I am writing this as a male observer of female to female conversations and I am inviting any female to write the corresponding post, as an observer of male to male conversations. Could the LGBT community provide corresponding perspectives?
For many years I was virtually the only male in a large, open plan office accommodating about seventy staff. I had to overhear female to female conversations over an extended period of time and so I could not help but notice the style and content of the talk going on around me. It may help to know that the culture was western and UK based.
Most of the conversations were about ‘relationships’ or interactions, as I prefer to call them. They could be divided into three categories: 1. Females talking about their social circle, including their parents; 2. Females talking about themselves and their children; 3. Females talking about males.
In the first and second categories the interactions were largely positive in tone. There were challenges mentioned from time to time, such as difficult pregnancies, children’s school exams, minor illnesses and so on, but there was usually much good humour about how hurdles were overcome. In the third category, females talking about males, the interactions were mainly negatively toned. Females often seemed to report their female to male relationships as a source of dissatisfaction and stress. When these conversations were going on around me, I had to conclude that the female’s degree of dissatisfaction with the male spouse/partner often seemed quite significant. It was not clear to me that the ‘letting off steam’ I was witnessing was sufficient to deal with this level of stress.
My concerns were in three areas: 1. I was seldom able to form the impression that these issues had been discussed at the same length with speaker’s spouse or partner; 2. The listener usually, not always, seemed to collude with the talker in saying that the man was at fault; 3. There was much talk in generalisations or stereotypes about men, such as men are selfish, men are arrogant, men do ‘mansplaining’, men do ‘manspreading’, men have ‘man flu’, men talk mainly about sport, men talk about solutions, men won’t talk, men are just little boys and so on.
As five minutes on Google will tell you, there is a lot of literature about male and female talk, for example, Jennifer Coates (1996). Women Talk: Conversation between Women Friends. Wiley Blackwell. Some authors fall into simple comparisons, such as men communicate through action, women communicate through conversation, or men compete, women collaborate and so on.
Coates (1996) recorded and analysed twenty conversations between females. This was a scholarly work, looking at what female talk contains, for example questions and repetition. The analysis also revealed what is the purpose of their talk, for example, constructing and maintaining their friendships.
Moving on to stress management, the issue is what happens after these conversations are over. For successful stress management to take place there needs to be some form of perception change. We need to learn to see the world differently, as a less stressful place. Has the speaker or the listener learnt something from her female to female talk? Is subsequent interaction with the spouse/partner enriched and less stressful as a result?
In the female to female, workplace conversations I was forced to overhear, I seldom heard anything resembling a learning experience. There was little along the lines of the listener inviting the speaker to stop and think, or cautioning the speaker about maybe judging too harshly, jumping to conclusions or inviting her to review her negative stereotypes about men.
Frequently the mood of one female appeared to lighten when the other female agreed with her about her man and about men generally. But this may be just a warm bath; comforting but superficial. When the bath water goes cold, the participants may be non the wiser about how to deepen their relationships with men. Over a period of time it was difficult for me to detect any signs that the female to female interactions led to stress reduction in relationships with the male spouse/partner.
What happens when we look at male to male conversations? Coates attempted this in a separate book (Men Talk: Stories in the Making of Masculinities. Wiley Blackwell, 2003). Are there any indications that men learn to see the world differently as a result of male to male conversations?
Would any female care to write the corresponding article about male to male conversations as observed by a female?