After attending a party with two pregnant women, a male friend noted, “Everyone had to touch their bellies and scream.” These were adults of childbearing age, he noted, career women who lived in brownstones and owned cars. He then did a falsetto impression of their shrieks, hitting a note somewhere between One Direction fangirl and Six Flags roller coaster. “Why do they do that?”
He was asking rhetorically, with a note of disgust in his voice. I think he was hoping for a cool-girl response like, “GOD, I hate bitches who do that, I am SO NOT ONE OF THEM. Hey, want a blow job?” But the truth is, I am an adult female who squeals. I squeal at engagement rings. I squeal during hugs. When I go home for Christmas and get together with my childhood friends, we will squeal like a pod of migrating dolphins. I know squealing annoys many people — men, mostly, but also women who find the practice infantilizing, undignified, or unnecessarily shrill. I am sympathetic to these concerns. But I still squeal, and I am not ashamed.
Why do women squeal? With engagement season upon us and squeal opportunities at an annual high, let’s take the squeal-shamer’s question at face value. After surveying several squeal-prone friends, I have identified five key purposes of the girl-squeal, all of which I consider to be valid communicative uses.
1. The Uncontainable Squeal
At its most basic, the squeal is an expression of ebullience, an enthusiasm that cannot be contained. During moments of excitement, all things in the body leap up: The heart jumps into the throat, the head feels light. She may throw her hands up in the air. As her heart rate accelerates, so do the pitch and magnitude of her voice, generally around the vowel sounds of eeee! or aahh! It is the sonic expression of an adrenaline rush.
2. Squeal for the Sisterhood
Squeals express camaraderie, a call-and-response ritual announcing participants’ mutual enthusiasm — and a corollary DGAF attitude toward non-participants. A squeal says, My enthusiasm is so great, I don’t even care that every human with a Y-chromosome is rolling his eyes right now. Though men sometimes elicit squeals (particularly in tween varieties of the oral tradition), no squeal has ever been uttered to please a man. Squeals are, then, pure of patriarchy. Like red eyeshadow and peplums, squeals exist for intra-female and in-group signaling. If my squeal repels you, I don’t want you in earshot, anyway.
3. The Non-Specific Squeal
The squeal is also strategic. “It allows you to be emphatic without actually saying anything. It’s a great tool that way,” a fellow adult squealer mused. This is why squeals are particularly helpful for momentous-but-unsurprising events like engagements, weddings, pregnancies, and babies. After watching a couple cohabitate for years on end, there isn’t that much more to say when they get engaged. And so we squeal.
And when there is more to say, but etiquette requires us to refrain from blurting, “Is the baby’s head supposed to look like that?!”— all the more reason to squeal, as the above College Humor video about reacting to a friend’s terrible engagement demonstrates. Squealing glosses over awkwardness.
4. Squeal As Social Lubricant
Though occasionally alienating to non-participants, squealing is nonetheless an inclusive activity. Anyone can participate in a group squeal. Squealing invites everyone present to join in raising the encounter to a new level of giddy camaraderie, the vocalized equivalent of buying a round of shots for everyone at the bar. She who initiates a squeal opens an invitation to high-pitched merriment.
5. Squeal qua Squeal
Just as smiling triggers a psycho-physical feedback loop that makes smilers feel happier, squealing enhances excitement. Squealing is fun. Like a stadium crowd roaring at a game-winning touchdown, squealing enables the squealer to access communal joy — even when the squealer is alone. Not five minutes ago, I took a break from writing this article to browse Facebook. There I discovered a newly uploaded photo album from a friend’s recent wedding, featuring bright photos of happy people from a day I spent celebrating a couple I love. Alone in my living room, I squealed. And it felt great.