You can study it scientifically, gather the data, analyze it, publish it in Science, and have it discussed on NPR. But by golly, if you are asking us to give up cherished stereotypical beliefs about male and female nature, then you can just take your data and shove it, mister! You are wrong, wrong, wrong, because My Personal Feeling About How Things Are says otherwise.
This, of course, would be the kind of reaction stirred up by Matthias Mehl et al.’s study Are Women Really More Talkative Than Men?, published in the July 5, 2007 issue of Science. Let us consider the abstract from the paper – it couldn’t be more straightforward:
Women are generally assumed to be more talkative than men. Data were analyzed from 396 participants who wore a voice recorder that sampled ambient sounds for several days. Participants’ daily word use was extrapolated from the number of recorded words. Women and men both spoke about 16,000 words per day.
That’s pretty blunt. Not much room for interpretation there. And here’s the last two sentences of the paper:
Further, to the extent that sex differences in daily word use are assumed to be biologically based, evolved adaptations, they should be detectable among university students as much as in more diverse samples. We therefore conclude, on the basis of available empirical evidence, that the widespread and highly publicized stereotype about female talkativeness is unfounded.
So what do you do, Rational Man, when faced with this evidence against your stereotype?
Why, of course, you call the study flawed and write a (putatively) humorous column about how women really are extraordinarily chatty, particularly when the men are trying to watch a ball game! Stir in a little stereotype about the nagging wife and blammo! your column practically writes itself.
The findings seem to disprove the common wisdom that women are more talkative than men.
But I see two problems with this study. First, the subjects weren’t married. Also, the research was not conducted in the controlled environment of my den during baseball season.
Ha ha ha ha! oh boy, this is going to be a good one! I’ll bet he goes on to have his wife declaim long sentences about stuff he isn’t interested in despite his absorption in the ballgame, thus cementing her Nagging Chatty Wife status, while he replies in monosyllabic grunts and exclamations focused only on the game, displaying his caveman credentials and certifying his Manly Manliness. We can all have a good laugh, ignore the study, and go back to our comfy stereotypes about Those Women Who Talk Too Much.
Thus does My Personal Feeling About How Things Are trump Science.
I don’t think this one column would have annoyed the piss out of me quite so much, if it weren’t the third such column I’ve read since Mehl et al.’s study came out. That’s starting to feel like a trend. At least one other one was also in the Philadelphia Inquirer, but was written by a Chicago Tribune columnist; see here.
Saw the news on how much men and women talk. Seems some scientists toted up the oral output and got the same number of words from each gender. Find it hard to believe. To tell the truth, would rather not talk about it. Better to cogitate for a couple of days and then dismiss the whole business nonverbally, with a derisive snort or an exasperated sigh…This research torpedoes the popular assumption that incessant yakking is correlated with X chromosomes…
All I can say is that if the average male is putting out 16,000 words every day, then I’m living in a verbal desert. Some guys I haven’t met must be gushing verbiage like Old Faithful to make up for the ones I know, many of whom might easily be mistaken for victims of lockjaw.
That is not a description I would apply to many women of my acquaintance. The editorial board on which I serve used to be nearly all-male, but now has a female majority. I can describe the difference in two words: Longer meetings…
[For men,] [o]ur slogan is, “Speak less, think more.”
Ha ha ha ha. Steve Chapman, author of this witty piece, goes on in similar misogynistic vein throughout the rest of his column. He, too, deploys the My Personal Experience defense against the data – all in good fun, boys will be boys and all that.
Is it “just a joke”? What we choose to make jokes about is significant. This “joke” says “no matter how much scientific data you throw at me, I know women talk too much and thereby annoy men, superior creatures who don’t need so many words to get through the day.” The “joke” is that there’s never enough data to prove that women aren’t stupid chatterboxes.
Why are some men so anxious to cling to a vision of men as inarticulate, single-minded boors? Do they think they are projecting the Strong, Silent Type image which, surely, all women are just dying to mate with? Not Talking and, more importantly, Not Wanting To Talk are markers of masculinity. The reality is men do talk just as much as women, but the stereotypes can’t be abandoned, because the Strong Silent Type functions as an integral component of The Real Man. Women must be incessant empty-headed chatterboxes, because that’s how we know what men aren’t. If women and men are the same, how will we know what makes a Real Man?
Mehl spoke about the negative effects of the stereotype for both men as well as women:
“It puts men into the gender box, that in order to be a good male, we’d better not talk — (that) silence is golden,” Mehl says. “The stereotype puts unfortunate constraints on men and women – the idea that you can only happily be a woman if you’re talkative and you can only be happy as a man if you’re reticent. The study relieves those gender constraints.”
Apparently, some people are unwilling to have their constraints relieved. For those men who are so enamored of the Strong Silent Man stereotype, I wish they’d live up to their self-proclaimed identity and shut up about it already.