Gossip And Gender signifying group membership
According to Jane Pilkington, “The basic function of gossip can be seen as signifying group membership.” This theory is one that is up for much debate. When first reading that statement, it seemed kind of insignificant to me. But when you stop and think about how common gossip is in our everyday lives, the understanding of its function seems much more essential. Gossiping topics are of great variety, but do men gossip about the same things as women? What exactly is the purpose of gossiping in mixed gendered groups? And to challenge Jane Pilkington’s claim, can we really determine group membership of gossipers? These are just a few questions that I have considered and will attempt to answer. In her work, “‘Don’t Try to Make Out that I am Nice!’ The Different Strategies Women and Men Use When Gossiping,” Jane Pilkington explores the strategies of gossip amongst both men and women and comes up with the claim that the goal of gossip for both sexes is to maintain solidarity and membership. Her observations also include recognizing the strategies of gossipers in each sex. Her observations led her to believe that females use much more cooperative strategies, while men tended to use uncooperative strategies. Along with maintaining solidarity and membership, Pilkington noticed other functions of gossip as well. These include maintaining good social relationships, entertainment, maintaining traditions, maintaining morals and unity as well as to determine the outsiders from the insiders. The variety of groups she observed make her research much more credible since she didn’t use just one specific group. Jane’s research is very helpful in answering the questions I have previously posed. Her work has provided evidence for my own claim and has provided some back up to my own observations. Another source that is essential to my research is Language and Gender: A Reader by Jennifer Coates. This book is essential to my observations because it touches on several aspects of gender differences including gossip. Other topics in this book such as culture, environment and relationships will all help in reaching our conclusions on gossip, specifically chapter 16: Gossip Revisited. It is important to recognize that in Coates’s conclusion about the goal of gossiping amongst both sexes is similar to those of Jane Pilkington’s. She too recognizes that a goal of communicating is to maintain good social relationships. Coates looks very deeply into the process of gossiping/ conversing. She even goes as far as to break down the progression of talk. Although Coates does do some comparisons of female vs. male gossip, in chapter 17, she mainly studies the gossiping amongst all female groups. This still comes very much in handy when we try to answer the questions about the topicsand goals of gossip. Along with taking in to consideration the observations and data of the previous two authors, I also did some observing and data collecting myself. Since the questions I’d like to answer involve both sexes, I made sure to include both sexes equally in my observations. I did three main observations. These included observing conversations of a mixed sex group at a social gathering, another conversation of a few females that was more personal in content, as well as listening to a conversation involving three males. This way I was able to compare mixed sex conversations against private conversations of each sex. In observation number 1, with both sexes, I attended a social gathering and took note on topic conversations, methods of conversing and most importantly, tried to see if group membership could be established by observing the gossiping. I observed the interactions for about two hours. Observation number 2 was sitting in on a conversation of three females. I did not make my observations known so I did participate a bit, but mostly just observed and listened. This lasted for about an hour. And lastly, observation number 3 was listening to a conversation of three males. This one may seem less creditable since it was known to one of the speakers that I was listening because I was in the room, however, the intent of my listening was not known because I appeared to be concentrating on something else, so I believe that my presence had little impact on the conversation. The conversation lasted about 3. Here are the results of my observations in the format of lists of things I noticed in each observation.Observation number 1(mixed sex):• One important thing I noticed is that the males were gossiping just as much as the females• The males tended to speak more loudly; however, the females were much more animated and gave more excited feedback to fellow gossipers.• The females tended to bring up more personal topics such as personal experiences as well as topics such as dating and gossiping about other people.• The males tended to converse about more simplistic things such as food, events, sports.• Since I was the outsider, a main goal of mine was to see if I could establish group membership. This was surprisingly easy to do. The lead male was much louder then the other members of the house (later discovered to be two males, one female.) The female that held the social gathering was much more outgoing in conversations then other females and much more social. My own position as an outsider was made obvious since welcoming my involvement into conversation was rare. It was also easy to recognize other outsiders as they were much more quiet then the members of the house.• The males changed the conversation topics frequently.• Females talked much closer then the males. No matter what the sex, the female speaker was sure to be close to the listener. ‘• Males would converse sometimes across the room or from one couch to the other.Observation number 2(female group)• Topics were much more personal as well as emotional• It was easy to recognize the roles of the girls. Especially the motherly figure, the one offering advice and listening more intently then the others.• Overlapping occurred often. Not so much rude interruptions but simple agreement overlaps.• Although their “roles” could be recognized, it was hard to say if the group membership was obvious since input and cooperation were fairly even. I wouldn’t say that there was a particularly dominant girl in the group.• Topics lasted for a while before moving on to something else.Observation number 3 (male group)• Topics were changed frequently• The volumes of their voices were much louder then those of the females• Short debates were common after a statement was made• Topics were not of very personal nature• Interruption was common.• It was hard to determine group membership because the competition for dominance was so strong. They were all friends, but they all seemed equally dominant, so its hard to tell if there was a male “leader” figure amongst the friends.I found that a lot of my observations collaborate with both Pilkington and Coates’s research. For one, Coates observation that women change topics more gradually and less frequently then men’s proved to be true! This is also true with Pilkington’s observation that repetition in agreement amongst female groups is common. References: Pilkington, Jane. “‘Don’t Try to Make Out that I am Nice!’ The Different Strategies Women and Men Use When Gossiping” in Language and Gender, Jennifer Coates, ed. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1998. Coates, J. (ed) (1998) Language and Gender: a reader. Oxford: Blackwell.