I had started a post about academic women behaving in what I thought was an embarrassing fashion. I had been collecting examples in some irritation over the last couple of months. Once you notice something enough to put a name to it, you start to see it more frequently. Yet I also was consciously looking for examples of men doing this as well. Are men doing the same thing, engaging in some sort of Bro talk with each other on these podcasts and I'm just not picking it up? Are these actually politically slanted rather than gendered, of liberals all a-twitter about meeting powerful liberal men? Is this something performative that their male-dominated academic circles force them into slowly, invisibly over the years of their school successes? What exactly is happening here?
I don't have anything like a full answer, just some information based on the (many) professional women I have worked with and how their responses were not always like the men's, plus listening to an abundance of podcasts on a fairly narrow range of topics at this point. (Literature; anthropology and archaeology; genetics; prehistory, ancient history, and medieval and renaissance history; economics and international economics; Inklings; probably a few other things. I don't want to give the impression that I cover those topics in any sort of systematic completeness. Pretty random. But I did want to mention that I can't generalise beyond these things.)
The occasion was what I thought of as schoolgirl giggling, which I thought not quite right for a serious discussion. Two women were talking about what sex was really like in the Middle Ages, and it was a tone I recognised from psych students at the hospital, almost showing off how adult they were by being able to talk about sex*, while not really doing that in an adult fashion. A couple of days later, there were three women about to discuss a Roman burial site in England, but in the introductory two got distracted by the news of a younger sister's wedding. A few days out, and other women were talking about one getting to meet a powerful political figure and the other remarking how exciting that was. Okay, maybe that's just less exciting if you are from NH, so that may be unfair of me. But another show the next day - completely different professors/researchers - got started with the topic by going over what each had been doing since they last spoke, and one related that she had gotten to meet (star recognisable even by me, prominently liberal) and even gotten to shake his hand. It was the two back-to-back that alerted me, perhaps. But I've listened for about three weeks. Few people, male or female, have shown this. People are talking about cultural covid responses between countries and status groups, and that's what they talk about. Anything that smacked of sex or romance or widely popular people was merely noted offhandedly. But there were a few exceptions.
I thought at first the exceptions were all females, but looking over my shows I realised there is one quite major exception to that rule, a three-man podcast that I no longer listen to for exactly this reason. The first part of every episode was taken up with talk about fiances and what they were doing, and many episodes had fanboy stuff about the important CS Lewis/GK Chesterton/JRR Tolkien people they had met at conferences or in the past.
I was jumping to conclusions, but thought I must be missing something. Getting an advanced degree and getting yourself hired by prestigious institutions requires a fairly high minimum of social awareness about those cultures. They clearly aren't stupid, they don't seem irresponsible - what's up? I compared their behavior to that of the many professional women I had worked with. One pattern I had seen repeated over many years occurred to me. When meeting a new psychiatrist or PhD psychologist, it is polite to address them as "Doctor" until you get some signal otherwise. Some prefer you address them as such for as long as you know them. Few males give you permission to address them by their first name, and nearly all of those are young. Some doctors big on camaraderie will take abbreviated monikers like "Dr. K." I think about half the females will quickly say "Call me Linda." I always pushed back on this and would give my explanation. Because it is nearly always some females being addressed by their first names and males being called Doctor, the hospital-wide culture was that male doctors were addressed more respectfully, and I didn't want to buy into that.** They would look a touch surprised , and sometimes grin and say "Well that's very nice. Thank you. But call me Linda." Light laughter.
I have preliminary observations but zero real data. What I see might be skewed from the start by my field, or false perspective, or my age or region or six other things. Insights appreciated. Tentatively, this is what I have got.
1. It is much more common in younger women.
2. It occurs when only women are in the conversation - which has odd twists buried in it when one considers that a podcast has both male and female listeners. Men actually are present in some sense. I would suspect that topics that appealed more to women might show this even more strongly. Don't know.
2A. It would occur occasionally at work in a situation where it was a female-dominated team culture, even if males were sometimes present. Psychiatric teams are mixed, but percentage higher female over male in the main, because some common groups - nurses, social workers, occupational therapists - were predominantly female. The MD's, the attorneys, the physical therapists, the psychologists - those are more 50-50.
3. On the one male-only podcast where this chit-chat smoothing occurred, only one of the men was employed as an academic. He engaged in it much less. Another was a writer and the third a statistician. Maybe that matters.
4. It occurs mostly at the beginning of the podcast or the team meeting, during a light introductory phase that men are more likely to skip when it's their circus.
5. I may be imagining this or borrowing over from observing the female psychologists or attorneys I knew live, but I can sense that some of the older academic women are rather impatient with this and are quick to steer the conversation to the intended point.
6. I humorously note it even occurs at the frequent social gathering of four couples that is founded on a Bible study we shared for decades. We all used to sit at the same table or in a large circle of chairs and sofas. Now the men and women immediately split and have very different conversations. ("What did you think of the article I sent you this week?") My wife has occasionally wished she were in the men's conversation when she overhears a line or two.
Well, it's interesting. There seems to be something more common in female culture that it is important to set a tone of friendliness and caring about who you are and what is happening to you. That doesn't seem especially blamable, though it doesn't much appeal to me. When men control the culture it may be that some women (not all, clearly) find it...what? Distant? Chilly? Unsupportive? Yet men rather obviously can do this in situations they perceive
I have to figure that someone in linguistics or one of the social sciences has filmed a few thousand hours of this stuff and drawn conclusions. There is likely to be some awareness of code-switching of when this can take place and when it can't.
* I thought of Jane Studdock from That Hideous Strength.
** I have also wondered whether this subtly changes the power dynamics in the building. An occasional woman would complain over the years about promotions going unequally to males. I never said it aloud as it would sound accusing and unsympathetic, but I did wonder if embracing this chumminess worked against them.