In the workplace, it’s really about control.
If you’re a woman, perhaps you’ve been told you’re a gossip. Or, you’ve been warned against gossip. Perhaps you’ve even been forced to watch Tedx clips about why you shouldn’t gossip at work, given to you by some dude on the internet.
The term “gossip” tends to be a phrase that uniquely targets women, and the way in which women interact with one another. It carries a negative connotation, and people often consider gossiping as “bad.” In Puritan New England, gossip was called “gadding about”, even Martha Ballard, that great New England midwife, called herself a gadder. Probably because she had all the juicy details of everyone’s lives (and could testify in court if a woman named the father of an illegitimate child on her birthing bed).
Now, we call gossip “spilling the tea” or “hot gos” or, simply, “chatting.” Whatever you call it, it’s usually targeted at female groups, and, occasionally, used as a weapon within workplaces.
The Weaponization of Gossip
Some workplaces, usually female centered (though not always), attempt to “ban” gossip. It’s actually something I’ve heard a lot from fellow teachers discussing their workplace conditions. The problem with this is that gossip is a hugely broad term, and may be defined as anything “negative.”
By defining any negative speak as “gossip” and therefore banned within the workplace, it prevents women (or anyone), from discussing workplace problems or issues. In a world where male administrators may not listen to the concerns of their female colleagues, this is problematic. Additionally, a “ban” on gossip may create a culture of fear — where you may be worried to tell someone about a problem for fear of “being negative” and getting reported. It’s like, McCarthyism, but at work!
The fear of being perceived as “negative” prevents people from perhaps discussing important topics like, oh I don’t know, wages, harassment, internal policies, or other things that employees may want to take collective action on. A ban on gossip harms everyone, but can be especially harmful for any BIPOC employees. Bias is real.
And, there’s the rub. It’s that collective action part that administrators or bosses want to prevent.
So, what can you do? Well, obviously, the answer is to gossip about it. Because often what employers deem as gossip…is not actually gossip.
At its core, gossip is information. Information about time, work, pay, conditions, experiences. Information is powerful and information is almost always used as an avenue of change. On the flip side any attempt to control or hide information is almost always used to stagnate and maintain power.
So talk my friend. Spill the beans, the tea, gad about, chat, discuss, laugh, get angry, get sad, get happy and importantly — share information. Stay powerful.