For years, Natalie Portman has graced our screens portraying badass heroines of all types. From Padmé Amidala in Star Wars to Evey in V for Vendetta, she’s done it all. Most recently, during Variety’s Power of Women event, she offered simple advice to counteract loaded (and sexist) language that exists in our communication norms: “gossip well.” She advised women to fight against rhetoric about women being “crazy” or “difficult”, especially when it comes from a man. Talk is cheap, so we’ve put together a cheat sheet for your journey to gossiping well.
Get to the root of the problem
Simply put, was it her? Or was it you?
The next time you walk into the breakroom and hear someone say, “She was being difficult,” ask that person: What was difficult? Her, or the situation? Requiring the person in question to justify using the word “difficult” will force them to think about their choice. If they stumble for a few moments and come up short, they’ll think twice before using the word again.
In life, we only see the world through our personal lens, which is jaded by every interaction we’ve had in our life. One woman’s “difficult” is the next woman’s “normal.” So, by breaking down the situation itself, you pressure that person to choose their words more carefully and enable them to become more empathetic.
Challenge the reaction
Is the woman in question the first or only person in the world to act this way? (Hint: the answer is no!)
In the midst of a mid-day rant, your coworker may not ask you if they’re being reasonable...but there’s a subtle way to check them! If someone complains about a woman acting “crazy”, ask questions like: “Well, what started it?”, “How would you have responded in that situation?”, “How often have you worked with her?”, and “Do you know her well?”
These kinds of questions will force your coworker to acknowledge that they don’t know everything about someone's behavior. Like all relationships, the ones we develop at work blossom at different paces and times.
Verify the knowledge of the source
Does this person even *know* who they’re referring to?
Calling someone “crazy” for yelling through a phone may be somewhat accurate in the moment, but you likely have no idea what transpired prior to or during the call that sparked that reaction.
If you find yourself in a space where a woman is being called “crazy,” don’t be afraid to ask how well the person talking knows the woman they’re referring to. If you haven’t yet, ask them how long they’ve worked with her and to justify their perspective.
Gossiping well doesn’t come naturally. It’s easy to feed into negativity, keep a juicy gossip session going, and bond over the latest “tea.” But in the long run, hurting others when you don’t know the full context of a situation is not worth it. It’s important to challenge presumptions and not assume the worst. So, if you happen to find yourself in a predicament where you absolutely must gossip, do it well!
Gwendolyn Smith is a recent college graduate and New York City transplant. She is passionate about increasing the representation of underrepresented populations in the media.