Sexist and anti-gay jokes: It's all about men feeling threatened

April 20, 2017, Springer

Why do some men crack sexist and anti-gay jokes or find them funny, while others do not? According to Emma O'Connor of the Western Carolina University in the US, such disparaging jokes are a way for some men to reaffirm their shaky sense of self, especially when they feel their masculinity is being threatened. Interestingly, in such situations men do not revert to neutral jokes or ones containing anti-Muslim sentiments, comments O'Connor, lead author of a study in Springer's journal Sex Roles.

Disparaging is often about enhancing one's own social identity by positively distinguishing one's in-group from a disparaged out-group. To understand how this plays out in the context of sexist and anti-gay jokes, the research team conducted two experiments involving 387 heterosexual men. Participants completed online questionnaires designed to test their social attitudes and personalities, and their prejudice levels and antagonism against gay men and women. The types of humour they preferred were tested, and whether the men believed their take on humour would help others form a more accurate impression about them.

The findings suggest that sexist and anti-gay jokes provide self-affirmation to men who possess more precarious manhood beliefs. This is especially the case when they feel that their , as defined by the typical gender norms assigned to men, is being challenged or threatened.

"Men higher in precarious manhood beliefs expressed amusement with sexist and anti-gay humour in response to a masculinity threat because they believe it reaffirms an accurate, more masculine impression of them. It appears that by showing amusement with sexist and anti-gay humour, such men can distance themselves from the traits they want to disconfirm," explains O'Connor.

The researchers hope the findings will help create a better understanding about the kinds of situations in which sexist and anti-gay jokes occur, and ultimately prevent this from being used, for instance, in the workplace.

"Work settings where women occupy positions of authority might inherently trigger masculinity threats for men higher in precarious manhood beliefs and thus sexist joking," says O'Connor, who points out that sexist jokes and teasing are the most common forms of sexual harassment that women experience in the workplace.

"Given the social protection afforded to humour as a medium for communicating disparagement, it is possible that men use sexist humour in the workplace as a 'safe' way to reaffirm their threatened masculinity," explains O'Connor.

She says that managers who understand how and why this happens are able to more effectively handle and even prevent incidences of sexist humour: "For instance, they might more closely monitor workplace settings that could trigger masculinity threats and subsequent sexist joking, or they might attempt to reduce the extent to which men perceive masculinity threats in those settings in the first place."

Explore further: People assume sexists are also racist and vice versa

More information: Emma C. O'Connor et al, Restoring Threatened Masculinity: The Appeal of Sexist and Anti-Gay Humor, Sex Roles (2017). DOI: 10.1007/s11199-017-0761-z

Related Stories

People assume sexists are also racist and vice versa

February 15, 2017
The stigma associated with prejudice against women and people of color seems to transfer from one group to another, according to new findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological ...

Study shows lads' mags make sexist jokes seem less hostile

October 13, 2016
A collaborative team of leading social psychologists from the University of Surrey, Clark University, University of Ghent and Middlesex University London have investigated how lads' mags normalise sexism in three new studies. ...

Covert and overt forms of sexism are equally damaging to working women

August 27, 2015
Frequent sexist wisecracks, comments and office cultures where women are ignored are just as damaging to women as single instances of sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention, according to a new study out today in The ...

Psychology behind the unfunny consequences of jokes that denigrate

September 7, 2016
Q: Why did the woman cross the road?

Recommended for you

Success is not just how you play your cards, but how you play your opponents

June 15, 2018
In high-stakes environments, success is not just about playing your cards right, but also playing your opponents right.

Poker has a 'tell' about strategic thinkers

June 15, 2018
In competitive environments, success is not just about playing your cards right, but also playing your opponents right.

Early birds less prone to depression

June 15, 2018
Middle-to-older aged women who are naturally early to bed and early to rise are significantly less likely to develop depression, according to a new study by researchers at University of Colorado Boulder and the Channing Division ...

Risk of burnout can be estimated by analysing saliva samples

June 15, 2018
According to calculations from the World Health Organisation, depression occupies first place in the global "disease burden" and, by 2030, experts estimate that there will be three mental illnesses in the Top 5: depression, ...

EEG can determine if a depressed patient will do better on antidepressants or talk therapy

June 14, 2018
People react differently to positive events in their lives. For some, a small reward can have a large impact on their mood, while others may get a smaller emotional boost from the same positive event.

Mindfulness meditation and relaxation response have different effects on brain function

June 13, 2018
A variety of meditation-based programs have been developed in recent years to reduce stress and medical symptoms and to promote wellness. One lingering question is to what extent these programs are similar or different. In ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

michbaskett
not rated yet Apr 20, 2017
The problem with this article is that it presents this one scenario as though it is "the" Scenario in which dirty jokes or fag jokes or whatever are told. Sometimes they are told just because someone wants a laugh, and often a good laugh can be had when considering situations in which oneself would never be found. Denigration of another group isn't always the purpose, often the purpose really is just have have a good belly laugh.

Presenting it as something so one-sided runs the risk of relegating such statements and studies to being nothing more than California psychobabble.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.