We have likely all heard people say that men typically express their aggression physically while women express their aggression indirectly using gossip. Gossip, or talking about people without their knowledge, is something that surrounds us every day. It starts in the hallways of middle school, follows us through college, and is present in our workplaces; it is nearly impossible to escape. That said, gossip isn’t always bad, as researchers often talk about “positive gossip.” Positive gossip helps individuals understand peer groups, learn who to trust, and build social connections by sharing personal information. It can sometimes, however, become a tool for aggression.
But do women gossip more often than men? To answer that question, we’ll turn first to a 2014 study conducted by Dr. Francis McAndrew, who investigated the distinct way women express aggression. McAndrew found that gossip was used in an effort to eliminate, damper, or constrict the social network of others. McAndrew also discovered that women were more likely to gossip about other women rather than men and he argued this was because women are seen as more direct competition.
Another study that looked for a concrete difference in aggression between males and females was a 2006 study by Dr. Nicole Hess and Dr. Edward Hagen exposed men and women to the same aggression-evoking stimulus. Specifically, participants were told that their group members had reported that they had not done any of the required work on a group project. Hess and Hagen found that women, in response to this provocation, had a stronger desire than men to aggress indirectly through gossip. One other interesting aspect of this study is that they controlled for social norms and approval and still concluded, “Young adult women reported a significantly stronger desire than men to retaliate with gossip against a reputational attack, even after controlling for social norms and approval” (p. 242).
Anger and aggression can be expressed in many different ways. The studies presented here don’t suggest that women are more angry, temperamental, or aggressive than men. However, they do seem to confirm the idea that compared to men, women use gossip more frequently as a form of aggression.
By Gretchen Klefstad
Gretchen is a a sophomore majoring in Psychology and minoring in Public Administration. She plans on graduating in May 2017 and continuing on to graduate school.