Why do some men tell sexist and anti-gay jokes or find them funny?
According to new research, these disparaging jokes are a way for some men to reaffirm their shaky sense of self, especially when they feel their masculinity is being threatened.
Disparaging humor is often about enhancing one’s own social identity by positively distinguishing your “in-group” from the disparaged “out-group,” according to researcher Emma O’Connor of the Western Carolina University.
For the study, which was published in Springer’s journal Sex Roles, the researchers 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 humor they preferred were tested, and whether the men believed their take on humor 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 masculinity, as defined by the typical gender norms assigned to men, is being challenged or threatened, according to the researchers.
“Men higher in precarious manhood beliefs expressed amusement with sexist and anti-gay humor in response to a masculinity threat because they believe it reaffirms an accurate, more masculine impression of them,” O’Connor said. “It appears that by showing amusement with sexist and anti-gay humor, such men can distance themselves from the traits they want to disconfirm.”
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 humor 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,” said O’Connor, who noted 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 humor as a medium for communicating disparagement, it is possible that men use sexist humor in the workplace as a ‘safe’ way to reaffirm their threatened masculinity.”
She said anagers who understand how and why this happens are able to more effectively handle and even prevent incidences of sexist humor.
“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,” she said.