Gender differences in using humor to respond to sexist jokes

Julie A. Woodzicka 1 , Robyn K. Mallett 2  and Kala J. Melchiori 3
  • 1 Cognitive and Behavioral Science, Washington and Lee University, 204 W. Washington Street, Lexington, USA
  • 2 Psychology, Loyola University Chicago, 1032 W. Sheridan Rd., Chicago, USA
  • 3 Psychology, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, USA
Julie A. Woodzicka
  • Corresponding author
  • Cognitive and Behavioral Science, Washington and Lee University, 204 W. Washington Street, Lexington, Virginia, 24450, USA
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  • Julie A. Woodzicka, PhD, is the Abigail Grigsby Urquhart Term Professor of Cognitive and Behavioral Science at Washington and Lee University. She earned a B.A. in Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, a MA in Clinical Psychology at the University of Dayton, and a Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Boston College, spending the last two years of her program in residence at Yale University. Dr. Woodzicka’s research explores the interpersonal and social consequences of sexist and racist humor, along with creative strategies to confront bias.
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, Robyn K. Mallett
  • Psychology, Loyola University Chicago, 1032 W. Sheridan Rd., Chicago, Illinois, 60660, USA
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  • Robyn K. Mallett, PhD, is an associate professor of psychology at Loyola University Chicago. She completed her B.A. at the University of Alaska Anchorage, her Ph.D. in Social Psychology at the Pennsylvania State University, and a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Virginia. Dr. Mallett studies the psychology of prejudice and intergroup relations, investigating how people understand and control the world around them through individual and collective action. She has a special interest in how people identify and respond to bias.
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and Kala J. Melchiori
  • Psychology, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA
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  • Kala J. Melchiori, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at James Madison University. She completed her BA in Psychology at Marshall University in Huntington, WV, and her PhD in Social Psychology at Loyola University Chicago. Dr. Melchiori and the students in her lab conduct social-justice oriented research, including projects that explore how people respond to prejudice, stereotyping, and discriminatory backlash. She is also interested in exploring ways to bring social justice into the classroom.
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Abstract

We examine the degree to which women and men use humor to confront sexist jokes. We also test the social benefits and perceived effectiveness of confronting with humor. One-hundred-sixty-four (46% female) participants read about a male coworker who made a sexist joke and reported how they would respond in an open-ended format. Women were more likely than men to say they would respond with humor. Specifically, 16% of women, compared to 4.5% of men, spontaneously provided a humorous confrontation. Participants then read a second scenario that asked them to imagine a male friend making a sexist joke. We manipulated the confronter’s gender and the type of confrontation (humorous versus serious) in the scenario. Confronters who used a humorous (versus serious) response were rated as more likeable but less effective. People often hesitate to confront sexism for fear of social repercussions. Given that humorous confrontation reduces social backlash, it might be worth slightly lower perceived effectiveness to increase overall rates of confronting sexism.

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HUMOR, the official publication of the International Society for Humor Studies (ISHS), was established over 25 years ago as an international interdisciplinary forum for the publication of high-quality research papers on humor as an important and universal human faculty. The journal publishes original contributions in areas such as interdisciplinary humor research, humor theory, and humor research methodologies.

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