A couple of weeks ago, I was at a gathering of Bay Area journalists, sitting next to a woman whose work I know but whom I'd never met. We talked about the state of Bay Area journalism, the exciting new ventures and the struggles of the traditional media. Later during the program, one of the speakers made a joke. I chuckled. My new acquaintance laughed. Loud and for an extended period. Her laugh made me chuckle even more. I don't know what I expected but I didn't expect her to laugh like that. I gave her a sideways look with a new appreciation.
Then a few days later, I was watching one of the cable television shows. A woman was the token conservative on the panel. She dutifully gave the party line. Later, when the host of the show cracked a joke, she laughed heartily. Loud and for longer than you would have expected.
These women laughed long and hard. And in both cases I was drawn to them because of their uninhibited laughs. I appreciated the journalism colleague beyond our shared profession. I'd always liked her work but after that laugh, I thought maybe we could be friends. And the conservative woman's laugh made me re-consider her position. I didn't change my mind, but I thought, maybe it wasn't just the stock party line. Maybe at least she believed it.
Laughter is powerful and defining. And I think women's laughter makes a particular statement. While we are free of loads of restrictions we grew up with in the '50s and '60s, our public behavior is still scrutinized. We don't have the same license as men to be loud and wrong. On a certain level, we're still expected to be ladylike and reserved.
So those women's unrestrained, wide open laughs struck me as a sign of liberation (now that's a word that dates me.) Like they were saying, "I don't care what anybody thinks. This is funny and I'm reacting to it." Their laughter communicated a reassuring sense of confidence.