September 22, 2010

Can I borrow a tampon?

During one of our airport layovers this summer, I sat down at the food court while my husband went off to get some food. A woman sat next to me, and soon we were chatting. She was just leaving when my husband returned.

Him: Who was that?
Me: I don’t know. She just sat here because it was crowded.
Him: (curiously) So what were you two talking about so intently?
Me: She’s going to Mile High City to visit her son. She’s 62 and she’s still having hot flashes, even though she had a hysterectomy three years.
Him: What? She told you that? After like, two minutes?
Me: Women can achieve intimacy very quickly. I don’t think men aren’t socialized to do that.
Him: I don’t know about that. The guy behind me in line was telling me about his erectile dysfunction.
Me: (through my dramamine haze) Really?

It’s something I’ve been thinking about lately — how women will often share intimate details of their lives with each other very quickly. At academic conferences, I’ll ask a woman I’ve just met to pose naked for my blog, and next thing you know, we’ll be in a deep discussion about her ex-husband or how she feels about her body. I’m guessing this ability to achieve intimacy so quickly is a learned social skill, and I’m still wondering why there’s such a gender difference, especially in this century, when it comes to those conversations.


Nicole said...

"At academic conferences, I’ll ask a woman I’ve just met to pose naked for my blog, "

Can't say I've ever had that conversation at a conference. Must be an MLA thing. I hear humanities folks have all the fun.

Lorianne said...

I'm still chuckling at the title for this post...

Brigindo said...

Masculine scripts really prohibit male-on-male intimacy, even among friends. Men are more likely to achieve that level of intimacy with a woman acquaintance than a man. We may have come a long way for women but the men...not so much.

Lilian said...

Could it be said we're wired for that for whatever reason? Is it really socially learned? I guess yes, up to a certain point.

Hmmm... and Nicole must be a brand new or recent reader not to know what the whole academic-conference-naked-photo-tradition is all about ;-).

jo(e) said...

Brigindo: Exactly. I'd like to think it's changing -- and I see some signs of that with my kids and my students -- but it seems to be changing awfully slowly.

Anonymous said...

This post is a large part of the reason why I look forward to reading what you have written!

kathy a. said...

i'm 53; i don't think i can handle 9 more years of hot flashes... it's true about sharing with other women, though. i was recently at a picnic with people from my husband's work, and one of his co-workers pulled out a fan although it could not have been over 60 degrees, so it was immediately apparent she was a fellow sufferer. she keeps little folding oriental fans everywhere. electric fan at night -- i borrowed that tip.

Kim said...

Your observation is the reason that women should run the world. A woman would not bomb another country when she knows their leader is going through a divorce and hot flashes... Most animals live in herds of woman and children, the men visit.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Well, hold on. You're assuming that instant intimacy is desirable. Is it?

Also, one could argue that if a person shares an intimate detail with a stranger, the detail isn't actually intimate.

It's interesting that your husband mentioned erectile dysfunction as a comparably "intimate" detail for men. Hot flashes and a hysterectomy are part of the normal cycle of life for a woman, whose body changes every decade or so; while hot flashes may be dismaying, as a marker of age etc., there's no shame in them. Erectile dysfunction may be common (or even normal?) but it is shameful; it's an indicator of failure. Men do discuss body issues with each other, but not shameful ones -- they discuss ones that are a marker of success -- old war wounds -- the bum shoulder resulting for a ski injury, bad knees from a long basketball career, or whatever.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Also, in my admitedly limited experience, men bond not over conversation but over shared experiences. Even my 8-year-old son would rather *do* things with someone than talk to him; and in fact his relationships are strongest with those members of the family who have taken him hiking, biking, fishing, etc. My father in law can hardly walk so while he *sees* my son all the time, they aren't at all close. They are unable to communicate in the way that men communicate, which is mostly nonverbal.

This post probably touched a nerve for me because my son communicated primarily nonverbally for such a long time, and still mostly does; and he gets in trouble at school all the time because the women there listen for his words but won't WATCH.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Lord, you probably just want me to write my own post already.

But there's just one more point I want to make. I think that women initiate friendship with each other by admitting weakness. By asking for advice. By speaking in a wry, self-deprecating way about what they're going through or what they see.

Or maybe that's just me?

justin said...

I find one thing men of a certain age can talk about (and have a laugh about) is prostate trouble - the benign variety, though having said that someone I know quite well who started up a conversation about the treatment he was having for prostate cancer ... it was giving him hot flushes. Sweat was pouring down his face, at that moment. Perhaps he felt OK about talking about a medical problem, as I used to be a family doctor.

Nels said...

Jo(e), this probably won't surprise you, but I used to carry tampons around in my bag throughout graduate school because of the number of times women would ask me if I had one. I felt bad that I didn't, so I'd have a couple, and some women were very happy to find out I did. I also became known as the guy who had band-aids. I no longer carry tampons, though. For me, it was largely because I was in women's studies and was surrounded by women. I just adjusted to my environment.

I think this may have a lot to do with sexual identity in addition to gender. Gay men talk about things like this all the time. The benefits of shaving and not shaving certain body parts, of certain lubricants over others, of certain condoms over others, of certain positions for certain activities. Straight men (usually husbands of women I'm close to) will sometimes bring up topics like this, too, since they know what I'm comfortable talking about and that I care about them and their relationship.

And, Kim, I hate to disagree, but Sarah Palin and many other women would bomb other countries in a second. Isn't that the whole ethos of the grizzly bear momma she's been promoting for women? We'll attack you if you threaten us?

jo(e) said...

Nels: I'm smiling because you're right -- if I had to name a male friends I would be mostly likely to borrow a tampon from, it would be you. (Yes, that's a compliment.) I do think you're right about the sexual identity component. It seems like gay men are much more socialized to talk about intimate stuff like this -- is it because they don't feel constricted by the cultural taboos that exist for straight men?

Jennifer: Actually, I don't think I said that instant intimacy is desirable. I don't know if it is or not. But it's definitely a gender difference I've noticed. I think you've got a good point about how men are socialized to bond over activities rather than conversations. You've got me thinking about the nonverbal ways that men and women communicate -- that would make an interesting comparison.

Nels said...

Jo(e), part of it might be that some gay men do not feel as constrained with masculine ideologies. But there are a lot of gay men who are highly constrained, fighting really hard to be seen as "normal." A big part of it, especially in your twenties or so, is that you get so excited to meet people like you, however you define it, that intimacy can happen fast. I remember being in college and actually sharing porn with other gay men, not so much for sexual reasons but for the validation that came with, "I like to look at men, you like to look at men. I'm not the only one after all!"