Some Gossip on gossip and what coffee has to do with it.

Tittle Tattle; or The Several Branches of Gossipping, British Museum Collection

In the 12th century, “Godsipp” (God and sib (akin), godmother or godfather) was a word used for both men and women in fables and society. The church also recognized this word. It was used to name companions present at childbirth, e.g. the midwife. Sometimes, it was used to mention close friends. It represented the strong ties between women, which surpassed their relationship with their husbands. Was it witchery that strong and independent women preferred their gossip over their husbands? Well, that is something that hasn’t changed since the middle ages. 

Tittle Tattle; or The Several Branches of Gossipping, British Museum Collection

“Godsipp” began its journey with nothing but good and emotionally strong connotations. Women bloomed and blossomed among each other and were autonomous in their existence. Men were never a part of this party women were throwing. By the 16th century, as things began to change, the traditional meaning lingered on. In 1602, the word was still used to signify female friendships. This can be seen in Samuel Rowlands’s Tis Merrie When Gossips Meete, a satirical piece describing three London women spending hours in a tavern talking about men and marriages. It implied that ‘women could create their social networks and their own social space’ and stand up to male authority (Federici, 2019).

Solidarity and friendship amongst women were demeaned and female-exclusive parties were banned; women who met in public were identified as “witches” and women’s first duty was now to be obedient and quiet. The talk about husbands at taverns was too hurtful for the sensitive male ego. The public, the church and the law punished women who engaged in “idle talk”. Centuries past, the sensitive male ego remains and continues to attack women from many angles which now include cyberbullying, mobbing at the workspace and other violent iterations. 

Wives who were seen as “scolds” and “witches” were forced under sadistic torture with a “scold bridle”. Looking back, I can’t help but see these sadistic, desperate acts as a meek scream of how men couldn’t get even close to satisfying women physically or mentally. If they spent some time working on female anatomy rather than these horrifying torture methods, we would be living in a different world today… 

Here is an excerpt from a song which portrays women in a tavern. These words on ale and wine are an ancient remedy for us to consider today when we are out drinking with our “gossips”:

“In a 1630s song, Fowre wittie gossips disposed to be merry, a group of married women in a tavern debate the merits of ale and wine in relation to cost and value. They conclude, ‘If our opinions do not faile: / a quart twelve cups [of wine] containeth, / Its cheaper then a dozen of ale, / where froth and snuffes remaineth’. (‘Snuffes’ was the ‘backwash’ left when, as was common, multiple people drank from a single vessel.) The wives also point out that the after-effects of drinking sack (a Spanish white wine) are much less injurious than those of drinking too much ale. In consequence, they will not suffer hangovers from drinking all night, as all their husbands are” (McShane, 2016). 

It was in this context that “gossip” turned from a word of friendship and affection into a word of denigration and ridicule (Federici, 2019).

So what does coffee have to do with it

Fortune telling over coffee stretches back to the 16th century, when the beans made it to the Middle East and the Ottoman Empire. In the Ottoman Empire, concubines in the Harem were banned from talking and “gossiping”. They had a great influence on sultans (although not officially recognized by men themselves), and therefore affected the political decisions and affairs of the Empire. Out of solidarity, women began to perform fortune-telling over the remains of coffee inside and outside coffee cups. This way, they could talk about their fears and inner

worlds freely. I can’t help but see the similarity with the oppression women went through in relation to “gossip”. The striking difference is that fortune telling over coffee didn’t change its connotation with time. Today, it is also an act of solidarity or a chance to “gossip”, one might say. 

“In this painting, an Ottoman woman drinking coffee and her maid serving her is depicted. It is known that the painting is from the first half of the 18th century. The work of Jean-Baptiste Vanmour, ‘Turkish Girl Drinking Coffee on the Sedir’ was based on this Ottoman woman, who is the main figure of the painting. The maid, who is positioned on the right side of the painting and serves on her knees, is noticed as the other interesting side of the painting. The large and ostentatious headdress on the head of the Ottoman woman stands out as another element that focuses attention on the work. It is also known that the headdress in question was inspired by the picture of a serpentine woman in the book of the Dutch painter Cornelis de Bruyn, who visited Turkey in the 17th century.”

Whether with gossip or chatting over coffee, women have always found a way to express themselves regardless of oppression. These rituals were performed by women as an act of sisterhood and out of respect for both their inner worlds and each other. It is undeniable that gossip still brings people together and that centuries of oppression failed to change that. Through the centuries, as the word began to be weaponized against women and became a tool to turn against each other, I can’t help but wonder how unfair pop culture has been to women. In any magazine or TV series, anyone can spot a gossip scene

with negative consequences or aim. A woman is sassy, “bitchy” or evil when she gossips, but why do we still let our acts be defined by the misogynistic portrayal of men?

Nowadays, the notions of gossip or fortune telling may be used as something you wouldn’t want to be a part of because it could harm someone. Let’s oppose the negative connotation assigned by men to these words and use them as a joyful gathering. Reclaiming gossip and fortune telling as an intimate support system, a strong web, is the least we can do to honour the women who met at taverns and shared a part of their souls with each other.

How to make the perfect Turkish coffee and some guides for fortune-telling:

  1. Put two teaspoons of coffee in “cezve”, the traditional pot. 
  2. Add one cup of cold water to the pot. Mix once with the spoon. The ratio is one cup, and two teaspoons of coffee. 
  3. Begin cooking at a low temperature until the top coat gets darker. 
  4. Cook at a high temperature until the point where the coffee begins rising. 
  5. Take the pot off the oven right before it overflows. 
  6. Take the foamy part with a teaspoon and put it in the cup before pouring the rest. This will protect the foam. The foam is important for quality check.