There are all kinds. From a twitch of the lip to a Cheshire-cat-like grin to a wild guffaw. Twitter is full of laughing women — mostly Turkish, mostly in a group but invariably in public view — and they have posted images of themselves and other women in their ruddiest disposition for the displeasure of Bulent Arinc, the deputy prime minister of Turkey. These now have Mr Arinc frothing at the mouth, trying to establish how staged such laughter is. He need not have bothered since staged or not, laughter from women in public could not have evaded his disapproval as being unchaste. While discussing chastity as an ornament for women during one of his recent speeches, Mr Arinc sermonized that women should not be seen laughing in public or baring their hearts on mobile phones. For him, these are feminine excesses that can be tolerated only in the private space. It is easy to dismiss Mr Arinc’s view as symptomatic of present-day Turkey, which is seen, at least politically, to be turning towards the Right. For many, it would also be crucial evidence of the Islamist aspirations of the Justice and Development Party or AKP that is believed to be turning the progressive Kemalist values, so long held dear by a secular Turkey, on their head. The party has tried to limit abortion rights, decree that women should have three children, implement gender-segregation in schools and university dorms, and legislate on kissing in public and on working women. Incidentally, rogue Islamist groups such as the Boko Haram and the Taliban also profess limits to what women can do, although their prescriptions for non-compliance may be harsher than what Mr Arinc has in mind.
It would thus be convenient to club Mr Arinc’s views on gender parity with those of the Taliban, box them together into the Islamist cubbyhole and then sigh in relief at the difference between so-called progressive and regressive societies. But that is not the case, and the women laughing on Twitter have guessed it right. From Republican America’s view on abortion to recent debates in India on how the skirt’s length may decide a girl’s chances of getting raped, they have heard it all. Hence the laughter — at men’s gullibility in thinking that they can determine what is good for women, and that such ‘goodness’ of women alone decides whether a society is good or bad.