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Nov 21 2009

Funny sexism: harms outweigh benefits

The No Shit! Department at Spinster HQ brings you breaking news from 2007: Study shows that sexist jokes induce actual sexism!

Two long years ago psychology researcher Thomas E Ford et al authored a paper revealing that when dudes sit around guffawing at dumb blonde jokes, they are more likely to cut funding to women’s organizations than are dudes who are forced to listen to non-jokey statements that depict women neutrally.

The research indicates that people should be aware of the prevalence of disparaging humor 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 legitimize prejudice in our society.”

You know what else Ford found? Dudes who bust a gut over sexist jokes create cultures of misogyny with other dudes who bust a gut over sexist jokes.

We believe this shows that humorous disparagement creates the perception of a shared standard of tolerance of discrimination that may guide behavior when people believe others feel the same way.

The paper was published way back in 2008. Yet, astoundingly, despite these scientific findings, joke-based sexism — to say nothing of bigotry, violence, and hatred — remain! No government task force has stepped up to recommend that sexist jokes, which clearly cause women to experience anxiety, degradation, and unnecessary funding cuts, be phased out of pop culture.

Where’s that task force?

[Thanks, Susan]

43 comments

  1. humanbein

    It’s nice when scientists deign to agree with common sense and obvious truth. An easy way to test the harmfulness of sexist jokes has always been to substitute african-american for woman, blonde, whatever the jokes calls women, and see how it flies in front of a group of african americans of either sex.

    It’s the response needed to “It’s only a joke” when dudes whip out that evergreen defense. What they really object to, under the cant and defensiveness, is the dick-wilting they experience whenever some woman calls them on their shit.

  2. polly styrene

    “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,”

    Or in other words, once someone has told a sexist joke, the other dudes realise that they can get away with doing it too? What were the odds eh?

    Science is great. For stating the bleeding obvious.

  3. Butters

    I’m not fan of sexist jokes, but such a task force would be overly intrusive, don’t you think? We don’t live in a police state fortunately.

  4. yttik

    Why do people understand that demeaning racial jokes have a negative influence on how society treats minorities, but they don’t understand how that concept might also apply to women?

  5. JATower

    A list of things that are actually overly intrusive: pharmacists injecting their own views on birth control by not filling prescriptions, government and religious control over legal medical procedures, sexual harrassment, rape, and the inevitable slut-shaming that follows in the courtroom.

    A task force that merely recommends an end to sexist jokes is not on the list.

  6. agasaya

    Racist jokes are already prohibited in the workplace. Employers are free to include demeaning humor about women as falling within those rules because it has a negative impact upon female workers. The value of studies like these is not in their obviousness, but that they can be submitted into evidence when employees claim they were disciplined or fired without cause in such cases.

    Interestingly, this quote was cited in the article:

     “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.

    Meaning that men were capable of distinguishing negative statements distorting facts. Even if they agreed with the sentiments, they were capable of acting in a politically correct manner! However, lemming like behavior following participation in misogynist humor which led to different behaviors overtly expressing disrespect for women.

    So, when it can’t be hidden from view under a veil of adolescent snide, men behave better. Yes, workplace rules do change behaviors. The laws against racist behavior do impact eventually upon belief systems given the risk/reward ratios involved as we can see with the elections of women and minorities to office.

    I once had to fire someone for racist behavior. The culprit was a female social worker. Contagious crap, this.

  7. Laughingrat

    We can’t get rid of sexist jokes! How else would all the poor, exhausted men in Washington D.C. relax after a long day of legislating away women’s basic rights to personal sovereignty, health, and safety?

  8. ivyleaves

    Why do people understand that demeaning racial jokes have a negative influence on how society treats minorities, but they don’t understand how that concept might also apply to women?

    Simple. It doesn’t matter how society treats women, in fact, it serves the rulers of society much more to keep the staus quo.

  9. Bluebird

    The racism in some of these comments is revolting.

  10. Amanda

    Oh, humanbein, you think men experience “dick-wilting” from being called out by women? It’s only when other men call them out on their sexist behavior/language that they deign to take it seriously (if even then). Everyone knows that women are always trying to pull the “gender card” and men are the objective, outside sources on which we should all rely.

  11. Jezebella

    @Bluebird: huh?

  12. birkwearingblamer

    Butters, go back to your pro-life agenda and woo woo navel gazing.

  13. Mordant Espier

    @Jezebella: 3 commenters took it upon themselves, when the topic was sexism, to point out how racist jokes and name-calling are not a problem today. These statements fly in the face of the experiences of people who do experience racist jokes with regularity, even in the workplace. Both misogynistic jokes and racist jokes are regularly traded by the same “aw-shucks, why are you offended” and “we’re entitled to use our free speech” crowds to pretty much the same ends.

  14. TwissB

    To pile on, I too am surprised when people who are not Black assume a difference in invidious effect between racist and sexist “jokes.” Class disparagement is universally effective in putting down its target and making the non-trget class feel comfy and entritled to its advantage.

    I do insist, however, on one actual and very significant difference between sexist put-downs and any other form of socially acceptable threats. Women are the only targeted class that does not include men, so demeaning women gives comfort and superior status to the other 50% of the popoulation who will always, to some degree, link arms against women.

    Proof is right there in the US Constitution – the 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection of the law for men only and they don’t mind using it aganst women. TITLE VII prohibiting workplace discrimination to which Agasaya refers above includes a contested ban on sex discrimination, but getting it enforced is harder than is the ban on racial discrimination, and the excuses for not doing so more openly contemptuous. TITLE IX prohibiting sex discrimination in education is being overturned by the flimsiest excuses for a tidal wave of single sex publc schools. Lesbians who rejoice at the advance of what is usually referred to as “GAY RIGHTS” (that ought to tell us something) are due for the harsh realization that their legal protection is as limited and unreliable as that accorded to women subject to racial discrimination by the 14th Amendment. Tagging along after men rarely works.

    Parenthetically, The notion of Gay Rights emerges from the cowardice of pro-ERA politicians (like Carolyn Maloney today) who decided in 1970-2 to refrain from including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation from their definition of the intended scope of the ERA. For a while, Roe v. Wade’s spurious “constitutional right of privacy” had to suffice, but gay men gradually began to separate from that feeble, pregnancy-tainted theory and glide into a manly equal protection argument that blithely ignores its inapplicability to women.

    Use of the First Amendment to justify legality of abortion (a convenience for men but a joke on women that allows limitless legal harassment), protection of pornography as free speech, and prostitution, however routinely abusive to women, as liberty of sexual expression, are other examples of men’s freedom to use the Constitution as a weapon to, as Abigail Adams said “use us with cruelty and indignity with impounity.”

    Funmd-seeking feminist leadership raging against the Stupak
    amendment as a threat to women’s “constitutional right to abortion” is not only absurd, but also irresponsible mideducation of women who assume their expertise on the subject. Except for the vote, women have NO contitutionally recognized rights.

    I play this broken record now and then to try to get a discussion going among readers of this blog – so far without any apparent success, including a to-be valued response from Jill. I’m being openly critical of all this fulminating that offers no challenge to men’s self-serving framing of the issues most fundamental to our status. Feminism is supposed to raze the status quo, not use the master’s tools to remodel it.

  15. TwissB

    Apologies for re-posting this. Too many typos from drafting in that tiny pale blue print.

    To pile on, I too am surprised when people who are not Black assume a difference in invidious effect between racist and sexist “jokes.” Class disparagement is universally effective in putting down its target and making the non-target class feel comfy and entitled to its advantage.

    I do insist, however, on one actual and very significant difference between sexist put-downs and any other form of socially acceptable threats. Women are the only targeted class that does not include men, so demeaning women gives comfort and superior status to the other 50% of the population who will always, to some degree, link arms against women.

    Proof is right there in the US Constitution – the 14th AMENDMENT guarantees equal protection of the law for men only and they don’t mind using it against women. TITLE VII prohibiting workplace discrimination to which Agasaya refers above includes a contested ban on sex discrimination, but getting it enforced is harder than is the ban on racial discrimination, and the excuses for not doing so more openly contemptuous. TITLE IX prohibiting sex discrimination in education is being overturned by the flimsiest excuses for a tidal wave of single sex publc schools. Lesbians who rejoice at the advance of what is usually referred to as “GAY RIGHTS” (that ought to tell us something) are due for the harsh realization that their legal protection is as limited and unreliable as that accorded to women subject to racial discrimination by the 14th Amendment. Tagging along after men rarely gets us anywhere.

    Parenthetically, The notion of Gay Rights emerges from the cowardice of pro-ERA politicians (like Carolyn Maloney today) who decided in 1970-2 to refrain from including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation from their definition of the intended scope of the ERA. For a while, Roe v. Wade’s spurious “constitutional right of privacy” had to suffice, but gay men gradually began to separate from that feeble, pregnancy-tainted theory and glide into a manly equal protection argument that blithely ignores its inapplicability to women.

    Use of the First Amendment to justify legality of abortion (a convenience for men but a joke on women that allows limitless legal harassment), protection of pornography as free speech, and prostitution, however routinely abusive to women, as liberty of sexual expression, are other examples of men’s freedom to use the Constitution as a weapon to, as Abigail Adams said “use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity.”

    Fund-seeking feminist leadership raging against the Stupak amendment as a threat to women’s “constitutional right to abortion” is not only absurd, but also irresponsible mis-education of women who assume their expertise on the subject. Except for the vote, women have NO constitutionally recognized rights.

    I play this broken record now and then to try to get a discussion going among readers of this blog – so far without any apparent success, including a to-be valued response from Jill. I’m being openly critical of all this fulminating that offers no challenge to men’s self-serving framing of the issues most fundamental to our status and individual situation. Feminism is supposed to raze the status quo, not use the master’s tools to try to remodel it.

  16. nails

    I am sick of people saying “WELL DUH” at studies that confirm seemingly obvious things. The real interesting stuff happens when the experiments testing “common sense” notions give results that are not what would be expected, and there is only one way to find out what the actual truth is.

    Also, if another study has to use the assumption that sexist jokes are harmful there is data to prove it. Making studies with too many assumptions makes the research useless, so small steps like these are needed. Almost no one advances scientific knowledge in a leaps and bounds sort of way, its a bunch of people making their own tiny contribution, that was built on what others did, or will be built on, etc. Its really quite amazing how much gets discovered with such a system in place.

  17. Rosa Luxemburg's Ghost

    @Amanda,

    “Oh, humanbein, you think men experience “dick-wilting” from being called out by women? It’s only when other men call them out on their sexist behavior/language that they deign to take it seriously (if even then). Everyone knows that women are always trying to pull the “gender card” and men are the objective, outside sources on which we should all rely.”

    You’re right, when a woman calls men out on this shit, she’s labeled as an uptight bitch who can’t take a fucking joke. Unfortunately, any guy who tries to stand up to overt sexism is labeled as a faggot PC liberal who also, can’t take a fucking joke. Also his girlfriend is probably unsatisfied by his tiny liberal cock. Also he doesn’t even like football.

    I’ve yet to see a group of men take seriously objections to sexism, no matter who the messenger is.

  18. Shopstewardess

    @ Bluebird, please forgive my ignorance, but I don’t understand your problem, and perhaps you can enlighten me.

    Paraphrasing, my understanding is that humanbein said that both sexist and racist jokes are harmful, yttik said that there is more understanding that racist jokes are harmful than there is that sexist jokes are harmful, and agasaya said that rules against racist behaviour change what people think and do and that she herself has worked to enforce those rules.

    The patriarchy harms people who are women and people who are not white. (It harms anyone who is not male, white, heterosexual and able-bodied.) I don’t understand that there is a problem in pointing this out.

  19. Hedgepig

    When feminists complain that racism is taken seriously in a way that sexism is not, we should always specify by whom: liberals. Vast sections of the population are openly and unapologetically racist as hell, as well as being sexist as hell. Liberals, on the other hand, tend to be falling over themselves to reject racism, while being as openly sexist as their own grandfathers.

  20. Shopstewardess

    Hedgepig, perhaps this depends on the culture in which one lives? In the country and culture in which I live, both racism and sexism are pervasive, but racism is more covert, I think probably because of societal pressure (and equality laws). Overt sexism appears in both the mainstream media and in informal communication, to a far greater extent than overt racism. And the difference seems to me to be much the same with respect to both conservatives and liberals.

  21. Citizen Jane

    The “It’s just a joke” thing amazes me. If a bloke knew another bloke who did the same or more work as him, was at least equally qualified, but got paid less due to a superficial feature, would he think it appropriate to laugh at him for it? If he didn’t find it funny, would he tell him to lighten up and get a sense of humour? If he knew a bloke who had been raped or sexually molested, would he laugh at him for that? Come on. Stick a man in a similar position as what society puts women in and nobody is going to laugh at him for it. People would take that seriously for goodness sake.

    Re: Racism vs sexism. Racism and sexism are different. Discussing these intersecting privileges does not mean that either racism or sexism is more important than the other, or that one exists where the other does not.

    It is particularly of interest that people seem to have different ways of explaining away racism than they do sexism. People’s excuses for pretending they are not racist are often very different from the excuses for pretending they are not sexist. So it is often quite useful to do a switcheroo between women and POC, and say “That wouldn’t be acceptable if it was women, so why is it acceptable for POC?” or “That wouldn’t be acceptable if it was POC, so why is it acceptable for women?” It’s handy for showing people why their excuses for explaining away racism and sexism don’t fly.

  22. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    No one cares whether they’re perceived as sexist or not. Because there are only three groups it’s still socially acceptable to make fun of: 1) women, 2) fat people, and 3) gay people.

    1) because, well, if you don’t laugh, the whole hairy-humorless-shrill thing applies. Pick up your feminazi badge at the front desk; do not pass go, do not collect $200. 2) and 3) because everyone knows It’s Their Own Fault for Being That Way. (Never mind that there are complex physiological things going on in both cases that not even the best science can explain.)

  23. drsnacks

    The, “you wouldn’t say that about black people” line is always belittling and disparaging, you should never use it if you don’t want to be immediately dismissed by anyone outside an imagined audience of white people without the slightest bit of sensitivity towards the oppressive nature of the patriarchy.

    Mordant Espier was clear enough why – stop trying to justify it and just drop it. Twisty in the half-decade of this blog’s existence never had draw upon the fictional shared sympathy for subjects of racial discrimination to get the point across to an imagined all-white audience that sexism is bad.

  24. Felicity

    I also hate how studies like this aren’t banded around for everyone to see. Because I’m sure there’s loads of them. It’s when you start to see the patriarchy, aka the mass media working in action – hiding what it needs to. When you witness sexist jokes, you of course know it’s the result of people being told that it’s OK.

    The attention given to studies showing women getting more and more miserable with no explanation other than ‘get over it’ are aplenty, and also very annoying. The glaringly obvious is avoided.

    Kind of like how our huge 2000 peopled Reclaim march in London wasn’t mentioned one bit despite hitting the pulse of culture – but random female students in the same area on a piss-up get a three page coverage.

    Anything likely to yield a growth in feminist numbers has a complete blind eye turned.

    Annoying to feel the power of a selective media that could help equality in a blink, but ignores the feminist movement and studies which show sexist discrimination in a serious ‘reality’ light.

  25. Jezebella

    Felicity, on the same tip: a dozen Klansmen protesting last week at Ole Miss got major MSM coverage; a dozen Mississippians gathering in the capital for Transgender Day of Remembrance last week? Not a blip, not a byte, not a thumbnail photo. The media perpetuates stereotypes at all levels.

  26. kristinc

    For the luvadawg, people. STOP talking like openly racist statements and jokes are some remnant of the past.

    This is also an epidemic at fat acceptance blogs where people — always straight white people, funnily enough — are fond of whining “It would never be considered okay to say these things about black people!” Well, wake up. People do say the most overtly, nastily racist things and they do get away with it more often than not.

    Anyone who thinks they’re part of the “last acceptable group to discriminate against”, as opposed to them colored folks who have it all just peachy now, is wrapped in their own white privilege.

  27. Mordant Espier

    To reiterate the cogent point drsnacks made, Jezebella could have made the her observation about people not recognizing the humanity and suffering of transgender individuals without a racism vs sexism comparison. Transphobia and its manifestations are an injustice. Period.

    As for the attention the Klan gets, I’d say most white people like to talk about the racism of the Klan. Those people put on hoods and say overtly racist things. It’s easy to figure out that the Klan is racist. It’s harder for white people to figure out other forms of racism.

  28. Laughingrat

    Mordant, your insistence that it’s racist to discuss racism and sexism in terms of each other is pretty circular. You haven’t really been able to demonstrate why it’s wrong to discuss types of oppression in relation to each other, other than because you say so. You can keep arguing that, but it will keep being a really poor argument no matter how many times you repeat yourself. You’re basically imputing an intent or an attitude in these comments which is not there at all.

    I can assure you, after a good many years of working alongside average middle-class white professional (boring-ass TV-watching Republicans to a (wo)man), that even the most dense right-wingers will hesitate and mumble a bit when saying something racist, but will bray loudly and happily over their sexist remarks. It is not that racism has been eliminated, and in fact nobody here actually argued that; you’ve been protesting against your own projections on that score. It’s that most white Americans have been made aware through decades of social pressure that racism is not entirely socially acceptable, whereas sexism is still good for a shame-free laugh.

    Now if only we could get the public to admit that all oppression is genuinely wrong, we’d be getting somewhere. Or are you really just a concern-troll who’s trying to get all us hairy feminists to stop giving a crap about women and start giving a crap about some other oppression that you’re insisting is way more important than the basic rights of half the population? Because that’s how you’re starting to sound.

  29. Jezebella

    Mordant Espier, you missed my point entirely, which was that everybody thinks Mississippians are a bunch of sheet-wearing yahoos, and when a few of us act otherwise, it’s completely ignored. The stereotype I meant, my dear, is that of Southerners. I suppose I could accuse you of regionalism, but everybody knows it’s okay to make fun of Southerners. We are, after all, a bunch of sheet-wearing yahoos.

  30. Hedgepig

    Laughingrat: spot on. Nicely done.

  31. Felicity

    I agree with everyone else, to compare racism with sexism, which is done for this new perspective we gain, isn’t asking people to be more racist. It’s asking something different, that we all get the same respect.

  32. Felicity

    Jezebella, yep that’s exactly seeing it in action. It just seems like even if women get their act together, the patriarchy won’t allow it to be seen for any knock- on effect it fears. What’s a victory for feminism, like these studies, if no one hears or sees it?

  33. Mordant Espier

    @Jezebella, you’re right that I missed your point if it was about coverage of Southerners. While you’re right that regionalism plays a role, I’d also say the Klan gets covered whenever they have rallies, in Pennsylvania, in Michigan, in Nebraska.

    @Laughingrat, It’s not that they can’t be discussed together. They are both arbitrary systems of dominance/submission. When power is exercised, often similar techniques (from jokes to violence) are employed to enforce the system.

    But the way the comparison has been handled in this thread has been incredibly shortsighted and occasionally offensive. Bluebird saw it, so I tried to explain what she was responding to. I am a white woman, but I’ve noticed that anytime effects of racism that aren’t the Klan variety is mentioned, a chorus of (usually) white people rises up to dismiss such concerns.

  34. Isabel

    “Because there are only three groups it’s still socially acceptable to make fun of: 1) women, 2) fat people, and 3) gay people.”

    You forgot poor, especially religious, white people. When we’re not blaming them (in a more serious tone) for all the racism and sexism, that is.

  35. rory

    Little late to the party but the original paper is here if you would like to read it:

    http://psp.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/34/2/159.pdf

    The figure where the conclusion talked about in the blog post is drawn is here.

    http://dl.dropbox.com/u/2822886/Screen%20shot%202010-02-17%20at%205.06.40%20PM.png

    If you look at that figure there are several conclusions you can draw, not just that one conclusion. -SD in the figure is people who scored low on the sexist score. +SD means they scored high. The triangles and circles and stuff are labelled in the figure. Anyway, here are the conclusions you can draw:

    1) Being sexist does not affect the funding decisions at all in a vaccum. When they read the neutral texts, people with high (+SD) and low (-SD) sexism scores donate the same amount to the women’s organization. That is what the straight line with the triangles says.

    2) If you are sexist, reading derogatory comments prior to donating will cause you to donate more. In the +SD column, the square is above the triangle which is what that means. The non-sexist people are unmoved by the derogatory comments and donate the same as if they read neutral stuff.

    3) If you are not-sexist, reading sexist jokes prior to making funding decisions will make you donate twice as much as if you read neutral stuff. The circle in the left column is 2x higher than the triangle.

    4) If you are sexist, reading sexist jokes prior to making funding decisions will make you donate less than a sixth of what you would originally. This is the only point they actually discuss in the paper, but it is one of many you can draw.

  36. Aimee

    I wish this kind of study was more in the Media and on six o clock news, I have put up with Blonde jokes my whole life and have been offended by them for years. To me its no different to rascim, I cant help the way I was born and am not dumb because of it. I will not ever let those jokes go over my head, but you do get tired of CONSTANTLY telling peole its not okay and having to explian why. If anyone had a quick fire one scentance answer id love to know how to shut people down in a heart beat. Perhaps more education via the media, like I said first off, why dont they put these studies on the news and into main stream media.

  37. Imaginary

    Guess what? White men aren’t going to change any time soon. I say we form our own society with a small number just to do some guerrilla warfare (like fucking with Playboy or a NAMBLA site). Then, in time, we swell our numbers and become a huge threat. After all this time and all this work, womin have nothing other than a piece of paper that says we’re equal to show for it.

  38. Kiuku

    “The attention given to studies showing women getting more and more miserable with no explanation other than ‘get over it’ are aplenty, and also very annoying. The glaringly obvious is avoided. ”

    Yea but don’t you know that women are getting more miserable because they just can’t have it all. And the smart women that realize that they can’t “have it all” and get back in the house are much happier. Atleast, that’s what the media says.

  39. Kiuku

    I’ll tell the media why I’m miserable, because no matter how much I work, I will be poor. Society makes sure of this. No matter how much education, experience, or training I have, I will be seen as incompetent or inexperienced, a novice. All my experiences aren’t real experiences. I constantly have men telling me what the “real world” is like, and, as a woman, I am constantly “learning a lesson” about “the real world.” My experiences are never real experiences in the real world. The simplest experience of a man is worth more weight in reality than mine will ever be. I’m currently making 72 cents to the dollar of my male colleagues, who have less education, spent less money on education, and have less experience than me, collectively. They will also be promoted. No matter how aggressive I am, nice I am, happy I am, sad I am, I’ll never be right or normal or sane. I will be threatened with violence, intimidated on the streets, silenced, laughed at, and paid less, and none of this will be in “the real world.”

  40. Kiuku

    and men just hate you. It’s really as simple as that. It’s just hate, plain and simple. Gotta walk around being hated everywhere you go.

    Imaginary, there is a doctor starting a group just like that.

  41. Kiuku

    Oh yea and not qualified. forgot to add that one to the list. There are really too many to add. An innumerable amount. But those are the most stand out reasons why women are miserable, whether they be articulated or not. No one wants to work hard just so other people can get ahead.

    Imaginary: e mail Lynette Long about your idea.

    http://www.lynettelong.com/

  42. Laughingrat

    Kiuku, your comment about “real world” experiences, condescension, and the pay/authority gap was really evocative. I hear you.

  43. Azundris

    “‘Humor,’ and unnecessary cuts”:
    http://yfrog.com/2gwxsj

    After puking a jet and toppling over backwards, I’m half-tempted to buy that rag just so I can show it to any idiot claiming “feminism is no longer needed.”

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