CHAPTER
6
Gendered Talk: Gossip, Shop Talk, and the Sound of Silence

What becometh a woman best, and first of all: Silence. What seconde: Silence. What third: Silence. What fourth: Silence. Yea if a man should ask me til, dowmes day, I would still cry, silence, silence. ( Wilson, 1533, cited in Baron, 1986, p. 56)

I think girls just talk too much, you know, they--they--talk constantly between themselves and--about every little thing. Guys, I don't think we talk about that much. (What kind of things do you talk about?) Not much. Girls . . . , cars, or parties, you know. I think girls talk about, you know, every little relationship, every little thing that's ever happened, you know. (teenage boy interviewed by Penelope Eckert, 1993)

Admonitions about silence directed at women are many and have a long history in Western as well as non-Western cultures, as is obvious from my opening quotation. Aristotle proclaimed silence as "women's glory." The New Testament, by implication directed to a male readership, says: "Let your women keep silence in churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak. . . . And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church" ( I Cor. 14:34-35). A male audience is also implicit in the medieval handbook written in 1523 by Vives on the topic of Christian female institutions that says, "Let few see her and none at all hear her. There is nothing that so soon casts the mind of the husband from his wife as does much scolding and chiding, and her mischievous tongue" ( Baron, 1986, p. 57). The Bedouins describe the ideal woman as having a soft voice and not a long tongue.

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