“In early modern England the word ​‘gossip’ referred to companions in childbirth not limited to the midwife. It also became a term for women friends, with no necessary derogatory connotations,” writes Silvia Federici in her book Witches, Witch–Hunting, and Women.

A trait societally attributed as inherently female, how did “gossip” become a word describing an evil trait? 

Federici notes that, throughout the years, as suspicions of witchcraft arose, so did suspicions of women's true intentions when gathering to talk with their friends. She writes that “In 1547, ​​‘a proclamation was issued forbidding women to meet together to babble and talk’ and ordering husbands to ​‘keep their wives in their houses.’” From then on, gossip assumed its negative connotation. 

These witch trials strained female friendships. Take, for example, The Crucible by Arthur Miller, where universal claims that a girl is a witch arise, doubled down as a result of herd mentality. Despite being a fictional work, The Crucible illustrates the dangers of such thought processes and how fragile all relationships, although especially all–female ones, really were. 

Gossip emerged as a gendered term that continues to be gendered. We don’t refer to men as having “gossip sessions,” and when we picture a group of people gossiping, chances are, the group is made up of only women. In fact, men participating in gossip with other women is seen as out of the ordinary. One Twitter user tweeted, “My boyfriend already knew the hailey selena gossip, a cheater.” When a piece of gossip extends to men, we assume that he has learned about it from a woman, thus the (joking) comment that he is “a cheater.” 

In reality, men “gossip” just as much as women do— it’s just not labeled as such. It’s instead referred to as “locker room talk” or “banter” because it is not vilified the same way gossip is. 

As gossip became a derogatory term referring to women blabbering, the generalization that women merely talking is evil became widespread. Even today, we use gossip to refer to something inherently negative that we ought to avoid.

But gossip has its benefits. In TIME magazine, Sophia Gottfried explains that gossiping can both calm the body and “promote cooperation by spreading important information.” It also ensures that people are not being treated unfairly, allowing them to discuss any harmful actions and act upon them. Plus, gossip forms connections—we can learn what traits the other person values.

This spread of important information can occur on a larger scale as well. Salary Transparent Street, founded by Hannah Williams, interviews random people and asks their occupation, salary, and background. Williams believed that pay transparency is crucial to helping job seekers and employees advocate for themselves. The social media account discusses a topic that has been, and continues to be, taboo. Williams effectively uses the act of talking about other people and their pay—and thus gossip—to better equip people with the knowledge needed to ensure that they are being fairly compensated for their labor. 

So, then, to what extent is gossip good? The line is now blurry. 

Matthew Feinberg, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the University of Toronto quoted in Gottfried’s article, believes that “some types of gossip that should be avoided, such as gossip that is purely harmful and serves no greater purpose—like mean comments about someone’s looks.” 

Instagram user @deuxmoi is a celebrity gossip page, where people submit blind items via Instagram DM, and the user reposts the items on their story. The 24–hour lifetime of the story tends to make the content feel somewhat less concrete. Fletcher Peters for Daily Beast believes that although Deuxmoi’s blind items do not necessarily deem the user malicious, “the way the account normalizes airing the most private, specific details about celebrities’ private lives, from relationships to whereabouts, veers on villainy.” 

Peters believes that “where celebs dine, where they live, their heartbreak and secret relationships” is not information that the general public needs to know. Peters cites Rapper PnB’s death in 2022, where cops stated that an Instagram post with the rapper’s location may have led to his killers finding him. Words and knowledge can have dire consequences.

Ultimately, the problem isn’t gossip itself. It’s learning to reflect on what we are saying. Gossip about facts and general happenings can, in fact, be beneficial—just use your own discretion, as in any avenue of life.