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     Volume 6 Issue 24 | June 22, 2007 |

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The [Other] National Sport

Srabonti Narmeen Ali

For as long as I can remember men have always accused women of being insufferable gossips. According to them, our cattiness, jealousy and backbiting are like incurable diseases that endanger anyone that happens to be in our paths. At the risk of sounding like a traitor to my gender I have to say that, sometimes, they are right. The damage that women can inflict on others is appalling considering the amount of obstacles that the female sex must overcome. One would think that under the threat of the common enemy -- the patriarchal society in which we live in -- women would unite and support each other. Instead time and time again, I see women victimising each other, hurting each other, causing each other more and more problems. In fact, in many cases, women are women's worst enemies.

Shockingly enough, however, I have discovered that women are not the only culprits -- men too, partake in this so-called national sport of kutnami. And what is more disturbing is that, more often than not, they are more dangerous than women.

I have always thought, because of the men that I was surrounded by my whole life, that men are, by nature, less complicated -- and that too, because their lives were simpler than ours. I guess another reason is that I have always found men to be more obtuse than women. However, in the last few years I have met men who would give the catty women of Dhaka society a run for their money. One can say the same thing about these men that they say about catty women -- that their spitefulness stems from insecurity. I think it runs deeper than that. There is a certain malicious edge to a man back-biting that is not found as much with women. Sure, gossipy women can be dangerous, but at the same time, most women just gossip for the sake of gossiping and out of habit, especially because women are generally more expressive about their feelings than men -- hence when something annoys them or upsets them, they talk about it. Men, on the other hand, are not built to be as in tune with their emotions, and hence, their backbiting is not necessarily a venting process, but more like something with a purpose -- something that is meant to have consequences.

Both genders tend to get catty when there is an invasion in their territories, either in the office, at home or even in social settings. Men feel threatened when their macho man image is being compromised and undermined. For example, many men have issues with a woman in his work force when she is either senior to him or getting more attention than him. This often results in him attacking the woman's character and her reputation. Women, on the other hand, usually don't look for concrete reasons to gossip. Anything can set them off and without any direct provocation whatsoever: a revealing outfit, a scandal, a messed-up family, too much attention being given to the person concerned, too much money, too little money, their relation to someone who has been in the news, their lifestyle and habits, you name it and at least one woman somewhere in the crowd will find a reason to start a conversation about it.

The ironic thing is that half of the women who gossip live in glass houses and don't realise that someone somewhere else is probably saying nasty things about them too. It's a vicious cycle that really does make your head spin. As for the so-called macho men -- well, let's just say that their seemingly effeminate tendency to backbite does their manliness no justice whatsoever.

It just goes to show what kind of society we live in -- where no one can tolerate other people's success or happiness, where people's misfortunes are mercilessly analysed and dissected, where children are judged because of their parent's actions and vice versa, where a person's appearance can make or break their moral stance, where one person's financial situation is the topic for another person's dinner conversation and where stirring trouble and backbiting about someone else not only makes you dangerous, but powerful. What shocks me most is that none of us are innocent in this. In fact this tendency to backbite and gossip has become so ingrained in us that we usually do not even realise that we are doing it because it is now a part of normal conversation and quite often, people have nothing else to discuss. A boring conversation is one without gossip. Perhaps if the people in our society spent more time scrutinising themselves rather than focusing on the mishaps and misdeeds of others, then maybe our society as a whole would have a stronger concept of community, where the strong would support the weak rather than revel in other people's weaknesses.

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