose, this is an instance of concern for the particular, but at any rate, it becomes part of the stereotypical scenario: it’s the end of the day, husband and wife are both tired, and the wife wants to chat about what she’s been doing all day, family matters, and other very down-to-earth things in which the husband, especially at that moment, has low-to-negative interest. His conclusion: she talks too much. (I’m not, by the way, assuming a stay-at-home wife in this example; it applies equally to a marriage where both husband and wife have jobs.) If, however, he is an Alabama football fan and she wants to talk with equal volubility about Nick Saban’s prospects for the next season, he’ll probably think her quite a conversationalist.

A few more observations that may or may not be valid: I think it’s in The Screwtape Letters that C. S. Lewis places the observation that women tend to talk more when they’re tired, men to talk less. If I remember correctly, the junior tempter is instructed to exploit this. I’ve seen some evidence that this is true. Also, I think it may be true that women are more likely to go into a sort of idle chat that is perhaps an effect of the ease with which words travel the above-mentioned six-lane freeway, and to which the speaker herself is not entirely attending. And women may have more of a need and propensity to “vent”—to unload frustration or anger by talking (i.e., complaining), as opposed to, say, shouting, cursing, and hitting things.

Any of these might register in the male mind as she talks a lot. Likewise, a long discourse by a man on Myself: Accomplishments, Plans, and Significance would get much the same reaction from a woman, at least any woman who’s not in love with him.



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