At the Verso blog, Emily Janakiram explores how gossip—that feminized type of informal, covert communication—has been integral to recent displays of mass female solidarity, such as the #MeToo movement and union-organizing victories in the US. To help frame her argument, Janakiram invokes Silvia Federici’s influential essay “On the Meaning of Gossip,” which shows how “gossip” evolved historically from a neutral word describing female companionship to a negative one demonizing intra-female communication as such. Janakiram goes on to show has gossip has become a powerful feminist weapon against the workplace abuse and exploitation of women. Here’s an excerpt:
In 2017, the infamous “Shitty Media Men” list was made public, and women around the world publically shared stories of harassment and assault by supervisors, mentors, agents, bosses, managers, professors- men in positions of power. Lacking a visible, formal platform for rectifying these grievances, in a world where victims of sexual violence often face closer scrutiny than the perpetrators, women took to an underground whisper network to protect themselves. #MeToo sparked a transformative discussion about the dynamics of sexuality in a patriarchal society, where women are often dependent on men for their livelihood. Initially, the most visible examples were the cases of high-profile entertainment figures, like film producer Harvey Weinstein, comedian Louis C.K, talk show host Charlie Rose, and editor Lorin Stein, all of whom were accused of serial sexual abuse. The relatively privileged position of the complainants, along with the informal, unadjudicated ways in which they were made public, led to criticism that #MeToo is primarily about wealthy women airing their minor grievances, ruining men’s lives for no other reason than petty female capriciousness, attention-seeking or greed. Ironically, the movement has been compared to a witch-hunt, completely ignoring the fact that the actual witch hunts were used as violent social control to repress rebellious women.
But this new demonstration of solidarity among women, this open sharing of stories—this gossip—has had even more profound implications for labor. In a society where, in large part because of the developments outlined above, the working class has been made more precarious than ever, the charge against capitalist exploitation has been lead by working-class women of color fed up with low pay, atrocious working conditions, and the sexual exploitation that they are forced to endure for their survival. Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (the National Farmworkers Women’s Alliance) published an open letter in Time addressed to women in the entertainment industry, not only expressing solidarity but bringing to the fore the heinous conditions and harassment faced by some of our nation’s most vulnerable workers.
Image of Silvia Federici via autonomies.org.