April 3 , 2001,
The silent second sex
And they say women talk more!
The silent second sex
HOW can I speak? For if I speak the "Second Sex", already beleaguered on the charge of being obsessed with itself, speaks. And that must never happen. If the hands that have rocked the cradle since time immemorial rise to take a break, chaos will be inevitable. The carefully constructed male discourse, which thrives on female silence, will give way, flimsy for its foundations are. Silence thus is truly golden. But silence doesn’t really seem to offer a way out for ours is a classic bind…damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
This is not something unique to the present age. In the Middle Ages, a woman with mysterious powers- the witch- was thought to deserve death by fire or was stoned to death. At best, she was given a chance to prove her innocence by being immersed in water. If she drowned, this was a vindication of her innocence; if she bobbed up, she was guilty- death in any case was inevitable. But if the influence of the woman in question was considered to be benign, she was sacrificed nevertheless, but deified as a goddess. Silent or not, woman was to be secondary to men, was to exist only on male terms.
And so is the case till date even in the apparently modern cities like our very own "City Beautiful". To take a very commonplace, but relevant, example that has wider implications- if a woman plays the overtly coquettish role with fluttering eyelashes then she is the archetypal whore and obviously it is a "lead-on" for men. But not behaving thus, this isn’t a way out. If a woman is at ease in male company, interacting with them the way she would with her female companions, it is a "come-hither" signal anyway. Silence won’t save you either- either you are cold, the "ice-maiden" or else the sub-texts of desire are ever present. Male-female politics must inevitably come into play. Any interaction between the two sexes cannot, as per male logic, transcend the sexual barrier. All that one can do is raise one’s hands in exasperation and exclaim, "Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they want!"
And then, to think of it, it is women who are accused of being obsessed with themselves and their problems. Anything and everything that can generate victims, be it fate, chance or men, concerns women- so goes the accusation- "Her problems are real; everyone else’s are incidental. She is the one harassed in workplaces and at home. She is brushed against, looked up and down…" The truth is that it is not women who are full of being women- men are preoccupied with women. They cannot simply let women be, accepting them as equals rather than treating them as denizens of Venus. The person they are interacting with is a woman first, with all its connotations, sexual and otherwise, and a human being later, if at all. By the very definition of the word, a woman cannot be a man’s equal- she can be childlike, she can be a goddess- but definitely not his equal.
A man is defined in terms of his relation to the external world; a woman only in terms of a man…Milton described Adam and Eve thus-" He for God only; she for God in him." Obviously then men see it as their inalienable right to play God to the hapless poor creature called woman!
But what do men do if the "lesser half" is determined to be his "equal" if not "better" half? Being forced to abdicate one’s role of the Almighty can never be a very happy situation to be in. So men pick up the next best career option- that of playing the martyr. Thus we have all varieties of martyrs, taking their cue from the archetypes that have survived down the ages, with a few additions to be in tune with the new age. There are men who are let down by their women friends who were more than friends; only that the lover’s discourse here was essentially a male monologue. Then there are the unwitting victims of a relationship and the so unnatural and incomprehensible desire for fidelity and commitment. And of course the all-too familiar figure of a pathetic husband, sacrificed at the altar of his wife’s desire for a life of her own.
Having understood the lopsided male
psyche to this extent, it seems some kind of a perverted cosmic joke
that men and women have been put on the same planet. But stuck as we are
with the situation, Shobha De’s thought provoking question put forth
in Surviving Men merits some consideration- "What does one do with
men?" Not much, I’m afraid. Trying to make them see sense and rid
themselves of their overriding obsession with women is simply a waste of
time. Centuries of convoluted thought processes that have held on since
the days of Adam cannot be remedied during the life time of any one of
us…in Surviving Women, Jerry Pinto has devoted an entire section over
the question of men and women being "just friends"! And you
thought you could do better and be "just friends" with them?
Don’t even try! Shobha De does have a couple of suggestions but feel
free to improvise. Most of the traditional uses- like moving furniture
or using them as escorts – are passé. But don’t lose heart yet.
Only don’t expect to establish a meaningful relationship in any
capacity. Save your precious time and energy for yourself and worthwhile
investments that give some return at least. Not that men are not okay;
only that women are more okay so that one is forced to say "WOE-
And they say women talk more!
DURING my postgraduation, I frequently travelled between Chandigarh and Patiala. As soon as I found a comfortable seat, I would doze off. The only things that occasionally disturbed were rattling windowpanes and chattering co-passengers. Though their talk was often disturbing yet, at times, interesting. The men would discuss politics, office and current events whereas women had a lot to talk about— husbands, kids neighbours, office mates, dresses, latest TV serials and almost everything under sun. I often wondered who talked more— was it the men or the women.
"Nothing is so unnatural as a talkative man or a quiet woman" says a Scottish saying. An American proverb says, "When both husband and wife wear pants it is not difficult to tell them apart—he is the one who is listening". " Women’s tongues are like lamb’s tail," says an English saying. A Japanese saying reads, " Where there are women and geese there’s noise." Most of these sayings and proverbs try to convey that the women are always talking, noisy and irritating prattlers. But do women dominate in talking? Do men really struggle to get a word in, edge-wise?
Researchers, Deborah James and Janice Drakich in their study, Understanding gender differences in amount of talk in their book Gender and Conversation interaction have reviewed 63 studies that examine the amount of talk time used by women and men. In 61 studies, men talked more than women. If we apply these elements in the present day context one can conclude the same too.
These days, various channels host talk shows on the idiot box. If we compare the amount of talk time indulged in by female and male guests invited, the results indicate that men dominate in most of the talk shows. Generally men take more than half on each occasion.
The good thing about Doordarshan is that it has brought Parliament to our homes. We can watch our favourite leaders speak and not speak on our part in the house. A careful study of the proceedings can help us draw a conclusion that out of our elected leaders, male politicians speak more than their female counterparts. No doubt, they are also more in numbers.
There are numerous examples to prove the point. My father, a retired educationist, often recalls that from kindergarten through primary, secondary and higher level education it is boys who dominate the classroom talks.
The question arises that who talks what and why? Researchers conclude that formal public talk is aimed at enhancing one’s status as this is meant to inform people and persuade them to agree to a certain viewpoint. People who confirm certain degree of public status often do public talk. A simple test is to use a stopwatch to calculate the amount of talk conducted by men and women at a political or public meeting. Researchers conclude that men talk more than the fair sex in public, as they believe that verbally contributing would enhance their social status and they are more concerned with asserting status and power than women are.
Informal or intimate talk is purposed to establish and maintain social contacts with others, making social connections, developing and reinforcing intimate relationships. Interestingly, various studies which researchers Deborah James and Janie Drakick reviewed concluded that there was a little difference in the amount contributed by men and women, though still men were placed higher on the graph.
The researchers found out that women are willing to talk more in social contexts especially when relaxed. Their talk functioned to develop and improve social relationships.
Another piece of evidence that supported the study was that male talk tends to be more reverential or informative, while female talk is more supportive and facilitative.
The researchers finally concluded that women seemed to use talk to develop personal relationships and maintain family connections more often than to make claims to status or to directly influence others in public contexts.
Studying various research observations we find that in people’s contributions to discussion section of seminars, women were more likely to task questions and make comments when the topic was one they could claim expert knowledge about.
Dale Spender in his book Learning to Lose says, "The talkativeness of women has been gauged in comparison not with men but with silence, women have not been judged on the grounds of whether they talk more than men, but of whether they talk more than silence women"
Finally to conclude on "Do women talk more than men?", it can be said that it depends on various reasons and factors such as social context, kind of talk taking place, relative social confidence of the speaker and their familiarity with the topic.
The researchers concluded
that men generally talk more in formal, public contexts where
informative and persuasive e talk is highly valued and where talk is
generally the prerogative of those with some societal status and has the
potential for increasing that status. Women, on the other hand generally
contribute in private, informal interactions, where talk more often
functions to maintain relationships, and in other situations where for
various reasons they feel socially confident. "Silence is
golden," says the proverb and there are certainly contexts in all
cultures where silence is more appropriate than talk. At times the
silent participants are considered to be the powerful players. However,
this is true, it must be recognised that talk is very highly valued in
today’s world. It seems that as long as holding the floor is related
with influence, the questions whether women talk more or men will
continue to be a matter for debate.
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