I’m thinking about laughter and fear.
There’s a quote, with which you’re likely familiar, attributed to Margaret Atwood: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” That’s not the only gendered tie between laughter and violence. You know those men who crack misogynistic jokes and look eagerly to the women around to see if they will laugh? If they don’t laugh, the women are called uptight and unable to take a joke, and excluded from the crowd. If they do laugh, it’s often with a scared giggle, from which the joker can take satisfaction, having made a woman both cower and become complicit in misogyny.
The kind of laughter of which the men in Atwood’s quote are afraid, then, is the laughter they do not control. These kinds of men are not afraid of women laughing at them if it is on their own terms.
Humour and joy are powerful things, they can shore you up and bind people together. That’s why twisting laughter into a weapon, particularly when used against the laugher, is so dispiriting. That’s why women can’t be funny and can’t you take a joke proliferate, because taking that away from someone is taking away their power.
I’m learning to laugh long and loud and only in ways that bring joy.