To a man, the four most terrifying words in the English language.
The Los Angeles Police Academy sits in a corner of Elysian Park – one of the most beautiful parks in the city. Its palm-shaded hills and gullies and meandering roadways provide the perfect sandbox and exercise course for new recruits and fully-fledged officers alike. I drove through the park many times and once came up behind a squad of L.A.’s future finest jogging in formation. A half dozen, determined looking males were out front, followed deferentially at the rear by two females. I had to follow them for over a mile before they turned off, during which time the men pounded silently, doggedly, ahead, and the women – who had no trouble at all keeping up – jabbered away to each other non stop at the back.
Women accept that men don’t talk as much; men accept that women talk a lot more – a whole lot more sometimes, often seemingly for no reason or the need to make sense. It’s a disparity that seems irreconcilable, suggesting something fundamental to the way we cope with the world. It occurred to me, as I studied the fine, girlie, cop asses jiggling ahead of me, that it’s probably been that way for a very long time.
If we go with the Hunter/Gatherer paradigm, it’s inevitable that men would take on the role of hunters and women the gathers. Size and upper body strength make males physically more efficient at running down and killing prey whereas the anatomical constraints imposed by breasts and wider pelvises make women less so. Childbirth and child rearing are also biologically determined female roles. (It seems unlikely there were many buff ‘single’ twenty year olds out jogging with the guys in the Paleolithic) As a result, human males and females would have often been physically separated from one another at times, as a matter of course.
As hunter, the human male became predator. His success was contingent on stealth and strategy. Only essential information would be exchanged during the process and it would be directed with specific intent. Unnecessary sound would not only be contrary to the purpose but potentially life threatening. Hunting was subject to unpredictable, transient circumstances and competition from other predators – many of which were preying on the humans themselves. It was a timely and dangerous business. Talking – verbal communication – among males therefore, would have inevitably become imbued with characteristics of economy and efficiency.
For human females, verbal communication was also essential to survival, but it would have been expressed very differently. Women encumbered with children and older family members were far more vulnerable than their male counterparts. Their inherently compromised mobility definitely made them potential prey to other life forms – including other, out-group, male-humans. Unlike hunting, which requires stealth and strategy, ‘gathering’ is a more methodical activity in which economy of sound is irrelevant to success. It nevertheless involves groups of individuals who must always be alert to danger and able to communicate it instantly. With many other animal species, this is not always achieved through the use of sound per se, but by the sudden lack of it. By maintaining a constant level of chatter, the group is alerted to possible danger when elements within it go silent. It becomes an alarm signal for all to go silent and watch out.
The sounds of their own voices may well have represented a similar sense of wellbeing for early human females. Singing, laughing and a constant level of chatter all contributed to a feeling that things were okay – as opposed to the lack of it which in all likelihood meant they were not. Unquestionably many human females – and their children – have fallen prey to other life forms – particularly ‘other’ human males. Over time therefore, silence and apprehension for women would have become synonymous.
Thousands of years later, hunting and gathering conditions have changed, but the essential natures of men and women have not. The verbal survival strategies particular to each apparently remain. Human females still strive to allay anxiety by talking to one another, telephoning and texting, often just to verify each other’s whereabouts. Teenage girls will rush headlong through barbed wire to answer a ringing phone and the threat of not being talked to by their peers can be their worst nightmare. Driving is an anxiety producing activity in which women are notorious for being on cell phones or texting one another, seemingly communicating for the sake of it. And when they do get together, they still demonstrate the remarkable ability – to men – of being able to all talk at once without getting confused. It’s only when they start talking to men that their methods run into difficulty, especially in the context of intimate relationships.
When that happens, more-talk meets less-talk head on. Lack of talk to females may suggest something is wrong, whereas to males it probably means nothing of the sort. On the other hand, to them, talking amounts to unnecessary distraction, unless something specific is to be achieved by it. As most of them will concur, ‘having to talk’ does indirectly produce the ideal result: peace and quiet. It’s just a roundabout way of getting there. Arriving at that conclusion can be a time consuming, frustrating process in which women may throw all kinds of unrelated information into the mix simply to sustain a level of noise that makes them feel comfortable.
As Chris Rock points out, “…it’s impossible for a man to win an argument with a woman, simply because men…” – in keeping with the hunter paradigm – “are handicapped by the need to make sense. Women aren’t going to let a little thing like sense get in the way of a good argument.”
Women simply “have to talk”; it makes them happy, it makes them feel secure. It’s been that way for a very long time. It makes all the sense in the world.
Can’t argue with that.
Malcolm Mc Neill’s first project out of art school was a seven-year collaboration with writer William S. Burroughs. His two books about the experience were published at the end of 2012.
His most recent exhibition of paintings was in August 2013 in New York.