August 02, 2007

Plus ça change

A New Yorker cartoon from the late 1940s, illustrating an earlier version of the "talkative women" meme (sorry, I don't have a more specific citation or the identity of the cartoonist):

The cartoon shows six women talking, as opposed to one man -- but there are four other men waiting in line. So perhaps it's about female social dominance (six to one) rather than female talkativeness (merely six to five, with some other men having perhaps given up and moved on). Or maybe it's about expected conversation length.

I have very little idea what big-city telephone-booth culture might have been like sixty years ago. I've never commuted via the sort of train station where such long rows of booths could once be found. And I suppose that younger people today are no more familiar with telephone booths than they are with swingletrees or coulters.

But one thing that remains constant, I think, is that people are much more annoyed when they're inconvenienced by behavior that fits a group stereotype than by the same behavior without the group-stereotype association.

[Update -- Marc Naimark writes"

You missed a telling point in the cartoon: the men are all waiting at the phone booth occupied by the man. They know that even the last man in the line will reach an available phone faster in that booth rather than in any of the others occupied by women.

Well, they believe that, anyway. I was obscurely alluding to that concept when I referred to "expected conversation length". Another obvious feature is that the women are all smiling and talking in an animated way, with body language evocative of engaged communication, while the man in the booth and the men in line are just standing there, with their backs to the viewer.]

[Ben Zimmer writes:

I'm reminded of the Simpsons episode where Apu comes with Homer and Marge to the Monstro Mart and advises them which check-out line to use:

Apu: Let's go to...that line.
Marge: But that's the longest.
Apu: Yes, but look: all pathetic single men. Only cash, no chitchat.


Posted by Mark Liberman at August 2, 2007 06:43 AM