Why Men Make Sexist Jokes, According To Science

Illustration: Anna Sudit
It may be 2017, but some men still believe asking a woman to make them a sandwich is just absolutely freakin’ hilarious. They’re the ones who’ll ask if you’re on your period when you’re (rightfully) annoyed by their idiotic behaviour. The kind of men who’ll tell you to “cheer up love” and half-jokingly complain about “bloody woman drivers”.
Yeah, those guys. What is their problem? Well, one group of researchers from Western Carolina University has offered an insight into exactly why these men behave so appallingly.
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Apparently, men make sexist and homophobic jokes – the kind they brush off as “banter” – when they believe their masculinity is threatened. They do it to boost their social identity by demarcating their “in-group” from an “out-group”, MailOnline reported.
The study asked 387 heterosexual men to complete online questionnaires to gauge their social attitudes, personalities, and levels of prejudice against women and gay men.
The men were asked how much they agreed with statements such as, “Women seek to gain power by getting control over men” and, “Once a woman gets a man to commit to her, she usually tries to put him on a tight leash.”
Researchers also tested the types of humour the men preferred, and what impression the men believed their humour would put across to others.
And whaddya know! The findings showed that men who felt insecure about their manhood, and believed their masculinity (as defined by traditional gender norms) was being challenged, use sexist and homophobic jokes to provide self-affirmation.
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"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,” said Dr Emma O'Connor, the study’s lead author.
By showing amusement with sexist and homophobic humour, Dr O'Connor added, “such men can distance themselves from the traits they want to disconfirm”.
Not only does the study confirm to women and the LGBTQ+ community that they’re not the ones in the wrong, the findings could also be used to help crack down on this outdated humour in the workplace.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 Dr O'Connor.
“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.”
Educating managers on why this humour happens in the first place is crucial for them to be able to address such cases of harassment, the researchers added.
“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,” added Dr O'Connor.
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