Saturday, April 26, 2008

Girls talk

In 1978 Elvis Costello wrote that song about loving to hear girls talk. On a station platform yesterday morning it struck me that, thanks to the mobile phone, we're all getting to hear girls talk.

Men have generally used the phone as a means of obtaining information, whereas women have seen it as a machine that enables them to devote time to talking. The mobile's like that only more so. The young woman on the station platform was phoning her friend ostensibly to tell her that she'd been to the sale and the shop didn't have anything in her size whereas Rachel bought loads of things. In reality I guess she was just killing time until the train came by doing what girls do from about the age of six, making contact with their circle of friends and taking the temperature of their friendship. Having brought up two girls I have learned that young females have a capacity to wound each other that their male counterparts rarely bother with. They always socialise in threes which tends to mean that one is always uncertain of her position. Their mobile bills are higher than their brothers because they don't wait to be rung. They check in.

I worry that the mobile and the text and Facebook and the rest of it have provided them with new weapons to make each other feel excluded. This could be why I have noticed that the overt expressions of friendship during those phone conversations become more showy. They call each other "hon". They finish phone conversations with "love you". Even their texts manage to be high-pitched. They invent pet names for each other. I saw a colleague's leaving card recently which bore a good luck message addressed to "ladyface". The girls at the bus stop squeal when they see each other. I have a friend who is a head of a large secondary school and she now tells me they have considered building more time into the timetable to allow for all the kissing goodbye that takes place between lessons. I don't think she was entirely joking.


  1. I really like the way "crazy bitch" seems to be a term of affection among girls these days.
    I've tried it on my male friends and colleagues, and it just doesn't work the same way.

  2. Anonymous4:03 pm

    I realised I was well and trulty living in Essex a few months ago, when a girl on the bus (about 15, bit gothy) answered her ringing mobile with, 'Hello? Oh, all right ya bitch! You coming out later?'

  3. Anonymous5:21 pm

    david, I second every observation you've made. When we pick up our daughter from parties we factor in an extra 15 minutes hugging time after the party ends. And although I don't do the school run any more it's pretty much the same at the school gates every day. Young female friendships seem ludicrously intense these days. I've lost count of the number of times my daughter has moaned about not seeing a friend "for ages" when in fact she has seen them a couple of days earlier. As for the socialising in threes and playing favourites, my daughter hangs around in a quartet and after various fallouts they actually devised a written pact forbidding them from doing things as a trio - twos are allowed, but not threes, because that singles just one out for exclusion. Having said that they only wrote their constitution on Wednesday and as they are thirteen it probably has about as much chance of lasting as Chamberlain's scrap of white paper from Herr Hitler...

  4. Hugging is actually banned at our daughter’s school, a big all-girls comprehensive, because it was slowing the process of switching between classrooms after lessons. Girls are streamed etc. so don’t do all their lessons with the same people - hence the emotional farewells and reunions. The fact that it had to be banned demonstrates what a phenomenon it was.
    I think a lot of this stuff is to do with soap operas. My daughter and her friends spend a lot of time watching re-runs of Friends and Hollyoaks (before sloping off to write to each about it on MSN). Soap operas are built on exagerated emotions; interaction between people, from affection to conflict, operates at a more dramatic fevered pitch than it does in real life - or real life before people started watching soap operas anyway. So, if our little drama queen so much as splashes a drop of milk onto the worktop while making a cup of tea it’s the whole hands clasped to the face/look of horror/“oh my god” routine. (Smithy’s various displays of affection/disaffection towards both his sister and Gavin in Gavin & Stacey are a brilliant “comment” on this.) It isn‘t just restricted to young people either. Can’t think who it was but I remember someone once talking about how his quite elderly parents, who had rubbed along together in calm mutual affection and tolerance for many many years, had suddenly started having furious screaming rows over minor niggles and quibbles. He wasn’t that worried about their relationship though: “it’s just since they started watching Eastenders” he said.

    On the subject of girls’ interaction, there’s a charming little snippet right at the end of this film
    (you can scroll to the end of it) with some girls doing doing a playground song in Liverpool in 1959. It’s fascinating for two reasons: earlier on in the film most of the older people talk in either Lancastrian or Irish accents: by the time of these girls’ generation the two strains have mingled and mangled to become what you’d recognise as the modern Liverpool accent. Then there’s the words of the song. I remember it from when I was at primary school a decade later. But it’s only just occured to me what is probably the origin of lyric: the old Irish Catholic practice of sending knocked-up young girls “away“ to “get better” i.e. have illegitimate children to be put up for adoption before slinking back home.