For several weeks, I’ve been thinking about the exclamation mark and its odd relationship to gender. Why is it that intra-female communication is so lavishly punctuated by exclamation marks? Why do women seem to feel, or perhaps feign, so much excitement whilst exchanging short, declarative sentences?
My husband does not reply to simple “yes” or “no” questions with a “Yes!!!!” or a “No!!!!!” His no is a “No.” His yes a “Yes.”
Males do not replace “Ok” with “Okkkkkk!!!!!!!” Nor do they feel the need to effusively give their “Thanks!!!!!!!!”
Of course, the easy answer to the question of why this happens is that modern girls continue to be sickened by the disease to please, even each other. Or, indeed, especially each other. But, I hesitated writing about the subject because I felt that the disease to please was actually not at play here and that the true understanding of this phenomenon eluded me.
And it did, until today.
While visiting a rather unimpressive Banksy exhibit in Amsterdam’s Moco Museum, I was struck by how his works were sucked of all urgency when taken out of their intended context: the tumult of the street. Framed by stained glass in an antique museum, his works seemed trite, facile, t-shirt copies of themselves.
I realized that the same thing happens to female texting when taken out of the urgency of the moment: when read after the fact, heavily punctuated phrases become vapid, unnecessary, insecure and exhausting.
But in the immediacy of its creation, exclamatory female dialogue is actually symptomatic of a compelling need to express a sisterly bond as well as a deep appreciation for the other’s time and energy. The excitement transmitted by overzealous punctuation serves to acknowledge the deep gratitude that is generated by the very existence of such exchange within the context of the hyper-hectic life of the urban female.
So, yes!!!!!, when a friend takes the time to answer a mid-day question, I am honored. Yes!!!!! it is really exciting to be texting with someone who has several children, a marriage, a boss and fridge to keep happy. Yess!!!! I urgently want to say Thank you!!!!! when this person suggests a good doctor, restaurant, vitamin, or indestructible iPad case.
It is a relief to realize that female over-punctuation is nothing to be ashamed of but, rather, celebrated as an expression of the confident and generous collaboration between she who gives and she who receives.