After hearing the uproar this week about Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister condemning women from laughing loudly in public, my response was shared by thousands of women across the world. I laughed out loud and then I cringed. I could hardly believe the report from the BBC on National Public Radio.
Just one hour before, I was working with a female colleague from Istanbul on a Skype call. “Did you hear about what’s happening today?” She was on deadlines for her clients in the States and had not yet been informed. “Just make sure you go out and laugh in the streets.” When I told her why and she, too, burst into laughter. “That’s absurd,” she said.
Yes. Completely. Twitter went nuts with responses and soon thousands of Turkish women, and other women showing solidarity, posted selfies of themselves laughing. According to Reuters news agency, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, urged women not to laugh in public to “protect moral values.”
So what moral values is Mr. Arinc protecting by condemning women for laughing (loudly or otherwise) in public? Even the Turks most beloved Rumi would cringe, especially during this month of Ramadan. Apparently, Arinc meant to address both men and women and encourage them to adopt ‘ethical behaviors.’
It only got worse when Arinc, a co-founder of the very conservative AK party, responded to the outrage. “The woman should have chastity. … She should not laugh in front of everyone and not be inviting in her behavior. She should protect her honor,” he said, inadvertently infusing the context with more absurdity.
My confusion only deepens here. What does Arinc mean by ethical behaviors or inviting in behavior? I would love to hear ESPN’s Michelle Beadle’s response to this, especially the notion of ‘inviting in behavior.’ Is Arinc still one of those men who actually think a woman’s power is evil? That her choice to wear a short skirt in public, or express herself in whatever way she wants, is a reason to silence her?
One comment from a man like Arinc makes me feel like we’ve slipped back a few millennia, and have forgotten that no one has the right to threaten anyone’s birth rights. I’m always curious if the God that the Turkish deputy prime minister celebrates during Ramadan has an account on Facebook and Twitter. At the end of a women’s life, will this ‘God’ show her how many time she’s laughed in public, let alone flashed her pearly whites? I’m hoping when my daughter is old enough to understand what happened July 30, 2014, she will take a selfie in solidarity and remind herself that laughter is not only her right, but one of her powers.
It’s a bit sad and banal. Men like Arinc are clearly still living in an age of fear, terrified of women who express themselves freely and completely. I may not be a Muslim or celebrate Ramadan, but from what I know and have studied, it is a time of reflection, of cleansing one’s heart of impurities—malice, for one (take note Mr. Arinc) and all the ways that we deny ourselves and others love. It’s about finding ways to be charitable to those less fortunate, and on the 29th and last day, a way to express gratitude for all the ways God has provided for us, including the infinite ways of self-expression we are given at birth.
I’m not worried about the women in Turkey. I am grateful to see your strength and your gorgeous smiles. Keep Tweeting the selfies. The vibration within those self-portraits speaks volumes for how you refuse to be subjugated or diminished because of your God-given rights. Show them your teeth, my sisters, and keep laughing. Laugh so hard that it will bring tears of joy to your adversaries—the sad, small and fearful men, who still don’t get it.
When women show their smiles and laugh, the world lights up—and maybe that’s all Mr. Arinc needs?
I leave the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister with a thought to ponder while he sips his coffee and stews over the outpouring of criticism. After all, your most beloved poet, Rumi, would be turning over in his grave in Konya. Rumi was well aware of the power of laughter: “That which God said to the rose, and caused it to laugh in full blown beauty, He said to my heart, and made it a hundred times more beautiful.” It’s not too late, Mr. Arinc. You still have a chance to laugh, too, and bring the world more joy. I dare you to try.