Whether we admit it or not, the best part of a night out has to be catching up on the gossip the following morning. It’s one of the rare instances when indulging in a bit of salacious speculation isn’t frowned upon – after all, there’s so much to catch up on.
However, most of the time, gossiping is regarded as a deviant pastime, specially reserved for women. It’s a pejorative aimed at women who love a cheeky chin-wag in the office kitchen, who are partial to an episode of Loose Women now and again, and those who – God forbid – read women’s magazines.
“Gossiping was TECHNICALLY a feminist act & a way to make connections with other woman and now ur telling me I have to not partake [because] it make makes me ‘obsessed’? Nah that’s what a man would want. ”
We love her already. The text continued, “gossiping only has a bad name [because] men didn’t like the fact that women were conversing about their personal lifes & sharing info [because] they’d realise how unfair society is and rebel.”
Sound a little far-fetched? Nope, she’s actually bang on the money (who says TikTok isn’t educational, eh?)
In her essay How Patriarchy Redefined “Gossip” to Be a Women’s Thing, Winifred J. Akpobi explains that “in the late Middle Ages, people hosted friendship meetings to talk and chatter about whatever happened within the last time of their meeting. They discussed all sorts of things, from life partners to political issues, adding, “Over time, it was seen as something only women did because they did it without caring about the public eye.”
Winifred noted a pretty disturbing comparison between women who gossiped and witchcraft, saying, “the stereotypic nature of female friendships being witch cults arose — society thought women would turn their backs on rules if they had the opportunity to meet up and chat about their lives. Therefore, women who were seen in groups became a target for hatred and angst, and more often called witches just for expressing an act of freedom simply by talking amongst themselves.”
To add insult to injury, some researchers theorise that gossip is actually an evolutionary habit, which enabled our ancestors to survive. In a paper published in the Review of General Psychology, Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist, explains:
“Were we not able to engage in discussions of these issues, we would not be able to sustain the kinds of societies that we do,” adding that, ”Gossip in this broad sense plays a number of different roles in the maintenance of socially functional groups through time.”
Despite gossip being crucial to you know… the survival of mankind, women have been historically punished in the most barbaric ways for even engaging in it. Around 1600-1700, the Church introduced a device called the scold’s bridle, otherwise known as the ‘gossip’s bridle’, which – according to the British Library – was used to “hurt and humiliate women whose speech or behaviour was thought to be too offensive or unruly.”
In case you were in any doubt, the British Library adds, “The word ‘scold’ was used as a legal term for women – and, much more rarely, men – who disturbed their neighbours’ peace with loud quarrelling, gossiping, slanderous speech or brawling.”
OK, so scold’s bridles may (thankfully) be a thing of the past, but gossip undeniably still gets a bad rep. Even though one study, which examined British conversations, determined that most gossip is harmless with only 3-4% of the gossip sample demonstrating malice.
Does this mean that gossiping is now an inherently feminist act? We’re here for it.