The patriarchy hiding behind gossip

After hearing about inappropriate comments made by a male classmate towards her friends in middle school, junior Karishma Thykattil decided to address the remarks. Her peers dismissed the matter, and she was told her worries were nothing but teenage-girl gossip.

“When I tried to speak out about it, [my worries were] just brushed under the rug,” said Thykattil. “No one really paid attention to [what I was saying]. And I was met with, ‘Why are you talking badly about another one of your male peers?’ when I was trying to bring forward a story that should have been important to everyone.”

This was not the only time Thykattil witnessed her female peers accused of gossip because they were girls, Thykattil said.

Thykattil has experienced teachers, mainly from middle school, who would sometimes see a group of girls talking and accuse them of gossiping with a villainizing connotation, she said.

Dr. Batia Ben-Hador, organizational behavior researcher at Ariel University conducted a study in which 2,230 people were asked to answer a series of questions regarding how often they talked about others.

“We found that men and women gossip about the same amount,” said Ben-Hador. 

“It is usually said that women gossip more than men. That is not true. Women are not gossiping more than men, they are gossiping the same amount.”

Despite the study’s results, women’s gossip is often met with negative stereotypes, Ben-Hador said.

The association between women and negative gossip leads some men to believe they are better than women and can treat women poorly,Ben-Hador said.

According to Thykattil, she feels that the assumption that female gossip is exaggerated and malicious villainizes women.

“I think [the assumptions about gossip] reinforce the stereotypes that women are shallow and that all they do is talk,” said Thykattil. “It takes away from us as people and our ability to seriously speak out about things we find important.”

According to Dr. Karen Adkins, professor of psychology at Regis University, gossip was initially assigned as a “women’s activity” because, for women, gossiping was their best tool for communication.

“Oral tools like gossip have been central in [oppressed groups’] understanding of how oppression was working and even in plotting resistance to oppression,” said Adkins. “So, there is a really tight connection between gossip and resistance movements, which I think is part of why it gets demonized.”

Regardless of the negative implications of gossip, women have used it to help each other avoid dangerous situations, Adkins said.

“If you think about the [#MeToo] scandals in Hollywood, women were [secretly] warning each other about predatory behavior, and they were doing it all carefully behind [people’s] backs through gossip,” Adkins said.

According to Thykattil, she thinks negative stereotypes attributed to women and gossip discredits women and what they have to say.

“I think that whenever girls speak about something, it is often taken negatively by everyone else,” said Thykattil. “It kind of closes the option for women to actually say things that they believe or find true.”