I know what you’re thinking: the term “girl talk” reeks of uncomfortable, pre-adolescent years where your clothes fit differently every day and you’ve ruined one too many pairs of jeans when it was “that time of the month.” And no wonder! Judging by its definition, the term sure seems like it was coined by a man. Girl talk (apparently) is “conversation between women or girls, typically about subjects considered to be uninteresting to or inappropriate for men.” How can we not cringe at the thought of having girl talk when its meaning conditions women to think of themselves as people with very little of significance to say to each other? Periods, bodies, feelings. These aren’t matters of importance! Not like drinking, sex and sports, anyways.
For decades, women have been having conversations between themselves under a male-imposed societal framework whose core belief is that the feminine experience is of little to no significance. Men were the bearers of the realm of importance: they held the keys to inclusion, respect and equality, and they weren’t about to include feeble-minded women in their scope.
Therefore, throughout history, discourse between women has both been written off as trivial and has been silenced, sometimes brutally. In 1917, 33 women suffragists were beaten and tortured at a prison in Virginia for peacefully picketing outside the White House. Incumbent president Woodrow Wilson wrote to his daughter at the time that suffragists “seem bent on making their cause as obnoxious as possible.”
So, if not about superficial, trivial matters, what constitutes girl talk?
Girl talk is about sharing the female experience. Whether it be sex, identity, relationships, work or education, being a woman in a male-dominated world always is a challenge. Through girl talk, women get to feel empowered, confident and prepared to take on the world. Most of all, we don’t feel alone.
For years, my best friend and I have relied on girl talk. When we were 14, we wondered what it said about us if we kissed two guys in one night. At 17, we tried to determine at what point in a relationship oral sex was socially accepted. Today, we try to balance our sexual desires with their very real consequences. In a world where feminine roles in society are constantly being re-evaluated, we are often unsure of how to behave. These conversations help to alleviate that uncertainty.
One of the greatest benefits of girl talk is giving women (particularly younger women) an understanding of how to deal with men — specifically, how to approach sexual relationships with them. Because, frankly, the U.S. is failing at that. As of 2020, only 29 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education. 35 states require schools to stress abstinence in the case that sexual education is taught. Only 16 require instruction on condoms or contraception, and only nine require talking about consent.
When it comes to exploring one’s developing sexuality, girl talk is essential for validation, whether you’re a teenager or an adult. Women and those who identify as feminine have to consider multiple facets that raise multiple questions: how am I supposed to act? What is the feminist thing to do? What do other women expect from me? What do men expect from me? What do I want to do? More often than not, we need help from peers, friends, mothers, sisters and others to find the answers.
This quest for answers doesn’t come to an end with maturity. Girl talk is essential at a young age because that’s when our minds and identities are most vulnerable, and it is crucial that we develop an understanding of ourselves that is centered around self-love and acceptance. However, once you get older, a lot of things also get messier. Decades into a career you might find yourself still having to deal with male chauvinism in the workplace and figuring out how to balance your ambitions with your family. Because while we may be more empowered and independent than a century ago, our previous responsibilities still fall on us. We are still expected to be mothers – and present ones at that. Additionally, we are to be in charge of meals and décor and generally providing a happy home, even with a male partner at our side.
Reconciling social expectations with our personal beliefs and desires is no simple task. We need to help each other answer questions like: “should I lose myself to my sexual desires if, come Monday, I’ll feel crappy if they haven’t texted me?” There’s a lot to unpack in this example alone. For instance, do you feel crappy because you honestly liked them? On the other hand, do you feel bad because you’re replicating antiquated notions about sex, that on Friday you claimed to have forgotten, that tell you you should care? Girl talk is the medium through which we get closer to answering all these questions. By sharing experiences and perspectives, women can help each other find the solution that best fits their desires and personalities. We can help each other avoid falling into the traps that our intrinsically sexist upbringing has laid out for us.
It’s time girl talk got the respect it deserves for encompassing one of the most pertinent conversations of the 21st century. Today, we are no longer confined to the cultures and societies we grew up in. Through social media, women are exposed to a vast array of ideals and beliefs on how to be true to ourselves — on what that truth even is! Girl talk is a bridge between theory and practice where we can be transparent and honest about the struggles of our womanhood.
We are also no longer confined to the concept of femininity: the growing acceptance of trans, gay and queer sexual and gender identities is expanding the definition of ‘womanhood,’ and the group of individuals who identify with the label of woman, or choose not to. These sociological changes have reinforced the importance of girl talk as part of an incredibly necessary and feminist conversation that is ever-evolving.
Being a strong, independent woman is not easy. We are constantly faced with questions about the origin and validity of our principles, and have to re-adapt our lifestyles to live by them. Let’s not forget we are also products of a patriarchal society, and while we’re fiercely fighting for change, many misogynistic values are already ingrained in our brains. Girl talk can help us to overcome that conditioning.
Azul Blaquier is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at email@example.com.