Saturday, October 15, 2011

Small talk, and being small

Seems demeaning when you do it to a dog
I've been intrigued by this subject for a long time, since Leslie offered, "I hate small talk!"  Why? I wondered.  I thought small talk was as defined in the dictionaries---
-casual or trivial conversation.
-light conversation for social occasions
-unimportant subjects of conversation, as opposed to serious or weighty ones.
or in Tolstoy---
"Do tell me something amusing but not spiteful," said the ambassador's wife, a great proficient in the art of that elegant conversation called by the English, small talk."  But I also find synonyms, like babble, prattle that have a negative cast.

Personally, I love the small talk I have with people most Sundays after the service. Maybe it's because we have been quiet and turned toward the spiritual and are not drinking (it's been a while since I was at a cocktail party, but I remember the talk as deadly dull, as it usually seems to be at any event when I'm not drinking and other people are.) It's as if, after church, we touch down for a few moments and talk about what's important instead of circling it with that "babble"  It's my favorite social time.

Maybe what Leslie hated was that other kind of small talk, the prattle instilled in girls, thus in women.  Because it has turned out that she wanted to be someone other than the role defined for her by her mother's life, and she has done some brave things. Maybe she resented her lifelong roles as wife and mother and very good housekeeper.

Yesterday I wrote about good housekeeping, and how the preoccupation with it does not seem congruent with being an artist. No, because it implies a lot of attention given to something other than art, thought, creativity.  Being a girl excludes more than that---it calls for fluffy indecisiveness; lack of interest in world events or, indeed, in ideas; lack of personal ambition.  For girls, life resides in relationships or the lack of them, usually meaning relationship with a man.  So it is about being cute, lovable.

Why do I bother to write?  You can go to Wikipedia on cuteness in Japanese culture and there is so much there, or check out the other nearly four million entries on this subject.  Cuteness is about women, sometimes men, being docile, about looking like children, including maintaining the slender body of a barely pubescent teen, if it kills you.  And it is well-known that it does; anorexia has become one of our standing social problems.

I seem to have known where to begin with this, but not where it would take me.  I just read a report on patriarchy and female subordination that lays out clearly what some of us started talking about in the late sixties. It's from a study done in Zimbabwe, but it strikes very close to home.  A good place for anyone to start who doesn't feel like dressing up as a Princess for Halloween.


  1. have you ever seen the show "My big fat gypsy wedding"? The whole "traveler" way of life is fascinating: young girls are REARED to only aspire to your aforementioned fluffy girl way of life. They get married young and are expected to only be homemakers and providers of children. In the journey to achieve this goal, they dress like prostitutes (or, what we imagine prostitutes dress like, when we're far away from Main street).

    It's fascinating.

    I hate small talk, for the most part, because it is so shallow, and typical. I talk about the weather every day with the crossing guards, and used to listen to housewife rants when I could stand it at the school yard. I just wondered, when confronted with all that bitching, if these women didn't ever wish to think about something more.

  2. Hi Karen -
    I think you're saying you don't mind talking about the weather with the crossing guards - I don't - it's something we all share, a safe subject - but the women doing their standard whine - I'm with you. Except I'm so empathetic by nature that sometimes the victimization bothers me.

  3. actually Jeanne, I'm saying I do indeed hate talking about the weather with the crossing guards, even though I have a hearty respect for a place-for-all- things-and-all-things-in-their-place way of life. I'm not trying to promote my own posts, but I actually had a small rant about that here: