Jokes about female drivers and dumb blondes may be told in good fun, but they can promote discrimination against women, researchers say.
Psychologist Thomas Ford of Western Carolina University and several of his graduate students conducted two experiments to test how sexist jokes affected the attitudes of male participants toward women.
In the first experiment, the participants were asked to imagine they were members of a work group in an organization. They then either read sexist jokes, comparable non-humorous sexist statements or neutral (non-sexist) jokes. They were then asked to say how much money they would be willing to donate to help a women's organization.
"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, men were shown video clips of sexist or non-sexist comedy skits and were then asked to participate in a project designed to determine how funding cuts should be allocated amongst select student organizations.
"We found that, upon exposure to sexist humor, 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 humor, participants believed the other participants would approve of the funding cuts to women’s organizations," he said. "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 results of the study will appear in the February 2008 issue of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
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