The Chatty Cathy Myth

A few months ago, my boyfriend and I set out to watch Aziz Ansari’s Netflix original series, Master of None. We binged episode after episode, jamming to the groovy soundtrack, and commenting on the rich backstories of Dev's parents. In a world filled with heternormative comedy series, we were elated to see a queer POC character, Denise, whose sexuality and gender presentation wasn’t treated as a punchline, but something that just existed.

When we reached episode seven, “Ladies and Gentlemen,” I was curious and concerned how one twenty four minute episode would be able to thoughtfully comment and satirize the wide umbrella of gender stereotypes, identities, and the F word many men have grown to fear: Feminism.

Just as I suspected, the episode merely grazed the surface of sexism; I was disappointed that the episode failed to utilize Denise’s character as a vehicle to discuss intersectional feminism. People tend to forget that the sexism women face changes depending on their race, sexual orientation, gender presentation, class, and ability.

Near the end of the episode, Dev, his girlfriend Rachel, Denise, and Arnold are at the wrap party for Dev’s commercial. The director only shakes hands with Dev and Arnold but does not introduce himself to the women at the table. What ensues is a fight between Rachel and Dev, in which he takes the side of the director instead of trying to understand why she might be upset. Rookie mistake, bro.

As the scene at the wrap party ended, my boyfriend turned to me and asked, “Has that ever happened to you?”

I was surprised that he had never noticed, replying, “This happens to me all the time, especially when we are in a big group of people we don't know very well. Nine times out of ten, they introduce themselves to you and any other men we are with but somehow don’t see that I’m sitting right next to you.”

“Wow,” he responded, “I can’t believe that.”

What ensued was a necessary exchange about co-ed interpersonal communication, and resulted in my brain mulling over a host of questions: Why do men ignore women in large group settings with other men? If males continue to dominate conversation in large social situations, why are women still called Chatty Cathy’s? Where did that phrase even come from? YouTube was able to answer at least one of those questions.

Chatty Cathy was a talking doll that took off in the ‘60s. Think furbies, but slightly less creepy because they would never cry out in the middle of the night thanks the drawstring that controls when the doll speaks. These accessory objects only speak when those who engage with them are seeking a response. Ironically, calling a woman a Chatty Cathy says more about how we treat women in conversation, than about the amount of talking a woman actually does.

The objectification of women in co-ed social situations typically reveals itself in the presence or absence of a male partner. For example, women who appear single whether it be by their relationship status or the absence of their partner, are often approached and many times harassed by men who are looking to get laid. The majority of women try to be upfront when dealing with unwanted sexual or social advancements by saying they are not interested. However, men only seem to listen when we let them know we have a boyfriend, because respecting another man's claim to a woman's body is more important than respecting a woman's right to say no. Note that I didn’t say partner because explaining that you are gay can often be interpreted by six-drinks-in-dudebro as a challenge for them to complete, "just a phase," or my favorite response, "that's so hot." Gross. 

The inverse of the seemingly single woman scenario also reveals how women are often objectified. At a party or at a bar, sharing food, holding hands, and sneaking a few kisses makes it clear that a woman is not fair game, resulting in multiple failed attempts to try and get a word in edgewise. I have noticed that when my boyfriend and I are less affectionate in public social settings, I am more likely to be approached, engaged in conversation, and eventually hit on. 

Yet, somehow women are continuously portrayed by the media as loud, opinionated, and endlessly nagging in co-ed conversations. These negative associations with the way women interact with men or in mixed ocmpany only seems to intensify for characters or public figures whom are WOC, low-income, more masculine or fluid in their gender presentation, and/or deviate from the heteronormative standards of sexuality and relationships that dominate all aspects of media. This myth of women as Chatty Cathy's isn't just annoying, it's a pervasive stereotype that justifies misogyny whether it be on the street, in Congress, at a party, in a board meeting, or even in your own home. 

Women are not dolls ready to speak when our draw string is tug; we are people with ideas, and relevant experiences that should be shared. You don't have to call yourself a feminist to respect women (although it would be pretty great if you did). By showing women the respect of a handshake, and asking for their name, you acnkowledge their personhood regardless of how they choose to identify.