This one is for the nutty-natterers, my talkative twits, and those who think we’re mad.
I talk. A lot. My self-indulgent over sharing tendencies can make me appear self-confident, full of random snippets of knowledge, excitable and friendly. I am the kind of person who will send four messages in a row without shame. I am not clingy, I am not obsessed, it is just the way I converse both on and offline. It doesn’t stop me nervously tapping my fingers on the keyboard when someone doesn’t reply because of fear they don’t understand, but it is the way I am.
I talk ‘too much’ partly due to the short attention span of my brain, whirling through ideas like a torpedo of incomplete thoughts, but also due to nerves. What if I forget my comment? What if someone, everyone, forgets I’m here? What if I need someone to tell me if my idea is right?
The flipside of this apparently bubbly personality is a lot of irritation and boredom on the part of others. I am fully aware of this, and frequently attempt to rectify my over-talkative nature, which simply increases the amount I talk because it also increases my nerves. Perfect.
I yearn to be someone who doesn’t say much yet when they do make comment it is comedic or intellectual gold. Potentially I do make these insightful and amusing comments, yet they are drowned in the mundane ‘oh yes me too’s and ’my friend did that cool thing as well’s. But I am not this other imaginary and amazing person. Often nonstop natterers like me wish to rectify their ‘faults’ and be quieter, we envy the shyer colleagues and friends, yet those shyer companions feel equally at ‘fault’ with their own silence.
Why do we feel that we shouldn’t talk so much? Throughout history, women have been told to be quiet. In Renaissance literature for example, we were silenced- in Midsummer Night’s Dream, a seeming play about two equal sets of lovers, Helena is the woman who ‘never stops complaining’ yet has only 9% of speech, 4 fewer lines than even non-protagonistic Theseus. This parallels the result of a 1990 study on conversation; ‘in mix sex conversations, female speakers were judged to be talking more (55.2%), male speakers to be talking less (47.8%)’ despite the equal number of words spoken by both parties (see ‘Speaker sex and perceived apportionment of talk’ by Anne Cutler and Donia R. Scott for more details on this). Studies seem to disagree over whether women really do talk more than men but it is clear the perception of women is as conversationally dominant.
In the 1800s we were taught to be dominant conversationalists in certain ways; taught to speak to men, to make them feel at ease and to be entertaining to guests. Women were chaperoned and expected to be eloquent in small talk. Yes Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester have their witty conversation- hurrah! A woman making intelligent input! - , the same with D’Arcy and Elizabeth and Margaret and Mr Thornton, but where is the menial chatter? Is that not an integral part of the development of character and relationships? Equally, though female writers became increasingly prominent throughout the 19th century, the Brontë sisters had to publish under male names Currer, Acton and Ellis Bell, and the momentous Mary Ann Evans’ real name is unrecognisable, only her pseudonym George Eliot will live on in history.
Overall, the literary trope of the damsel in distress is silent, and the antagonistic femme fatale is either brutally corruptive with her words or she is seductively silent. There is no merit in female speech.
Even within modern popular culture, the strong female characters are still not talkers. Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games): a silently brooding ‘normal’ woman leading an army, though she does create hope through her speeches, her actions are what change the world. Of course actions are crucial and this is obviously a good leadership choice, but she has very few actual conversations with her companions; what does anyone really know about her? This cinematic trait of strong woman who speak little but act boldly is equally prevalent in Ripley (Alien), both Rae and Leia (Star Wars), Amélie, Juno, Rose (Titanic), Sophie (Sophie’s Choice) and a huge number of the few top rated films with female protagonists. Hermione Granger (Harry Potter) is a possible exception to this trend, however it is notable that her overly enthusiastic incessant talking is presented as irritating at the start of the series, and she becomes considerably quieter by the close of the novels/films.
In 2016 we reached an all time high of female protagonists at 29% of the top 100 films of the year, 7% higher than 2015, however again the nature human tendency to talk remained hardly reported. Dialogue is insight into character. Clearly creating this is not an easy feat, listening to non-dramatic, non-crafted conversation is by and large very boring. We need a Tarantino of feminism. What do these women think about the ‘Royale with Cheese’ or about how much to tip the waitress? Society abhors silence just as nature abhors any vacuum, thus humans talk about the small things. Women don’t just discuss boys and plot how to turn the mean girls against Regina George. We talk about politics, food, exercise, celebrities we love or hate, literature, film, our jobs, our friends, countries we want to visit, music, religion, what to do tomorrow or where to go next weekend.
Were it not for women’s loud voices, we would not have feminism, we would still be being told to only speak when spoken to like the women of Victorian England. Women cannot pander to the presentation that we are irritatingly noisy and need to be restrained. We cannot stop the chatter- no matter how incessant it appears. Maybe I’m self obsessed, maybe I’m terrified. Whichever it is, I am not going to shut up.
I’m Bea. Like the insect, the letter, the verb. Any jokes have already been made.