Love Bites: To Gather & Gossip
This month's columnist reflects on our attachment to gossip, retraces its history, and celebrates the intimacy of a secret shared
In 2008, Kristen Bell began giving voice to the notorious narrator of Gossip Girl with the salacious "xoxo Gossip Girl" sign-off. The back-biting nature of gossip forms the undercarriage of the show, with the elite community bickering about nothing meaningful with wealth exuding from every corner of the screen. Their designer clothes and idle chat fulfils something truly escapist. It encapsulates our opinion of gossip: a vacuous act filled with malice.
This depiction however doesn’t align with my experience of gossip. My gossip sessions take place in-between regimented time – in club toilets, library lunch-breaks, and hungover Sunday afterparties. In these spaces, we connect: we intimately trust one another with our most private thoughts or we’re upheld by a large group of women and their beautiful chorus of opinions and judgements. My best friend Sylvie rings me from London once a week and our gossip feels like an entry into each other’s material worlds, and the characters in them. “Edinburgh is my personal soap opera,” she says, “which you let me watch.” When something particularly dramatic happens, we claim it as a season finale.
It’s not an activity based on malice; rather one of bonding. The negative connotations of gossip are rooted in the practice’s synonymisation with 'women’s talk' and all the misogyny bound up with this. Feminist-historian Silvia Federici traces the history of the word, asserting that its understanding has continuously changed in relation to women’s position in society. Originating from ‘god-sip’ (meaning godparent), it held a neutral moral understanding while also more specifically speaking to female friendships of solidarity. The shift to the idea of idle backbiting came about in parallel to accusations of witchcraft and a concerted effort to damage women’s solidarity, both politically and personally. Though the comfort of watching others’ gossip on TV is perhaps a voyeuristic indulgence, the practice of gossip in my own life feels closest to the original ‘god-sip’, a truly treasured and joyful act of solidarity.