Yesterday I posted a photograph of myself in my wedding dress laughing on Twitter with the hashtag #direnkahkaha (Turkish for "Resist Laughter"). Why? Out of solidarity with the women of Turkey who were told last month by their Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc: "Chastity is so important... She will not laugh in public."
I'm not the only one. Over the last month, thousands have taken to social media to campaign against Arinc's controversial speech by posting laughing selfies. Last week even actress Emma Watson joined in, fulfilling her new role as goodwill ambassador for the United Nations organisation UN Women.
I couldn't tell you how often I laugh in a single day, the simple reason being laughter is a physical reaction, a rhythmical stimulation to my surroundings that usually results in a diaphragm contraction and, if I'm feeling really crazy, some kind of audible reaction (in my case, an uncontrollable snort inherited from my mother). I'm getting a bit scientific because it's important to identify laughter with control, or lack thereof. It makes Arinc's instruction immediately ridiculous before you even begin to delve into theories of humour; something I'm sure the Deputy Prime Minister hasn't. Laughter is physical and reactive. Asking someone not to laugh is about as farcical as asking me not to sneeze in a room full of Himalayan cats. Don't believe me, believe the expert. Laughter researcher Robert Provine argues that: "Laughter is primitive, an unconscious vocalization."
But okay, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, let's assume we live in a highly improbable world where women can "do a Gwyneth Paltrow" and "consciously uncouple" with these diaphragm contractions. Time to look at what laughter actually means with or without this theory of 'control'. Firstly, it's individual expression. When I laugh I'm communicating either a positive state (be that joy or relief) or the very opposite (embarrassment, nervousness). When I'm laughing, I'm asserting myself and communicating emotional context. Secondly, laughing is a communicating tool that connects me as an individual to a wider group. It's a signal I use to connect to my wider community facilitating social acceptance. When I laugh at my boss' joke at our office party, I don't actually think she's the next Tina Fey. Without it, not only does my boss not like me anymore, but more worryingly than that, I'm ostracised.
Perhaps that's one anecdotal example Bulent Arinc thinks won't matter to the women of Turkey. The employment status for women is an ongoing unbalance. According to recent statistics found at Centre for Turkish Studies, 'female employment has been "falling across Turkey in the last decade. The total female employment rate has dropped from 35 to almost 25 percent in the last 10 years, which is lower than any European country."' 2013's Gender Gap Index certainly backs up this evaluation ranking Turkey 120th out of 136 countries.
That's the thing about laughter: ban it and it's not just a laughing matter. The suggestion of outlawing laughter in Turkey isn't just a farcical outburst, despite our laughing selfies in opposition. It may sound ridiculous, but the undercurrents are dangerous. When you suggest taking away laughter, voluntary or involuntary, you suggest taking away individual freedom. It's as calculated as Saudi Arabia's ban on women drivers, and even if it isn't lawfully enforced like a driving ban, it demonstrates a terrifying will to demobilise women. This is just one outward symbol of the daily struggle women are facing and battling in Turkey.
What's more the key word isn't laughter its Bulent Arinc's semantic pairing: chastity. Just days after his first controversial comments, Arinc added fuel to the fire by declaring:
"There are some artists who now laugh artificially and send me their photos. Real laughs relieve a person, but these are artificial ones. Those who go for a vacation with their lovers while leaving their husbands behind and can't wait to climb poles when they see one."
What Arinc is subtly suggesting is that not only are the women who laugh at his misogyny artificially laughing; they're marital cheaters and pole dancers. In addition to voiding their protest of meaning, he's enforcing his favourite keyword: chastity. It's a dangerous game of join-the-dots. According to a recent article in The Guardian reported violence against women in Turkey has risen 14-fold since 2002. Only last Thursday a Turkish court ruled that a woman who was attacked and wounded with a knife by her ex-husband had "provoked" him by wearing leggings, therefore providing "mitigating circumstances."
So you see, when Turkey's Deputy in command says laughing is unchaste, he's raising the gender equality stakes ever higher and out-of-reach and it's women who are set to lose out. Let's make sure it's women who have the last laugh.
You can voice your solidarity with the women of Turkey by posting a laughing selfie on Twitter with the hashtag #direnkahkaha.