Why sexist humour isn’t “just” a joke

Here we have a study with answers to the following questions:

  • Why do you have to be so sensitive? It was only a joke!
  • What do you mean, hostile environment?

 A research project led by a Western Carolina University psychology professor indicates that jokes about blondes and women drivers are not just harmless fun and games; instead, exposure to sexist humor can lead to toleration of hostile feelings and discrimination against women. “Sexist humor is not simply benign amusement. It can affect men’s perceptions of their immediate social surroundings and allow them to feel comfortable with behavioral expressions of sexism without the fear of disapproval of their peers,” said Thomas E. Ford, a new faculty member in the psychology department at WCU. “Specifically, we propose that sexist humor acts as a ‘releaser’ of prejudice.”

In their research article, Ford and the graduate student co-authors describe two research projects designed to test the theory that “disparagement humor” has negative social consequences and plays an important role in shaping social interaction.

“Our research demonstrates that exposure to sexist humor can create conditions that allow men – especially those who have antagonistic attitudes toward women – to express those attitudes in their behavior,” he said. “The acceptance of sexist humor leads men to believe that sexist behavior falls within the bounds of social acceptability.”

(from Science Daily)

The full research paper is:

More Than “Just a Joke”: The Prejudice-Releasing Function of Sexist Humor.  Thomas E. Ford, Western Carolina University; Christie F. Boxer.  University of Iowa; Jacob Armstrong & Jessica R. Edel Western Michigan University.  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2007.  Available online from: http://psp.sagepub.com/cgi/rapidpdf/0146167207310022v1 (but only the abstract is free)

I’d like to add a personal note to this one as well. I found this study through a post on Feminist Philosophers, discussing the execrable Facebook group “Reasons when its (sic) acceptable to punch a woman in the face”, and the fact that the creators of the group think it’s OK because they mean it as a joke. A commenter points out that “many abusers claim that they are just joking, teasing, playing, etc. So they hurt their victims by speech or more physical actions and then try to turn any objections raised by the victim against the victim.”

I would like to please say, “Hell yeah.” And if they’re really talented they can even abuse you in front of your otherwise super-progressive friends and family, and because they’re so fucking hilarious everybody laughs along. You can even show people bruises and they’ll be like, “oh, but he was only playing”. And heaven forbid you should show some sign of not liking it. Then you’re a buzzkill and ruining everybody else’s fun. Never mind that your abuser has manipulated those closest to you, to find the spectacle of your humiliation the funniest thing ever. So, so glad that person is out of my life.

About The Intransigent One

Sometimes I like to post pictures of my cat or my garden or my sewing or other stuff I made or did. Other times I like to rant.
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