Oprah Winfrey, Sherri Shepherd and Barbara Walters talk on American chat show The View

LIFE HONESTLY

Women talking is often mocked but it's a powerful medicine

In the week that David Cameron told Muslim women to learn English and American women are talking about abortions, Marisa Bate examines how vital, empowering and helpful women talking with other women can be

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By Marisa Bate on

This week, a lot of women have been talking about their experience of abortions to mark the anniversary of America’s historic Roe Vs Wade case, which saw abortion become legal. Online, in forums and at conferences, women have been sharing their stories and talking. Talking and talking and talking. 

Because that’s what women do, right?  We talk. We natter and chatter and gossip and talk, apparently. In the controversial 2006 book The Female Brain, neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine claimed that women speak 20,000 words a day, compared with men’s 7,000. There have since been studies to disprove this, but empirical evidence or not, it’s a solid, unshakeable perception. 

But not only is it common – surely 70 per cent of Sex And The City was scenes of four women talking – it’s also mocked, ridiculed, undermined. It’s as if we all have a Rovers Return tea-and-fag ability to spew words that are most likely meaningless or infantile or pointless. Because not only are we mocked for talking a lot, but *what* we talk about is also patronised. “Oh, sorry to interrupt, girls – talking about boys, are we?” Er, no. We were talking about house prices and interest rates, but never mind. You only have to think about how we collectively perceive daytime chat shows, which are, for the most part, women talking to women, to understand how little we value and respect conversation amongst women (never mind the Oprahs and Ellens, who are squillionaires and influence entire nations).

I have always, instinctively, wanted to say out loud the things that, inside my head, are like storm clouds or knotted headphone wires that need straightening out

I talk a lot. At school, I was always in trouble for talking too much. At home, I’d ring up huge phone bills. At university, I’d spend hours talking about books and life plans and what to wear on a Saturday night and why I love living by the sea and government policies that affected my student loans. 

And so it continues. I talk at length to my mum about her mother. To my best friend about our next career moves or co-workers or the writers we love or the men we love, or Corbyn or T-May or Taylor Swift, or our families or our fears or our fantasies. Several times a week, you’ll find us holed up somewhere warm, normally with wine, or on the phone if needs be, talking. 

So, perhaps, the cliché is true. We do talk more. I know I talk a lot with my male friends, but I know I talk far more with my female friends. But the real point is that it doesn’t matter. It’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a medicine. Talking untangles my not-yet-formulated thoughts. Like a sculptor chipping away at a block of stone, the more I actually speak, the closer I get to the shape and form of my thoughts and feelings. Talking is how I process. “I just needed to tell someone” is how I begin most difficult thought processes or decisions or tricky circumstances life has thrown my way. When I was a teenager, if I was upset at school, I’d go and find a teacher and talk to them. I have always, instinctively, wanted to say out loud the things that, inside my head, are like storm clouds or knotted headphone wires that need straightening out. 

And, aside from my own personal medication, there’s a lot of research that shows communities of women who talk can effect positive change. The inspiring Karen McCluskey, who works with knife crime and gangs in Glasgow, has often said that if the women – the mothers and the wives and the girlfriends – talk to each other about issues, the community starts to listen. Women talking with each other – from conscious raising in the 1970s to The Everyday Sexism Project – can be a powerful political tool. And nothing indicated the political ramifications of talking women more than Cameron demanding Muslim women in the UK speak English earlier this week. A talking woman is, as one friend put it, a cipher or a political hotbed, indicating just how problematic a woman’s voice can still be. 

I walked home from a dinner with friends last night. We’d talked for four hours (and I wasn’t even drinking). When we arrived, the stresses and strains poured out of each us, like curdled milk, difficult to hear, difficult to watch, as friends can’t quite make sense of their shitty day and aren’t quite ready to hear your advice. By the time we had left, the flow of words had become calmer, more thoughtful, more articulate. Deeper thoughts rose to the surface. The difficulty of the day had drifted off and was replaced by a reassuring, have-your-back safe space. Interspersed with book recommendations and bad-date stories and living-arrangement updates, we talked the day out; we made sense of all the thoughts racing through our minds. I left happy and calm and content. 

I’m not surprised women talking is undermined, because it’s incredibly empowering. It is our collective power that can start rumours or start revolutions, depending on what we want. So, I will never feel bad about talking, because it doesn’t just help me – it helps all of us. 

@marisajbate

Oprah Winfrey, Sherri Shepherd and Barbara Walters talk on American chat show The View
Tagged in:
women in the media
women online
women on TV

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