Tripped up on girl talk

March 20, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm

THE unfolding saga in Washington has resulted in a number of casualties such as press-White House relations. But also at stake is something sacred and near to many women's hearts: girl talk.

While men gather to talk about last night's game, stocks or the inner workings of their car engines, women typically relish sharing more intimate details of just about everything -- including affairs of the heart. You share such intimacies with your girlfriends confident that they'll not be advertised to the world.

Imagine our horror, then, at Linda Tripp wearing an FBI wire while a girlfriend spilled her soul's deepest secrets! Benedict Arnold, move over, you've got company. The very thought sends shudders down the spine of American womenkind.

So what will this mean for the future of girl talk in the republic?

Such talks are often a necessary refuge for women. It has frequently been dismissed as gossip, but it is also something close to a survival strategy, especially when you feel scared, confused and alone.

Let's remember that young Monica Lewinsky was all those things when she got stuck in the middle of a Washington siege. She thought Ms. Tripp, her new-found friend at the Pentagon, was someone she could trust with her secrets.

Electronic monitoring

She thought wrong. Little did she know, her so-called friend was breaking the unwritten code of girl talk by taping her words for broadcast to a larger audience. That's fed the fire of a pitiless sexual inquisition that rivals the Puritan treatment of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, "The Scarlet Letter."

However, polls show that most of the American people are in effect saying, enough already.

There are other good examples of girl talk.

In her White House years, Eleanor Roosevelt's close friend and ++ confidante was a woman journalist named Lorena Hickock. What would have happened if Hickock had taken the opportunity to tell all she knew about the first family?

Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy, the philosopher and the novelist, exchanged voluminous correspondence that covered every aspect of their complicated lives. It was published only recently, years after they passed away.

Virginia Woolf relied heavily on the company and sympathy of other women. Her older sister, the artist Vanessa Bell, was like air and light to her.

As for me, I spend a lot of time keeping in touch with my best girlfriends in England, Michigan, Massachusetts and New York, not to mention my sisters in California. My telephone bill, over $100 a month, tells the story.

People will always divulge more in private than they would be willing to say in public. And unlike men, women tend to talk about things much more on our own underground network. It has always been so, that women are the caretakers, confidantes and secret-keepers in the personal realm. On that rock rests the social order.

Linda Tripp and Kenneth Starr violated that law of human nature -- and just look at what happened. The walls almost came tumbling down -- and it's not over yet.

Jamie Stiehm is a reporter for The Sun.

Pub Date: 3/20/98

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