JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

The men who feel threatened by women's laughter

Date

Andee Jones

The call for women in Turkey to stop laughing in public has historic biblical resonances.

Ha! So the Turkish deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc thinks that, in order to "protect moral values", women ought not to laugh in public. "The woman should have chastity," he reportedly said, "she should not laugh in front of everyone." What does laughter have to do with morals? And how come men can publicly guffaw as much as they like? Does it sound completely foreign to us Australians, who are used to hearing that feminists, not pollies, are the laughter police? How weird are these ideas about what women ought and ought not to do? Cover their heads in public, or their entire bodies, in voluminous, shapeless garments? Avert their eyes around men and remain silent?

The early Christians, of course, thought similarly. Saint Paul famously said "I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man; she must be silent." And the 16th-century Christian Juan Luis Vives taught that women’s responsibility is to accept their subordination just as the blind and the invalided accept their disadvantage. Women must cover their heads and remain silent. Women own neither their bodies nor their chastity; these are male possessions. If women defile their chastity, they defile men’s honour. As shame alone protects chastity, women must be made to feel ashamed of their bodies and their sexuality.

Millions of people across the globe, including some in Australia’s diasporic communities, believe that women who flout chastity rules must be killed because they are endangering the purity of God’s patriline. 

As part of the 60 per cent of the world’s population that calls itself Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, most Australians enjoy - or endure - a cultural history that stretches back to the biblical Abraham. Even non-believers raised in these cultures cannot escape the fact that they have been shaped by Abrahamic values and ideas. One particular notion, sometimes called "the seed and the soil", speaks to rules about honour and chastity. Seed-and-soil says the father is the sole generating parent; the mother is not an equal partner in procreation but rather acts as nurturing medium, like soil, for the man’s seed-child. In other words, men give life; women merely give birth.

It is easy to forget that not until the 20th century was the mother’s equal genetic contribution to the child understood, and even then only among the educated classes. Many people across the Middle East and elsewhere still believe in the idea of male monogenesis. The ancient Hebrews, as we know, were very taken by the notion. According to Genesis, God creates the first man, Adam, and entrusts him with the divine life-spark, which is carried in the male seed down the patriline from father to son in perpetuity. In this way, God holds Adam (and his male descendants) responsible for the establishment, maintenance, and purity of the patriline of God’s chosen people. This is a big responsibility. What about Eve? Eve, as you probably know, messes it all up. After being created from one of Adam’s ribs - thus forever bent - Eve causes humankind’s Fall from grace. All the sorrows and suffering of humankind since creation are her fault. How does she manage this? By falling for Satan’s seductions. In the 1980s, Turkish Muslim villagers interviewed about why women must be covered said, "Women are as easily seduced as Eve was by Satan."

Women’s chastity boils down to the protection of God’s seed. As the Turkish villagers explained, "If you plant wheat, you get wheat. If you plant barley, you get barley. It is the seed that determines the kind of plant, while the field nourishes it. The man gives the seed, and the woman is like the field." Just as the man fences his fields, he must enclose and cover the female soil in order to ensure the seed-child is his own.

And one of the most disturbing things about women is that, just as plant seed can sprout long after being sown, so "foreign seed" from a previous relationship may "sprout" into a pregnancy at any time. Such foreign seed contaminates the field permanently; the woman is permanently defiled. The only protection against such contamination is the woman’s premarital virginity and absolute marital fidelity.

"But surely," you might be protesting, "surely today’s Aussies have no truck with such ideas and why should it matter what other cultures think?" I’m arguing that it does matter. Millions of people across the globe, including some in Australia’s diasporic communities, believe that women who flout chastity rules must be killed because they are endangering the purity of God’s patriline.

And is the idea so completely foreign? In 1950s Australia, for example, I grew up accepting that women were inferior to men. No one ever said it. Like human blotting paper, I simply soaked up my culture. I knew, with absolute and unconscious certainty, that any woman who hadn’t made the house spotless, washed and ironed every drawer-escapee, cooked a three-course breakfast and packed lunches for her family, prepared the evening’s roast and baked a cake and, finally, donned the mandatory ‘lippy’, hat, and gloves for appearing in public, even on her own front porch ... yes, any woman who hadn’t done all this and more by 8am ... was a slut. Some women rose at four simply to forestall attracting that scarlet letter.

The prostitute laughs. The unchaste woman laughs. Why does it matter? Does it concern certain men in powerful positions that God’s patriline is not the only thing they are protecting, but also their own dignity? Perhaps they are not amused by the idea of women laughing at their outmoded and, dare one say, funny ideas.

Andee Jones is psychologist, author and retired academic. Her latest book is The Gender Vendors: Sex and Lies from Abraham to Freud. 

32 comments so far

  • Well, it's simple, when women are "happy", they're at risk of rebelling against oppression.

    So, they shouldn't laugh, because otherwise ... who knows... all hell could break loose.

    They might all just gather together and laugh these men out of power, they might laugh at the hideous clothes they're forced to wear, or laugh at the abject poverty and abuse imposed onto them...

    They might just laugh their way to freedom.

    Commenter
    sarajane
    Location
    melbourne
    Date and time
    August 06, 2014, 7:20AM
    • Sadly even Western Christians today are silencing women. Feted American Evangelical, Mark Driscoll, recently responded to a female pastor's question “I speak harshly because I speak to men. A woman might not understand that. I also do not answer to women. So your questions will be ignored. I would however, recommend to you a few versed to memorize: I Timothy 2:11-15 I Corinthians 14:33-35.To learn them, ask your father or husband. If you have neither, ask your pastor. If she is a female, find another church. If you are the pastor, quit your job and repent.” The Bible verses he quotes are used by many conservative Evangelical churches, including the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, to ban women from speaking in front of mixed congregations or to become pastors, regardless of their level of theological education.

      Commenter
      Jeanne
      Date and time
      August 06, 2014, 7:22AM
      • Thanks Andee. Enjoyed reading this informative article, and your book should be required reading in schools, secular and religious, especially the latter.

        Commenter
        Pluto
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        August 06, 2014, 8:03AM
        • Well said Pluto.....completely agree - this should be compulsory reading.
          Thank you for this long overdue expose of religion Andee.
          Alia

          Commenter
          Alia
          Date and time
          August 06, 2014, 9:08AM
        • Agree. There is much from our cultural and social history that we need to remember and learn from. We can look at the policy in Turkey and perceive it as medieval, but there are attitudes and ideas within our own society that reveal similar historical sources.

          Commenter
          LJanes
          Date and time
          August 06, 2014, 10:07AM
      • It sadly remains a common central belief of the Judeo-Christo-Islamic faiths that women are inherently evil. Witness for example the rationale behind why much of (particularly Catholic) Christian churches still resist having female pastors. I wish I could say that this view point is as irrelevant as it is ignorant, but I firmly believe that its residues are the basis for the vast bulk of sexual discrimination in our society even today. Underpinning the many expected behaviours for women is for them to be chaste, 'pure' and above all else 'motherly'. Despite all of the years of feminism and overt shifts in attitude towards females, the neutral expectation for a woman is that she get married and have children, that she behave correctly and that she spurn any urges to seduce and corrupt impressionable young men. Witness the derision and criticism of our former Prime Minister's choice to be 'deliberately barren'. This viewpoint was pushed not just be some lunatic fringe, but by one of the countries two major political parties, a significant proportion of its base, and large swaths of the Australia media. This viewpoint is not uncommon. I'd be willing to bet there are few women in Australia older than 30 (25 even) and childless that aren't subjected to a constant stream of questions about when they're having children and, if they aren't married, when they'll be doing that. I was 32 when I had my first child. No one ever asked me when I was going to have kids. The only queries I ever got about marriage was about when I was going to 'make an honest woman out of my girlfriend'. Says a lot doesn't it.

        Commenter
        Aaron
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        August 06, 2014, 9:44AM
        • I'm looking forward very much to reading your book.

          Commenter
          Red Pony
          Date and time
          August 06, 2014, 9:52AM
          • Thank you, Andee Jones, for your erudite response to the call to discourage Turkish women laughing in public: fascinating, informative, and accessible.

            And thank you for illustrating this is a belief shared by the big three Abramhamic religions, and not just an opportunity for decrying so-called backwards thinking of Islamic cultures.

            The "seed and soil" analogy was new to me. Another three-word slogan designed to oppress. Pithily perfect propaganda.

            And, finally, thank you for writing this piece, for without it your intriguingly titled book would have not found this audience.

            Commenter
            ahopp
            Date and time
            August 06, 2014, 9:56AM
            • My friend has asked me, over the breakfast table: do these men expect their women to be silent in bed. (I think she is referring to sexual intercourse). Obviously we're not talking about laughter here. Any other sounds permitted?

              Commenter
              Truth lover
              Location
              Canberra
              Date and time
              August 06, 2014, 10:14AM
              • And Turkey is supposed to be one of the more 'enlightened' of Islamic countries?? Then again, these Evangelicals in the good ol' US of A are really no different. All religion just boils down to one thing. Ultimate ignorance.

                Jusr reminds me that religion's dogma is much like John Kennedy's famous 3 quater time speech at the 1975 Grand Final. 'Don't think. Just do.'

                Commenter
                Mozza
                Location
                Highton (the multicultural heart of Corrangamite)
                Date and time
                August 06, 2014, 10:41AM

                More comments

                Make a comment

                You are logged in as [Logout]

                All information entered below may be published.

                Error: Please enter your screen name.

                Error: Your Screen Name must be less than 255 characters.

                Error: Your Location must be less than 255 characters.

                Error: Please enter your comment.

                Error: Your Message must be less than 300 words.

                Post to

                You need to have read and accepted the Conditions of Use.

                Thank you

                Your comment has been submitted for approval.

                Comments are moderated and are generally published if they are on-topic and not abusive.

                Featured advertisers