There is an old Russian joke about two women who spent ten years in prison sharing the same cell and who were released the same day. They didn't rush to go home, however, and just hung out by the prison gates, chatting for another good couple of hours.
I remembered this joke recently as I came across a curious book, The Female Brain. Written by Dr. Louann Brizendine, a San Francisco neuropsychiatrist, it tackles one of my beloved subjects: the intriguing differences between male and female natures, our thinking, feeling and behavior patterns. The author states that it's because of some inherent hormonal differences that women often can't stop talking, making men bored, confused and/or annoyed. The brain centers for communication of male fetuses, she writes, shrink while still in the uterus due to a testosterone surge, turning most men into lone reticent wolves later in life. And girls, who innately boast larger verbal areas of the brain, experience a flood of estrogen during puberty as well and, therefore, are merely destined to babble, babble fast and a lot, making many more gestures than men do and sporting a richer vocabulary. According to the author's findings, females end up saying on average 20,000 words a day, almost three times as much as an average guy utters daily.
Some of this book's data, the word per day count in the first place, created a big deal of controversy and debate, but I personally could very much relate to this research. Except that I and many girls I know probably say many more than 20,000 words (especially if "wow!", "oh!" and other expressive remarks count as well). And although I've met quite a few guys who could easily beat us in the gibber contest, I insist that intense communication is simply vital for myself and my numerous sisters across the globe.
Just pop into a cafe or a restaurant in any big city: groups of girls take up a good share of tables. Trend-watchers and sociologists alike might claim it's because of the growing male deficit: most eligible guys are either busy working or tending to their lucky partners. But I disagree: many women, even those happily attached, need to hang out with girlfriends on a regular basis. It's much more essential to us than shopping therapy. Talking for women, more or less, is the safest and the most efficient way to decompress and temporarily make sense of that myriad of emotions that overwhelm us. We understand the world a bit better by saying things out loud. We process information, analyze and make decisions while talking. Thinking might only confuse us so we prefer thinking out loud. We tend to repeat things and jump from one subject to another like butterflies on a sunny spring day, focusing on some unimportant details and completely ignoring others. It’s no wonder men sometimes can't really figure out what it is we're saying.
What do the four Sex in the City heroines do? They shop, fall in and out of love, make careers, raise kids. But more important, they TALK. No matter how busy or happy their personal lives happen to be, they find time to get together in a cafe to chat through current issues. Even if they have already discussed that stuff many times over the phone or with their therapists. Just like the characters of that Russian prison joke.
Interestingly, according to some research, chatting with girlfriends also gives women a major dopamine rush. "Connecting through talking activates the pleasure centers in a girl's brain. Sharing secrets that have romantic and sexual implications activates those centers even more," Dr. Brizendine writes. Sounds quite fair except that sharing secrets of others perhaps gives us even a stronger kick, a guilty pleasure and a huge relief. (Although I think there are men who are champion gossipers, too, especially those working with women.)
But above all, female bonding is the easiest way to keep our sanity. Scientists believe the female "chatting gene" derives from prehistoric times when men hunted and women collected grains, fruit and berries, looked after babies and tended the fire. The women had to communicate to connect and entertain, while men, in order to stay alive, had to remain mostly quiet, exchanging just a handful of phrases that contained essential, often life-saving information like "Run!" "Danger!" "Got it!"
One of my best friends is married to one of those ancient hunters' direct descendants. This guy, a generous and good-natured person, might not say more than just a dozen words during the entire afternoon. She, on the other hand, is one of those girls for whom sharing is as vital as breathing. When I or other girlfriends come to visit and the husband is home, he hastily retreats to his computer as if trying to escape an irritating locust invasion. This couple has been happily married for 12 years now and has two adorable children. "I don't expect my man to talk to me a lot, just as I don't expect my friends to have babies with me," my friend says. Still, it took her almost ten years to start taking her husband's reticence easy.
Because, even though scientists say women often simply need to be heard, we also want to be listened to once in a while, including by our men.
Russia has always been referred to as feminine and Russian women have been one of the most popular stereotypes of this nation, both positive and negative. But is this an all-male fantasy? Here is a hip, modern, professional and increasingly globalized Russian woman looking at the trends around her, both about her gender and the society at large. She talks and lets other women talk.
Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenty i Fakty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.