Sexist humour not just ‘benign amusement,’ but a ‘releaser’ of prejudice

November 14th, 2007 - 8:26 am ICT by admin  
The study, conducted by Thomas E. Ford, a Western Carolina University psychology professor and three graduate students from the same university, indicated that jokes about blondes and women drivers were not just benign amusement, but acts as a ‘releaser’ of prejudice.

“Sexist humour is not simply benign amusement. It can affect men’s perceptions of their immediate social surroundings and allow them to feel comfortable with behavioural expressions of sexism without the fear of disapproval of their peers,” Ford said.

“Specifically, we propose that sexist humour acts as a ‘releaser’ of prejudice,” he added.

In the article, the researchers described two research projects designed to test the theory that “disparagement humour” had negative social consequences and played an important role in shaping social interaction.

“Our research demonstrates that exposure to sexist humour can create conditions that allow men - especially those who have antagonistic attitudes toward women - to express those attitudes in their behaviour,” Ford said.

“The acceptance of sexist humour leads men to believe that sexist behaviour falls within the bounds of social acceptability,” he added.

In one experiment, the team questioned male participants to imagine that they were members of a work group in an organization.

In that context, they either read sexist jokes, comparable non-humorous sexist statements, or neutral (non-sexist) jokes.

They were then asked to report how much money they would be willing to donate to help a women’s organization and it was found that men with a high level of sexism were less likely to donate to the women’s organization after reading sexist jokes.

“We found that men with a high level of sexism were less likely to donate to the women’s organization after reading sexist jokes, but not after reading either sexist statements or neutral jokes,” Ford said.

In the second experiment, researchers showed a selection of video clips of sexist or non-sexist comedy skits to a group of male participants.

In the sexist humour setting, four of the clips contained humour-depicting women in stereotypical or demeaning roles, while the fifth clip was neutral.

The men were then asked to participate in a project designed to determine how funding cuts should be allocated among select student organizations.

“We found that, upon exposure to sexist humour, men higher in sexism discriminated against women by allocating larger funding cuts to a women’s organization than they did to other organizations,” Ford said.

“We also found that, in the presence of sexist humour, participants believed the other participants would approve of the funding cuts to women’s organizations.

“We believe this shows that humorous disparagement creates the perception of a shared standard of tolerance of discrimination that may guide behaviour when people believe others feel the same way,” he added.

Ford said that the finding indicated that people should be aware of the prevalence of disparaging humour in popular culture, and that the guise of benign amusement or “it’s just a joke” gives it the potential to be a powerful and widespread force that can legitimise prejudice in our society.

The study will be published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. (ANI)

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