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Spilling the Tea, Why do we gossip?

  • Features

By Aminah Hashmi, BA International Relations and Politics

Gossip is perceived as an inherently immoral act, and the people who gossip are untrustworthy and shallow. Still, everyone wants to know the latest gossip despite themselves and finds themselves with the urge to share juicy information about other people all the time. Statistically, everybody gossips for about 52 minutes a day. So why is it that we demonise the ‘gossiper’ while still being captivated by the latest gossip and gossiping ourselves? 

At its core, gossip is the act of sharing information about other people. So it goes that society, functioning on social relations, needs it to keep itself going. Humans are a social species so it’s in our nature to care a lot about what’s happening in our communities. Evolutionarily, that’s how we were able to survive – knowing what kind of people were in our social circle and what they were up to was the difference between life and death. While it is important, it isn’t quite as dramatic now although gossiping still holds a vital role in our social structure.

Fast forward to 2023 – gossip is a tool that shapes what we value in our community by establishing boundaries on what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. It acts as a social warning system, identifying problematic behaviours and ostracising untrustworthy members of our community. For example, if you hear that your friend is interested in someone that you know has been aggressive or misogynistic- by warning your friend you’re protecting both them and the community at large. SOAS is a relatively small university community, maybe making it more inclined to gossip.

Gossiping is a social skill that has to be built and maintained and by signposting what behaviours aren’t acceptable, we also figure out the people who uphold the values of the group and identify ourselves with them. In fact, research has shown that the most moral, generous people are more likely to pass on rumours about untrustworthy people because of their concern for others. Gossiping is also a way for society to manage negative emotions, as an outlet for frustrations about deviant behaviour. It doesn’t just tell us about the person being talked about – it tells us a lot about the person spilling the tea. What did they think was important enough to share? Was it maliciously shared and can you trust them with your own secrets?

As for all, this ‘whisper campaign’ keeps communities close-knit and undesirable behaviour at bay – when did we start conceiving it as useless and immoral? This started, as things often loop back to, with the patriarchy. The word ‘gossip’ comes from the old English word for ‘god sibling’, which in practice was used to refer to women’s closest companions. The fact that these women might prefer the company of their closest friends over their husbands caused outrage. With this, the perception of ‘ gossip’ as a women’s talk was demonised.

“the act of sharing information itself isn’t morally wrong but the what and how information is shared makes it good, bad or neutral.”

The fact is everyone gossips. We all inevitably talk about the other people in our social groups – the act of sharing information itself isn’t morally wrong but what and how information is shared makes it good, bad or neutral. If you’re still concerned about gossiping, there are a few main tenants to make sure you’re doing it right. Firstly, don’t get caught. Secondly, people who gossip for personal gain aren’t well-liked – the best (most entertaining) gossip is about rogue people or events. And lastly, think before you speak. If on reflection you find that by spreading this information, you might be backstabbing a friend – don’t. 

SOAS, keep gossiping.

   xoxo gossip girl

Photo Caption: 2007 Cast of Gossip Girl in the original TV poster, looking into the camera (Credit: Warner Bros./The CW)

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