When Gossiping About Your Girlfriends Is Actually A Good Thing
That relationships between women are complicated might be the grand understatement of the century — and yet, it’s completely true. Whether we’re talking about you and your very best bestie, your sprawling college crew, or the close knit circle of girls you grew up with, the ins-and-outs of female friendship can be tricky to truly understand, explains socio-linguist Deborah Tannen. She should know: She’s literally written the book on the subject: ‘You’re The Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships.’
"My last book was about sisters, and before that there was mothers and daughters, so the third and final all-women relationship that plays such a huge part in many women’s lives is friendships. Many women that I interviewed — over 80 formal interviews, plus everybody I ran into during the time I was writing — said things like 'my women friends are my life' or ‘my women friends are the most sustaining thing in my life’ and 'my female friendships are as essential as air.’
"Way back in [my book] You Just Don’t Understand, I traced it to the way that little girls and little boys use language with their same-sex best friends, and how they tend to play with their same-sex best friends. It seems to be pretty common across many cultures of the world that little girls spend more time sitting and talking — that their social life focuses on their best friend. Something I used to say is: Your best friend is the one you tell everything to, for girls and women; whereas, for men, your best friend is the one you do everything with. The focus is on talk for girls and women. The focus is on activity for boys and men. That seems to trace back to childhood. It begs the question: Is that socialisation they learn from other boys and girls, or is that inborn? There’s nothing in my training that would equip me to answer that question. My guess would be that it’s an inextricable combination of both."
"Put it this way: A woman said to me, 'When you tell someone personal information, it’s like, ‘Here’s this little piece of me. That means I like you.' So now they have a piece of you. The question is: What are they going to do with it? The comfort of being able to tell someone your secrets — things about you other people don’t know — for many people was a marker of close friendship, as in, ‘Close friends know things about me no one else would know.'
"I think social media ramps up both the positive and the challenging aspect of relationships — it’s just a new take on processes that have been there for a long time. Girls and women tend to want to be in touch with friends; your friends want to know what’s going on in your life. If something major is happening, and your friend doesn’t know about it, either she finds out she isn’t as good a friend as she thought she was, or she’s just going to feel hurt that you didn’t tell her.
There’s a stereotype that women gossip, as well as a general agreement that gossip is bad. But talking about other people is not always bad: It shows an interest in people.
"FOGKO is Fear Of Getting Kicked Out. I heard many stories about girls — mostly middle school and high school but older ages, too — of when an entire group locks somebody out. They just sort of turn on a girl in a group, stop talking to her, stop inviting her to parties: persona non grata. It’s really devastating. Sometimes I’d hear from a woman in the group who thought it was unjust, but did not speak up; and then I heard from a young woman who recalled that she did speak up and the group kicked her out, too.
"There’s a stereotype that women gossip, as well as a general agreement that gossip is bad. But talking about other people is not always bad: It shows an interest in people. I quote Margaret Meade, who said that anthropologists have to be interested in gossip, that’s what life's about. Gossiping is a kind of philosophising, a way to think about the challenges people face, how they confront those challenges. 'Talking about' is not inherently bad — it’s often positive.