Laughing goddesses are not uncommon in pagan myths, but Christianity (like Judaism and Islam) has a long history of condemning women’s laughter. Censures against certain types of laughter by both men and women are found in monotheistic religions and ethical philosophies alike, but the censure and shaming of women’s laughter has been and continues to be gender-bound. Women’s laughter is suspicious because it is female. Early Christian Fathers accused laughing women of immorality, and the belief that female laughter equals uncontrolled sexuality has persisted for centuries: in religious sermons, in secular conduct books, in medieval courtly literature, in medical journals, and in didactic literary works of all ages. My presentation aims to provide a partial overview of this history in order to understand why and how women were told to silence their laughter, and repress their humor, throughout so much of Western history.
Dianna Niebylski is Professor of Latin American Literature and Cultural Studies in the Department of Hispanic and Italian Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research areas are gendered humor in contemporary literature, poverty in Latin American literature and film, and music and social class in contemporary Latin American film. She is currently general editor of Revista de Estudios de Género y Sexualidades (A Journal of Gender and Sexuality). Recent monographs include Pobreza y precariedad en el imaginario latinoamericano actual (2017) and Latin American Icons: Fame across Borders (2015). She is the author of Humoring Resistance: Laughter and the Excessive Body in Latin American Women’s Fiction (2006).