Laughter in times of uncertainty: Negotiating gender and social distance in Bahraini women's humorous talk

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© 2015 by De Gruyter Mouton. This paper explores three interrelated aspects of young Bahraini women's laughter: the subjects and genres of their humor, the social relationships between the women involved with a particular focus on homo-social friendships, and their humor's potential as an instrument of resistance or social control. After discussing local ideals of femininity, the paper analyzes three distinct genres of humorous conversation: self-mockery, mutual teasing, and joking about absent third parties. The data show that the ambiguity of humour allowed for great freedom regarding women's play with gendered identities and the expression of critical views on Bahrain's gender hierarchy. Simultaneously, different kinds of humor were employed to negotiate closeness or distance in social relations. Among women friends, humor was often drastic, intimate, aggressive, and revelled in the taboo subjects of Bahraini society. Through humor, women questioned existing gender ideals and played with alternative identities. Their laughter, however, also served to maintain conventional ideas about "proper" women and confirmed existing social hierarchies. Thus, Bahraini women's humor captured the contradictions and ambiguities of their fragmented and hybrid social environment replete with the uncertainties accompanying rapid social change.

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Anke Reichenbach, Zayed University