Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Where women and gays gossip...

We do break people in categories, attach the label and the stereotype - and that's a fact of life. I was reminded of it again recently, when talking about gossiping practices. And the reaction from the audience was quick: it's a woman thing. Men don't gossip. They may share with each other things about last night's sex, but they do not generally engage in extensive gossiping practices. What about Perez Hilton then? Oh, well, he's gay!

It's interesting how we still use gender - and a very dichotomous idea of gender as men and women, with everything else as variations/ deviations of the two - to make sense of behaviors, gestures, appearances. I guess there's a certain easiness to attributing a particular practice to an idea of what a woman or a man is; it saves you the trouble of dealing with complexity, which is not necessary a bad thing (one cannot acknowledge the complexity of the social life each time one makes a statement or acts, it would just be too much).

But I also feel we need to question what we say, even when we say it; I am not sure gossiping is really connected to your biological sex. I can see how it could be connected to a socially constructed category named women, when, due to social organization patterns, they would form their own channels of communication and information sharing, which, in the context of the same social organization patterns, would appear to men as 'inferior', a 'woman-thing' and probably dismissed on the grounds that it's not 'sound' or 'rational' enough.

It is stranger however that we do not necessarily think of gossip in the same way we think about rumors. There is a whole tradition in communication/ media studies about rumors as processes of communication: how are they constructed, how they are transmitted, and to what possible effects on communication and knowledge. In some cases, rumors are discussed in connection to legends, as types of oral communication and everyday life knowledge formation. I do not seem to remember the discussion about the gendered source of rumors! Hey, just watch Wag the Dog, and you'll see the whole industry of rumors at play! And few would argue Robert De Niro is not a 'man'!

Coincidentally, as I was in a waiting room today, I read above one's shoulder that half of the women interviewed thought they were discriminated on the basis of their gender, the other 40% felt that they weren't but they could be, while some women (2%) were afraid to think this way because they would be labeled as 'troublemakers'. There seems to be a lot of gender-related posts here lately!

Photo credits: foxypar4


Lindsay said...

Hi, Thinking about Difference! I think you hit on the truth when you wondered if women's propensity to gossip might not be more an artifact of their position in society than an immutable characteristic of the female sex.

To take an example, much of what we consider "news" is nothing more than gossip about public figures. Is Hillary Clinton a bitch, or is she a MEGA-bitch, the TV talking heads ask each other. Many editorials and magazine articles have been written analyzing the Clintons' marriage. And with any presidential campaign in recent years, somehow it always gets boiled down to whether the candidate is likeable enough.

Why is that sort of content not considered frivolous? I think there are a lot of reasons, some of them dealing with the fact that TV is the primary medium of national discourse in the USA (you're Canadian, right? Is it the same up there?), some relating to political journalism still being kind of an old boys' club, but I also think our culture ("our" meaning the West in general, not just the US) has a gendered concept of frivolity. Women's concerns are petty and trivial; men's are important and worldly. So men can be doing the same thing in their sphere (men still very much dominate the public sphere, even though it is no longer theirs alone) as women do in theirs --- say, discussing other people's private lives when those people are not present --- but only when women do it is it called gossip. When men do it, it somehow becomes "analysis." Or "investigative journalism." Or whatever.

Anyway, I just found your blog, and I like it a lot. I added you to my blogroll. ;)

thinking about difference said...

yes, i think there's definitely a need to question why something is labeled as 'trivial gossip' while other things qualify as 'journalism' (even if tabloid/ yellow journalism). and why some is 'gossip' while other is 'rumor', and so on, and so forth. thanks for the comment!

sexy said...


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