Monday, January 25, 2010

Research On Response To Sexist Jokes And Rape Proclivity

With so many people defending sexist humor as harmless to the point of urging those who oppose this type of humor "to get a sense of humor" whenever there is an uproar over the more extreme sexist humor such as pro-rape t-shirts or an online promotion from Air NZ, I was glad to see that there has been research such as Exposure to Sexist Humor and Rape Proclivity: The Moderator Effect of Aversiveness Ratings by Mónica Romero-Sánchez*, Mercedes Durán, Hugo Carretero-Dios, Jesús L. Megías, and Miguel Moya of University of Granada, Granada, Spain.

Here's the abstract:

The aim of this study is to explore the effect of exposure to sexist humor about women on men’s self-reported rape proclivity. Earlier studies have shown that exposure to this type of humor increases rape proclivity and that funniness responses to jokes are a key element to consider. However, the role of aversiveness responses has not been studied. In a between-group design, 109 male university students are randomly exposed to sexist or nonsexist jokes. Participants are asked to rate the jokes according to their degree of funniness and aversiveness. Participants’ levels of hostile and benevolent sexism were also measured. Results about the relationship between sexist attitudes and sexist humor and the relationship between sexist attitudes and rape proclivity are consistent with those of earlier studies. However, exposure to sexist humor affects rape proclivity only when aversiveness shown to this type of humor is low. The results are discussed in the light of the prejudiced norm theory.
This research supports what many of us have seen and reported emperically. What people find funny, or don't find funny, reflects on who they are beyond their sense of humor. This is important knowledge for both primary prevention and self-defense.

This research is also important in deciding the appropriate response when someone in a position of authority, such as a politician, makes a sexist joke about rape. This research shows that the problem goes deeper than the joke being offensive. These jokes raise serious issues about the joke teller's ethics. How people apologize for telling sexist jokes can be informative since many apologies only communicate regret over the response and don't communicate any understanding about why telling the sexist joke -- with or without backlash -- was a major issue.

It is good news that exposure to sexist humor doesn't seem to increase the risk of someone being willing to rape when the person exposed doesn't like this type of humor.


Bookmark and Share
posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:10 AM   10 comments links to this post


At January 25, 2010 9:38 AM, Blogger IrrationalPoint said...

Thanks for this -- definitely really interesting reading here.

While I was never taught that rape jokes were ok, I did grow up hearing some jokes that I would now consider unacceptably sexist. My own experience is that there was a time gap between my starting to adopt feminist politics and think critically about sexism, and realising just how ungood those sorts of jokes were. I'm not proud of that, but I suspect that's true for quite a lot of people -- consciousness raising doesn't happen all at once; for most of us it's a process, especially in teenage years.

So while I certainly think that there is a link between what one finds funny ones beliefs, I think we ought to be cautious about how strongly we conclude that someone's ethics are reflected in their jokes.

Which is not to criticise your post at all -- I think you hit it right on the button. More to say that this study and your comments make a good case for jokes to be point on which consciousness-raising efforts could be concentrated (perhaps more than they are currently) in public awareness campaigns.


At January 25, 2010 10:26 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...


The points you make are why I said that this research is important for primary prevention.

Many children aren't taught anything about sexist jokes and how they relate to larger attitudes. Your experience matches what I was refering to. Your changing thoughts about important issues impacted your thoughts about sexist jokes.

What we need is for sexist attitudes, including that expressed in sexist jokes, to stop being the default which then has to be unlearned through consciousness raising.

At January 25, 2010 10:38 AM, Anonymous m Andrea said...

And yet, is a scientific excuse for rape jokes a good thing, or a bad thing? Because now misogynists will just claim that they "don't believe rape is okay, but gosh was that rape joke hilarious!"

The study overlooks the effect of repeated minimization. If the only messages a society ever hears are negative and those messages all minimize the harm, how is it possible for a non-negative opinion to ever develope?

I'm not saying this very well, but the problem with this study's conclusion ("rape jokes have no effect on people who find rape offensive") is the same problem with the argument about porn and rape. That argument says: "since the number of reported rapes has decreased over the past decade, the same period of time more people have been exposed to porn, we can safely conclude that exposure to porn does not increase the number of rapes".

Both arguments ignore basic logic, mistaking corelation for causation. IF the number of reported rapes have decreased, that decrease is only due to greater public awareness of the harm. It is only by eliminating the tendancy to trivialize harm that awareness grows.

At January 25, 2010 11:02 AM, Anonymous m Andrea said...

I know you're trying really hard to be nuanced Marcella, but this study only excuses rape jokes, and by default, rape itself.

And the misogynists and rape apologetists will gleefully trumpet this study every chance they get, in order to promote rape permissive beliefs.

This one needs to be shot down loud and clear, and immediately. You have a great deal of credibility, please please please inform your colleagues that it conflates corelation with causation.

At January 25, 2010 4:59 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

m Andrea,

I believe you are misreading the abstract and the conclusion.

I disagree that this study provides a scientific excuse for rape jokes or excuses rape or rape permissive beliefs.

It says that when people find sexist jokes repulsive (not rape) that subjecting those people to sexist jokes isn't going to make them more likely to rape. However, those who have low aversion to sexist jokes will have their proclivity to rape increased by exposure to sexist jokes.

At January 26, 2010 9:16 AM, Anonymous m Andrea said...

No, I'm saying that rape apologists will twist what this study concludes.

At January 26, 2010 10:10 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

m Andrea,

Rape apologists try to twist everything. That doesn't mean this study "only excuses rape jokes, and by default, rape itself."

You wanted me to shoot down this research, but there is nothing in the actual research to be shot down.

At January 27, 2010 3:30 AM, Anonymous sophia b said...

I got excited for a moment of 'omg, its a new zealander', looked at your profile, and got depressed that it seems the rest of the world knows about that disgusting campaign.

At February 14, 2010 3:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

of course you would have no problem with the calls to exterminate males from many prominent female feminists.

It is jokes, and sexist jokes at that which raise serious issues about a joke tellers ethics.

A feminists ethics? of course not. Its never a two way street for them.
Or is it.

At February 14, 2010 11:28 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...


There is no of course. I don't call for males to be exterminated and haven't heard any feminists make this call even in joke form except in hearsay from people like you.

I don't even call for rapists to be exterminated. So please stop making things up about me.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home