Don’t laugh it off: Gender differences in perceptions of women’s responses to men’s use of sexist humor

Donald A. Saucier 1 , Megan L. Strain 2 , Conor J. O’Dea 4 , Melissa Sanborn 1  and Amanda L. Martens 3
  • 1 Psychological Sciences, Kansas State University, Kansas 66506, Manhattan, USA
  • 2 Psychology, University of Nebraska at Kearney, Copeland Hall 320E, Kearney, USA
  • 3 Simpson College, Iowa 50215, Indianola, USA
  • 4 Department of Psychological Sciences, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, 12866, New York, USA
Donald A. Saucier
  • Psychological Sciences, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas 66506, USA
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  • Donald A. Saucier (Ph.D., 2001, University of Vermont) is a Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences and University Distinguished Teaching Scholar at Kansas State University. His research focuses broadly on how individual differences (e. g. levels of prejudice, racism, social vigilantism, masculine honor beliefs) interact with situational factors to produce expressions of prosocial and antisocial behavior (i. e. helping, morality, aggression, discrimination, and expressions of humor). Email: saucier@ksu.edu
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, Megan L. Strain
  • Psychology, University of Nebraska at Kearney, Copeland Hall 320E, Kearney, Nebraska 68849, USA
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  • Megan L. Strain (Ph.D., 2014, Kansas State University) is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Nebraska Kearney. She studies the intersection of prejudice and humor (with respect to race, gender, and sexual violence), the factors that may influence that intersection (e. g. attitudes toward women and toward women who have been raped), and the outcomes that such humor may predict (e. g. misinterpretation of jokes perpetuation of prejudiced beliefs, and support for the targets of such humor). Email: strainml@unk.edu
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, Conor J. O’Dea
  • Department of Psychological Sciences, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, 12866, USA
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  • Conor J. O’Dea (Ph.D., 2019, Kansas State University) is a Visiting Assistant Professor in Social Psychology at Skidmore College. Conor studies the justification and suppression of antisocial behavior. Conor examines this from the realm of slurs/humor and aggression in cultures of honor with a goal of understanding why people exhibit antisocial behavior despite societal norms that vilify their use. Email: codea@skidmore.edu
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, Melissa Sanborn
  • Psychological Sciences, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas 66506, USA
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  • Melissa Sanborn completed her undergraduate degree in psychology at Kansas State University. While she was there, she collaborated on research to examine reactions to and effects of sexist humor with Don Saucier and Megan Strain.
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and Amanda L. Martens
  • Corresponding author
  • Simpson College, Indianola, Iowa 50215, USA
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  • Amanda L. Martens (ABD, Kansas State University) is a newly appointed Assistant Professor at Simpson College in Indianola, IA. Her primary research interests focus on examining perceptions of women within the lenses of both traditional and contemporary gender roles. For example, she examines the relationship between honor-bound beliefs and perceptions of both men’s and women’s aggression. Email: amanda.martens@simpson.edu
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Abstract

Across two studies, we examined how the reaction of a woman who was targeted by potentially disparaging sexist jokes by a male joke-teller affected men’s and women’s perceptions of the jokes, the woman who was told the jokes, and the male joke-teller. Participants viewed videos in which a man told sexist jokes to a woman who responded with amusement, offense, ambiguity, or nonverbal disapproval. We found that the woman’s reaction to the sexist humor affected the perceptions of both the male joke-teller and the woman. Our results suggest that expressing nonverbal disapproval may be an effective way to produce negative perceptions of a man telling sexist jokes (Study 1) and may increase positive perceptions of a woman who confronts them (Study 2). Further, expressing verbal offense may be an increasingly acceptable way of confronting sexist jokes, perhaps due to recent cultural shifts in perceptions of confronting sexism more generally (Study 2). Our findings offer reason to be optimistic about changing norms with regard to confronting sexist humor.

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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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