Men don’t gossip. Talking behind someone’s back is just not sporting. We debrief one another, if there’s important operational information that might be mission critical, i.e., “Dan has more beer at his place” or “That woman you’re drooling over is dating Bill.” Instead of whispering in the shadows, men have their own social ritual called “ball breaking,” where we talk behind each other’s backs to each other’s faces. This is a way of resolving disputes and maintaining the social order.
Which is gossip’s function, only “ball breaking,” while steeped in macho posturing, seems less cruel, at least at its core. Gossip is truth a day or two beyond its expiration date, right before it turns gray and into a lie. Gossip makes everyone feel prettier, while also making everyone feel uglier. It’s a social game with very high stakes that female culture has developed to enforce order.
That’s why men are usually flummoxed by the female appetite for celebrity gossip – which, in its own shallow way, is a collective debate over right and wrong and, to a lesser degree, the importance of certain values. The masses don’t have an actual emotional interest in Sandra Bullock. But celebrity gossip is a mirror that reflects certain nasty truths – if celebrities are so special, why do they act like trashy regular folk? To what extent should a regular person forgive infidelity? My man better not be running around on me! What would I do if he is?
Since I’ve quit smoking, I’ve gained weight. I’ve never turned to any of my guy friends and said, “Do I look fat in these jeans?” hoping they’ll say, “Nooo! You look great!” — even though I’d know that once I left the room they’d giggle and say, “DeVore is one doughnut away from becoming a one man Dunkin’ Donuts franchise.” No. This scenario would never occur. In fact, I was recently hanging out with some friends, doing what we do, getting drunk and watching old people’s faces drop in disappointment on “Antique Road Show.” We had ordered a pizza and I reached for the last slice. One of my pals said, “You know that’s not diet pizza, chubs.” Pause. Laughter. Point taken. Then my retort: “At least I can lose the weight; you can’t re-grow that hair.” More laughter. Pizza eaten.
Sure, it can be infantile. And it can come off as vicious mocking, but the shame it inspires is cooled with laughter. I’ve broken the balls of friends because they’ve bitched about perfectly wonderful girlfriends. Or taken them to task for being pushovers at work. I remember feeling nervous about meeting my girlfriend’s parents for the first time, and I expressed that insecurity publicly during a moment of vulnerability. The response: “They probably don’t want to meet you anyway.”
I’ve never met a woman who can “break balls.” Women just come off as mean. So I will be teaching classes at a community college near you very soon — “Social Humiliation 101” with Professor DeVore.
I recently counseled a female friend of mine who told me that a pair of her male friends were gossiping about her love life. I chuckled. Because men don’t gossip. They don’t cluck, snicker, or wag their fingers. She was wrong. I hated telling her this. Apparently, one of them accused her of hooking up with a “manwhore.” My laughter was out loud. There is no such word as a “manwhore.” First of all, a “whore” is someone to whom sex is a financial transaction – it’s not about physical pleasure. Second, all men are “manwhores.” We like sex. Women like sex. It was designed to be fun; it’s an evolutionary incentive. Then, one day, we have the option to become exclusive with someone, because when you’re old and wrinkly, it’s nice to have someone who knows how you like your coffee. “Manwhore.” Ha! What a ridiculous concept. No man would ever accuse another man of that, much less gossip about it, much less admit that he gossiped.
I felt terrible telling her that she was hallucinating. Dudes just don’t spread rumors. We don’t care about scuttlebutt. Maybe in some alternate reality where the feminist movement was a violent revolution, the women won, and men were castrated. Castrated and forced to dress like Queen Victoria and forced to work in giant cupcake sweatshops. In that dystopian scenario, men would have no choice but to giggle and sneer and spread petty little rumors. But right now? In this reality? No way. Impossible.
Or at least, that’s what I hear.
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