The joy (and burden) of the sisterhood.

Ladies who do lunch

I was wandering around Sainsburys this morning when along came a little girl chat-chat-chat-chat-chat-chatting away with her dad. I watched them slowly go down the aisle with this constant chat between them. Everyone was smiling. It was super sweet to see, and yet just another reminder just how verbally stunted we men as a species are.

The longer I walk this planet the more time I have to observe life, and more importantly, re-form my opinions!

This has been happening quite a lot these last few years. I’m becoming increasingly aware of the differences betwix the two sexes and increasingly envious, yes, envious, of almost every women’s ability to communicate, to network, to be part of such a big collective, a sisterhood, in ways we men can only imagine.

Despite constant and pervasive historic neurosexism, modern neuroscientists have identified no decisive, category-defining differences between the brains of men and women. In women’s brains, language-processing is not spread any more evenly across the hemispheres than it is in men’s, as a small 1995 Nature study proclaimed but a large 2008 meta-analysis disproved.

So it’s a mystery to me (and the subscribers of Nature) as to why women are so expert in communication (and the subtle nuances) and men seem to be real dullards. The current thinking is that the brain is no more gendered than the liver or kidneys or heart but women’s brains are thought to be wired for empathy and intuition, whereas male brains are supposed to be optimized for reason and action. Most of us remain strapped in the “biosocial straitjackets” that divert a basically unisex brain down one culturally gendered pathway or another

I watch family, friends and work colleagues chatting away ten to a dozen, and how important it is, how natural, how fulfilling, it’s that networking, the social oil between each other that makes me so envious. We don’t get that, we have to go to football matches in tribes to even get a glimpse of that comradeship that comes naturally to almost every woman I know. We men are walking this planet tongued tied and handicapped.

When does this difference start? A colleague thinks it starts at school, that great big melting pot of primary school is torn asunder with our tendency to split high school into boys/girls only. But I think it starts off even earlier than that, my own anecdotal evidence suggests right from learning the first few words of a language. Observing very young children it’s obvious that it’s the girls that do much more of the chatting, just like the little girl in Sainsburys this morning. Boys tend to be much quieter and when the dreaded puberty and high school hits we shut down even more, resorting to grunts. If you’ve ever had the (mis)fortune to sit on a bus that’s just picked up a load of high school girls going home the clatter is almost deafening. That wasn’t how it was on our school buses, there was very little chat – apart from the sixth formers at the back, hurling the usual abuse at everyone, which wasn’t conducive to friendly chat!

As I get older, my overriding impression is that a women’s world is so much richer than a man’s, we walk this planet almost completely switched off. Of course, this is a generalisation, guilty as charged. There are blokes who can talk the hind leg off a donkey, I met up with two of them a while back and I just couldn’t get a word in edgewise, it’s like a competition between them. And the local drunks who stand outside the off licence seem to be engaged in constant seemingly pointless conversation between themselves – even if standing alone!

And I’m aware this can be a two-edged sword; woman seem to be more adept at the complexities of large group interpersonal relationships; who’s in, who’s out, and nuances that pass me by. We men only have the cello to play with but woman have the entire orchestra at their disposal. I know our lives are poorer for it.