A Framework for Thinking about the (not so funny) Effects of Sexist Humor

Updated: Jul 16, 2018

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Sexism is in a state of "shifting social acceptability"; shifting from completely acceptable to completely unacceptable. During this shift, sexism is conditional and must be suppressed, but can be released if social norms justify its expression. In such a context, one can release prejudice and be spared the recognition that they behaved in appropriately.

A sexist joke has direct effects (the immediate interpretation of and emotional reaction) and indirect effects (broader social consequences that affect the way people think about women and the extent to which sexist humor promotes sexist behavior among men). It negatively affects relationships among coworkers, decreases cohesiveness, reinforces status differences, and increases tolerance for sexist behavior.

A common gripe that I’ve heard about people in my generation: “These snowflake millennials can’t take a joke!”

Actually, we like jokes, just not sexist jokes that communicate the denigration of women while simultaneously trivializing sex discrimination. These dynamics are the source of power imbalances and we won’t stand up for it. When exposed to sexist humor, men make stereotypical evaluations of men and women that activate gender stereotypes.

Sexist jokes have an impact; do not allow them in your organization under any circumstances.