How sexist jokes affect sexists (and non-sexists)

These days, discussions are being held on the subject of the limits of humor. That if the limit is in itself offends many people. That if the limit is the simple offense of a person. That if humor should only be white. That should border tricky issues like religion or death. Etc.

Macho jokes also have their special ration of criticism. Whether or not macho, for many people macho jokes contribute to machismo. How to be against pedophilia but make pedophile jokes.

I am not very convinced of this kind of arguments, because there seems to be no obvious connection between the more upright and moral behavior with the kind of fiction that is consumed on television or in the cinema. Violence in all countries of the first world continues to decline, for example, and yet more violent and gore movies can be consumed than ever.

However, there is a study on sexist jokes that suggests that these jokes encourage the sexist stereotype. The study, led by Thomas Ford, at the University of Western California, is titled "More Than Just a Joke: The Prejudice-Releasing Function of Sexist Humor", and was published in 2008 in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

In the experiment, a group of men were read a series of statements about which they should agree or not, such as "Women seek to gain power by controlling men." This is how these men were classified as sexists or not and at what level.

Then some of the subjects were subjected to sexist jokes that made fun of women and also aggressive jokes with other groups, such as golfers and paratroopers. To establish a comparison, other subjects read sexist and non-sexist stories without humor. As he explains Scott Weems in his book Ha:

To see the effect that jokes and sexist stories had on the attitudes of the subjects, Ford commented on the existence of the National Council of Women, an organization committed to the social and political progress of women and women's issues, and asked all the men who imagined that they made a donation to that organization, up to a maximum of 20 dollars. They didn't have to commit to giving that money, just imagine that they donated it. The final amount they chose to donate was what Ford considered as their dependent measure.

What happened is that sexist jokes did not seem to affect the behavior, in the matter of donations, at least, of non-macho or unfriendly men. But men of high machismo did donate less money after hearing sexist jokes. Not so with humorous sexist stories or non-sexist jokes, which did not reduce the donations of the machistas.

To confirm his findings, Ford varied the design of the experiment and asked his subjects how much money a fictional university should cut to student organizations related to the women's movement. The results were the same. The most sexist subjects defended the most drastic cuts, but only after reading the sexist jokes.

It is difficult to extrapolate these very specific studies in the real world, where there are thousands of uncontrollable influences and variables. If successful, sexist humor would only seem to influence the already macho, not transform non-macho into macho. And, in any case, perhaps effective policies should not be so much committed to a sort of neo-language or extreme political correctness, but rather to greater education and awareness of gender equality.