Girl Talk

Gossip Is a Dirty Word…Or Is It?

My mom is a big believer in gossip. I myself have mixed feelings. She thinks it is an important communication tool, and I do agree, but I can’t help having a knee-jerk reaction complete with a flashing “DANGER” sign go off in my head nevertheless. After all, gossip can be hurtful and destructive, as I’m sure we all know from experience — assuming we’re even using the same definition of the word, which has many facets indeed.

The truth is, not all gossip is really gossip. Talking about a third person who isn’t in the conversation only strikes me as gossip if it is disrespectful, negative and/or said with malice. Sometimes we need to process things, sort out our thoughts and feelings – especially if they are angry, frustrated ones. So often people seem to get upset that someone was talking about them at all, but I think it’s healthy. I would rather talk to a friend and get some sense talked into me, explore my thoughts and reactions and let off some steam so I can deal with whatever the conflict is with a clear head and a non-confrontational approach. The fact that I’m talking to a friend about my frustrations means I respect the person in question enough to give them thought and not just run at them when we have a conflict. Of course, I also lived on a hippie farm (twice), so my ideal is always avoiding confrontation and engaging in a sharing of ideas, but I must admit, it has been much more relaxing and productive than just yelling things at someone without listening to them.

This also means talking to friends who will challenge you instead of just nodding and smiling and patting your hand as they tell you you’re right. There are two sides to every relationship, and really, even if the other person was disrespectful, it doesn’t give anyone the right to react in an offensive way. You don’t get jerkface rights just because someone was one to you.

‘But even if I take the high road, they will reject my approach and just keep being a jerk.’

I’m not trying to judge anyone here, but I’m tired into next Thursday with people who are convinced they know someone else’s thought process, especially when they’re either just projecting their own or simplifying things so they have an excuse to stay angry. We’ve all done it. It’s part of the human experience. But I guarantee you, even if a person doesn’t show a positive reaction to a high-road type approach, they will think about it later. They may not change, but you will have left them with an experience worth considering, even if they don’t do so for a decade or two. In a confrontation especially, people react defensively out of instinct, so not only is it not a good space to judge whether anyone considered your approach, but again, confrontations in general just don’t work out so well.

I guess that’s what gets to me about gossip. We have so much power to affect others with mere words, I can’t imagine speaking awful things about another person just for the sake of being mean to them, let alone making anything up (*cough* lies *cough*). This is the destructive kind of gossip, the kind that crops up in elementary school playgrounds and follows us through adulthood – workplaces, tabloids, retirement homes (you think old people don’t talk s**t about each other?)… we’re fascinated with the personal business of other people, especially when those people have something we’re jealous of, or threaten us in some way. Is she prettier than me? She must be a slut. Is she dating a hottie while wearing that dress better than me? What a bitch.

So much of this kind of negative gossip consists of girls trying to tear other girls down, and what frustrates me is the thought that we would be so vicious to each other so we could be the ones to get the highest approval rating from men (I’m speaking specifically of heterosexual ladies, though there are also issues of jealousy and negativity in the lesbian community, it just has different implications when men aren’t involved – patriarchal influence isn’t just an abstraction, y’all). Why aren’t we a community? Why don’t we have each other’s backs instead of selling each other out for the sake of approval? This kind of basic support should exist between women regardless of how well we know each other. Women in Middle Eastern cultures which blatantly restrict them have each other’s back as a cultural norm because of the threat they are under as a whole gender — we, with our choices, decide instead to put petty discontents between ourselves and our fellow women.

As the ever-brilliant Tina Fey said, “You have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.” The language we use when we talk trash about another girl is also destructive because the most used words – slut and bitch – are also derogatory towards women. I find the word “slut” particularly offensive, because it judges women on their private sex lives. If the woman in question is one who puts energy into making her sex life public, be it through the way she dresses, acts around men/women, or discusses it in public, I can’t help but wonder if she is extremely liberated or looking for approval from her peers by using her body. Either I feel empowered by seeing someone who is empowered herself, or I cringe at the thought of a level of insecurity that compels someone to make her personal matters so public in a bid for approval, and feel the last thing she needs is for me to hate on her rather than try to find how I can be compassionate, or at least neutral, towards her. She can do whatever she wants – just because I have an emotional reaction, it doesn’t give me the right to judge her, let alone act on that judgment.

My mom believes in the power of gossip because often it ends up being a useful tool for passing along information.

‘Did you see that Mindy Kaling tweeted about Boy (the movie)? It must be really good if she likes it, we should go see it.’

‘I know three people who got food poisoning at that restaurant, I wouldn’t go there until after their next health inspection – or ever.’

There are conversations that can only happen behind closed doors – that’s what drives diplomacy half the time. It’s up to us to use our discretion and be honest with ourselves about whether we just need to vent a little and get our head back on straight, share something important, or if we’re just being mean for the sake of it (justifying your meanness by saying “but s/he is asking for it” definitely does not count). Words have power and we have enough problems without using them to cause more. They also have power to connect us, and personally, I think that’s an opportunity that is a shame to pass up in any situation.


Image via Shutterstock

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