I can’t count the times I’ve heard “but it’s just a joke!” as an attempt to absolve any responsibility from sharing a disparaging joke. The fact is, jokes against women and/or people of color are not just a joke, but have real life consequences to the people targeted, and to those who laugh at their expense.
A recent study examined the effects of sexist jokes on men, particularly their attitudes about our current gender dynamic, after reading a conversation including sexist jokes. Two other groups of men read the same conversation, but with neutral, non-sexist jokes or non-humorous sexist statements.
The results showed men with antagonist attitudes towards women (those agreeing to statements like “women seek to gain power by getting control over men”) report greater acceptance for the current gender dynamic (in other words, feel there’s nothing wrong with it) after reading sexist jokes than after reading a neutral joke or a sexist statement.
The same lead author published a similar study in regards to anti-muslim humor. As to be expected, participants scoring high in anti-Muslim attitudes tolerated prejudice against a Muslim person more after reading an anti-Muslim joke than after reading a neutral joke or an anti-Muslim statement.
Humor has the chance to reduce stress, boost our immune system, and connect us with our friends. However, it’s also a strong transmitter of prejudice, stronger than sexist/racist remarks, because it makes light of serious struggles.
I apologize for this past month or so of radio silence. Belén was attending wedding after wedding. I was in the process of a break up and moving. Now we’re back though! And we don’t even want to go out anymore because Portland winter has begun, meaning it’s time for constant drizzle and hot toddies.
The above comic derived from a joke I made to a friend about how a woman can be a bitch forever, and it’s true. We’re a bit more conscious as a society of how calling a woman a bitch is essentially writing them off as a variety of things, but always, always someone who does not deserve our time or attention. I appreciate attempts to reappropriate the term bitch, Bitch magazine coming quickly to mind because it is usually a quick and cutting insult. The word may be used as an intended barb, but to transform it to mean a fiercely opinionated person who doesn’t take shit from anyone, well then, I wouldn’t mind being called a bitch forever.
During acts of violence in the United States, we tend to racialize the perpetrator and stereotype their motives. However, a white active shooter’s race is never part of the headline. Their motives are humanized as we lament on the poor mental health services of the US. Of course, anyone who commits mass murder suffers from mental health issues, yet white shooters’ racial or ethnic group isn’t part of the dominant conversation.