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Gossip and Female Storytelling

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash. Also, my family gathering NEVER looked like this.

My family on my mum's side consists of a lot of women. It has to do with the birth ratio, which is generally about three girls for every boy, at least in the generation prior to my kids'. It has to do also with the women in my family living to ridiculously old ages (my great grandmother was 105 when she passed away about seven years ago), whereas the men in my family die when they're in their 50s and 60s. Mind that usually the men are unrelated, so they probably die from being married to the women of my family, but that's another story altogether.

When I was young, whenever there was a family gathering, and everyone was cooking in the kitchen, the talk would usually be what can only be defined as gossip: talking about other people's personal business. This cousin got pregnant (and someone heard her husband might not be the father); that neighbour left his wife.

The connotation of gossip is typically malicious. It is a judgemental talk about someone's personal business. And it's usually women's talk. It has been dismissed for a long time, until fairly recently when a (male) scientist pointed to its power. And yes, gossip can be mean and "wielded as a weapon". But from my personal experience, a lot of women's talk gets dismissed as gossip when that is not the intent of the speakers.

The women in my family were telling stories. They were telling stories about other people's behaviours. And like all stories, there was a reason for the telling. These were cautionary tales or informing acts. We needed to know that our neighbour is now raising three kids on her own, and she might need more support. Or they were told as a way to try and figure out what the motives were, what led to this particular behaviour. Was he unhappy at home? Was it because she nagged him? Or was it because he found a younger girl? Because he had a mid-life crisis and suddenly realised he spent his nights with the wrong person? And these stories were told with a judgemental slant, perhaps, that came from stacking the behaviour discussed as it compares with our family's values. For us, the younger generation, these stories conveyed crucial information. Our family helps neighbours who need us. Our family does not take betrayal of the marital staus-quo lightly. Our family doesn't tolerate extramarital affairs.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the "gossip" is the "what would I do" aspect. We're drawn to stories because they let us do thought-experiments. We imagine ourselves in the heroine's situation and think about what would we do in the same situation. How would I have reacted had my partner up and left? Would it matter why he left? Would it be easier to deal with it if he left because of me?

I'm interested in these kinds of stories. The everyday stories about ordinary men and women. The stories where there isn't a villain because everyone is the protagonist of their own story. I'm interested in stories about relationships, about parenting, about dealing with your parents, about birth, and death, and life itself. You can call it gossip if you want. I call it storytelling.


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