History of Gossip: The So-Called ‘Women’ Thing


When we hear the word gossip, we picture a group of women sipping tea or coffee and just discussing or ‘framing’ rumors about others. Gossip is always associated with women. In fact, it is seen as something negative and malicious. Gossip is even associated with the ‘low productivity’ of women since all they do is gossip, according to some people. 

But seems like the true meaning of gossip has been lost over time and has been inappropriately attached to women. Here is a brief history of gossip- the so-called women thing. 

Definition of Gossip

As per the dictionary, gossip is a casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as true. The society associates it with women and the men who tend to do something similar are tagged as ‘not-so-manly’. 

But the research carried out by scholars show something completely different from the general perspective of gossip.

History of Gossip- Understanding the Difference

As per the studies on human history, gossiping has been an integral part of human relations in general. It wasn’t necessarily the ‘women thing’. Back then, gossiping meant talking about others who are not present at that moment. In fact, it was an excellent way of finding suitable mates in prehistoric times. 

But this practice was not only limited to finding mates. It was also a means of managing friendships. People used to have quick talks about the events in their lives and used to share their thoughts and views with each other. Gossip was used as a means of catching up quickly with all the recent happenings around the place. The motive was to keep each other updated on everything in an era when social media wasn’t a thing. 

Another objective of gossip was to form alliances. It’s a thing of common sense that to form an alliance, one needs to dig up some information about the other party. So, gossip came in handy in such cases to know more about potential alliance partners. 

Associating Gossip With Women 

It is not exactly known as to when gossip became a negative thing associated with women. But many scholars trace it back to the origin of the word ‘gossip’ itself. 

Gossip comes from the old English noun godsibb. Godsibb is composed of two words- god and sib. Sib is an adjective meaning akin or related. It was used to describe a family friend or godparent of a child. Then how did gossip acquired its present meaning? 

So, in medieval times, a child’s birth was like a huge social event. This was a time when female godsibbs used to spend hours in conversation with the mother. During the labor pain, they provided moral support to the mother in pain. And this is how men started associating gossip with women. Gossip, which was like a bonding experience for all the women of the community, was perceived and labeled as ‘useless chatter’ by men. 

If you wish to read more about the history of the word gossip 

Attempts at Regulating Gossips 

Society devised many tortures and punishments to control women’s habit of indulging in the ‘useless chatter’. Till the early 1800s in Europe and colonial America, it was very common for men to request the State or the Church to punish who talked too much or tried to form any sort of bonds with other women. 

Even widows, old women, and those abandoned by their husbands were banished from ‘talking too much’. They weren’t allowed to talk about their experiences and sorrows. Even comforting each other was seen as a waste of time. 

Concept of Gossip in India 

Around the time when gossip was seen as a sin in the west, English writing on women in India began emerging. One of the primary traits and a way to describe them was the habit of gossiping. Most of the literary works drew a picture where women would gossip while collecting water from the wells. Even domestic spaces and markets were seen as the hives for women to talk uselessly for a while. 

It was also perceived that the afternoon time after finishing up all the household chores was the time for women’s ‘ideal talk’ or gossiping and framing rumors. If someone saw two or more women talking, it was automatically assumed that they must be gossiping. 

The Modern-Day 'Ideal Talk' 

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the concept of gossip as a negative thing associated with women strengthened even more. The negative connotation of women’s ‘ideal talk’ or ‘tatle’ became so entrenched that even today when women talk about anything, especially about other women, they are labeled as catty, bitchy, or spiteful.

And the biggest problem with this concept is that it’s not just women who gossip. This is, in fact, a myth. Studies have shown that both men and women gossip equally. On average, a person spends 52 minutes in gossiping, irrespective of gender and sex. But the difference is that when men do it, it is seen as something important. Men’s gossip is even called networking, lobbying, or meeting for ‘discussing’ important topics. 

Associating gossip with women as a negative implication, they are portrayed as incapable of engaging in things that hold the utmost importance. It is understood that jobless women don’t have anything better to do for a past time.  

True Essence of Gossip 

Opposite of being frivolous, anthropologists say that gossip was a bonding agent in the women of a community. It was a tool for self-preservation and sympathy in a patriarchal society where they were granted little power and say. 

Indian scholars have written about how gossip enabled illiterate women to seek help from other women in case of any crisis. This is true even today date as some illiterate women seek help and advice from the educated ones. The best example is the women seeking help from the ANMs in their villages. Is this something frivolous? Highly doubtful indeed!

Over the years, gossip has been used for passing down information in female networks. It is used by women to educate each other about things and events that they haven’t heard of due to various restrictions imposed on them. Gossip, for women, is also a means to protect each other from potential unsuitable matches in marriage and potential sexual harassers. 

The Bottom Line

It makes sense why gossip is seen as something negative. Since women try to help each other out and protect each other from the potential threats from the patriarchal society, men have labeled it as ‘bitchy’ to turn women against each other. But now that the myth about gossip is shattered, it’s time to spread this word. Gossip was intended to form bonds and help each other. So, let’s see it as something just like that. 

Gossip is not the only ‘girly’ topic surrounded by myths. The structure of hymen and its association with virginity is also misunderstood a lot. 

Read more about myths surrounding hymen and virginity 

Written By - Neha Kundu

Edited By - Kashish Chadha

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