Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details


International Journal of Humor Research

Editor-in-Chief: Ford, Thomas E.

4 Issues per year

IMPACT FACTOR 2015: 0.467
5-year IMPACT FACTOR: 0.574

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2015: 0.507
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2015: 0.535
Impact per Publication (IPP) 2015: 0.603

See all formats and pricing
Volume 28, Issue 2 (May 2015)


Sexist humor and social identity: the role of sexist humor in men’s in-group cohesion, sexual harassment, rape proclivity, and victim blame

Manuela Thomae
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Psychology, University of Winchester, Sparkford Road, Winchester, Hampshire SO22 4NR, United Kingdom
  • Email:
/ Afroditi Pina
  • School of Psychology, University of Kent, Keynes College, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NZ
  • Email:
Published Online: 2015-04-02 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/humor-2015-0023


Jokes have been recognized as ways in which negative attitudes and prejudice can be communicated and enacted in hidden ways (e.g., Allport 1954; Freud 2004 [1905]). In this paper, we review the existing literature on the functions and effects of sexist humor, using Martineau’s (1972) model on the social functions of humor as well as Tajfel and Turner’s (2004 [1986]) Social Identity Theory (SIT) and Turner et al.’s (1987) Self Categorization Theory. Within these frameworks, we particularly focus on sex as an intergroup context and on the way sexist humor functions to a) enhance male in-group cohesion (sexist humor as a predictor) b) serves as a form of sexual harassment (sexist humor as an outcome) and c) amplifies self-reported rape proclivity and victim blame (sexist humor as a moderator). The paper concludes by highlighting gaps in the existing literature and providing directions for future research.

Keywords: sexist humor; social identity approach; in-group cohesion; sexual harassment; rape proclivity; victim blame


  • Abrams, Jessica R. & Amy Bippus. 2011. An intergroup investigation of disparaging humor. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 30(2). 193–201.

  • Abrams, Dominic, G. Tendayi Viki, Barbara Masser & Gerd Bohner. 2003. Perceptions of stranger and acquaintance rape: The role of benevolent and hostile sexism in victim blame and rape proclivity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84(1). 111–125. [Crossref] [PubMed]

  • Allport, Gordon W. 1954. The nature of prejudice. Cambridge, MA: Addison-Wesley.

  • Angelone, D. J., Richard Hirschman, Sarah Suniga, Michael Armey & Aaron Armelie. 2005. The influence of peer interactions on sexually oriented joke telling. Sex Roles 52(3/4). 187–199. [Crossref]

  • Boxer, Diana & Florencia Cortés-Conde. 1997. From bonding to biting: Conversational joking and identity display. Journal of Pragmatics 27. 275–294. [Crossref]

  • Boxer, Christie F. & Thomas E. Ford. 2010. Sexist humor in the workplace: A case of subtle harassment. In Jerald Greenberg (ed.), Insidious workplace behaviour, 175–206. Boca Raton, FL: Routledge.

  • Brewer, Marilynn B. 1999. The psychology of prejudice: Ingroup love or outgroup hate? Journal of Social Issues 55(3). 429–444. [Crossref]

  • Brown, Rupert. 2000. Social identity theory: Past achievements, current problems and future challenges. European Journal of Social Psychology 30. 745–778. [Crossref]

  • European Commission. 2010. Feasibility study to assess the possibilities, opportunities and needs to standardise national legislation on violence against women, violence against children and sexual orientation violence [on-line]. Retrieved March 2014 from: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/eplive/expert/multimedia/20110405MLT17038/media_20110405MLT17038.pdf

  • European Commission. 2014. Boosting equality between women and men in the EU: Key actions and figures [on-line]. Retrieved August 2014 from: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/gender-equality/files/documents/140303_factsheet_progress_en.pdf

  • Eyssel, Friederike & Gerd Bohner. 2007. The rating of sexist humor under time pressure as an indicator of spontaneous sexist attitudes. Sex Roles 57(9/10). 651–660. [Crossref]

  • Ferguson, Mark A. & Thomas E. Ford. 2008. Disparagement humor: A theoretical and empirical review of psychoanalytic, superiority, and social identity theories. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research 21(3). 283–312.

  • Festinger, Leon, Stanley Schachter & Kurt Back. 1950. Social pressures in informal groups. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

  • Fiske, Susan T. & Peter Glick. 1995. Ambivalence and stereotypes cause sexual harassment: A theory with implications for organizational change. Journal of Social Issues 51(1). 97–115.

  • Fitzgerald, Louise F. 1993. Sexual harassment: Violence against women in the workplace. American Psychologist 48(10). 1070–1076. [Crossref]

  • Fitzgerald, Louise F. & Sandra L Shullman. 1993. Sexual harassment: A research analysis and agenda for the 1990s. Journal of Vocational Behavior 42(1). 5–27. [Crossref]

  • Ford, Thomas E. 2000. Effects of sexist humor on tolerance of sexist events. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 26(9). 1094–1107. [Crossref]

  • Ford, Thomas E., Christie F. Boxer, Jacob Armstrong & Jessica R. Edel. 2008. More than just a joke: The prejudice releasing function of sexist humor. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 32(2). 159–170.

  • Ford, Thomas E. Ferguson, Mark A. & S. Kalair. 2002. Effects of sexist humor on tolerance of sexist events: The role of normative structure. Paper presented at the annual conference of the American Sociological Association. Chicago.

  • Ford, Thomas E. & Mark A. Ferguson. 2004. Social consequences of disparagement humor: A prejudiced norm theory. Personality and Social Psychology Review 8(1). 79–94. [Crossref]

  • Ford, Thomas E., Erin R. Wentzel & Joli Lorion. 2001. Effects of exposure to sexist humor on perceptions of normative tolerance of sexism. European Journal of Social Psychology 31(6). 677–691. [Crossref]

  • Forsyth, Donelson R. 1983. An introduction to group dynamics. Monterey, CA: Brooks/.

  • Freud, Siegmund. 2004. Der witz und seine beziehung zum unbewußten/der humor. Frankfurt (Main), Hessen, Germany: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag.

  • Glick, Peter & Susan T. Fiske. 2011. Ambivalent sexism revisited. Psychology of Women Quarterly 35(3). 530–535. [Crossref] [PubMed]

  • Greenwood, Dara & Linda M. Isbell. 2002. Ambivalent sexism and the dumb blonde: Men’s and women’s reactions to sexist jokes. Psychology of Women Quarterly 26(4). 341–350. [Crossref]

  • Gwartney-Gibbs, Patricia A., Jean Stockard & Susanne Bohmer. 1987. Learning courtship aggression: The influence of parents, peers and personal experiences. Family Relations 36(3). 276–282. [Crossref]

  • Henkin, Barbara & Jefferson M. Fish. 1986. Gender and personality differences in the appreciation of cartoon humor. The Journal of Psychology 120(2). 157–175. [Crossref]

  • Hogg, Michael A. 1993. Group cohesiveness: A critical review and some new directions. European Review of Social Psychology 4(1). 85–111. [Crossref]

  • Hogg, Michael, A. & Scott A. Reid. 2006. Social identity, self-categorization, and the communication of group norms. Communication Theory 16(1). 7–30. [Crossref]

  • Hornsey, Matthew J. 2008. Social identity theory and self-categorization theory? A historical review. Social and Personality Psychology Compass 2(1). 204–222. [Crossref]

  • Hornsey, Matthew, J. Russell Spears, Iris Cremers & Michael A. Hogg. 2003. Relations between high and low power groups: The importance of legitimacy. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 29(2). 216–227. [Crossref]

  • Hunt, Christopher J. & Karen Gonsalkorale. 2014. Who cares what she thinks, what does he say? Links between masculinity, in-group bonding and gender harassment. Sex Roles 70(1/2). 14–27. [Crossref]

  • Kehily, Mary J. & Anoop Nayak. 1997. Lads and laughter”: Humour and the production of heterosexual hierarchies. Gender and Education 9(1). 69–88. [Crossref]

  • LaFrance, Marianne & Julie A. Woodzicka. 1998. No laughing matter: Women’s verbal and nonverbal reactions to sexist humor. In Janet K. Swim & Charles Stangor (eds.), Prejudice: The target’s perspective, 61–80. San Diego, CA, US: Academic Press.

  • Lott, Bernice E. 1961. Group cohesiveness: A learning phenomenon. Journal of Social Psychology 55(2). 275–286.

  • Lyman, Peter. 1987. The fraternal bond as a joking relationship: A case study of the role of sexist jokes in male group bonding. In Michael S. Kimmel (ed.), Changing men: New directions in research on men and masculinity, 148–163. Thousand Oaks, CA, US: Sage Publications.

  • Malamuth, Neil M. 1981. Rape proclivity among males. Journal of Social Issues 37(4). 138–157. [Crossref]

  • Martineau, William H. 1972. A model of the social functions of humor. In Jeffrey H. Goldstein and Paul E. McGhee (eds.), The psychology of humor: Theoretical perspectives and empirical issues, 101–125. New York, NY: Academic Press.

  • Masser, Barbara, G. Tendayi Viki & Clair Power. 2006. Hostile sexism and rape proclivity amongst men. Sex Roles 54(7/8). 565–574. [Crossref]

  • Montemurro, Beth. 2003. Not a laughing matter: Sexual harassment as “material” on workplace-based situation comedies. Sex Roles 48(9/10). 433–445. [Crossref]

  • Moore, Timothy E., Karen Griffiths & Barbara Payne. 1987. Gender, attitudes towards women, and the appreciation of sexist humor. Sex Roles 16(9/10). 521–531. [Crossref]

  • Reicher, Stephen, Russell Spears & S. Alexander Haslam. 2010. The social identity approach in social psychology. In M. S. Wetherell & C. T. Mohanty (eds.), Sage Identities Handbook. London: Sage.

  • Roiphe, Katie. 1993. The morning after: Sex, fear and feminism. London, UK: Hamish Hamilton.

  • Romero-Sánchez, Mónica, Mercedes Durán, Hugo Carretero-Dios, Jesús L Megías & Miguel Moya. 2010. Exposure to sexist humor and rape proclivity: The moderator effect of aversiveness ratings. Journal of Interpersonal Violence 25(12). 2339–2350. [Crossref] [PubMed]

  • Ryan, Kathryn M. & Jeanne Kanjorski. 1998. The enjoyment of sexist humor, rape attitudes, and relationship aggression in college students. Sex Roles 38(9/10). 743–756. [Crossref]

  • Siebler, Frank, Saskia Sabelus & Gerd Bohner. 2008. A refined computer harassment paradigm: Validation, and test of hypotheses about target characteristics. Psychology of Women Quarterly 32(1). 22–35. [Crossref]

  • Tajfel, Henri. 1982. Social psychology of intergroup relations. Annual Review of Psychology 33. 1–39. [Crossref]

  • Tajfel, Henri, Michael G. Billig, R. P. Bundy & Claude Flament. 1971. Social categorization and intergroup behaviour. European Journal of Social Psychology 1(2). 149–178. [Crossref]

  • Tajfel, Henri & John C. Turner. 1979. An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In William G. Austin and Stephen Worchel (eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations, 33–47. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

  • Tajfel, Henry & John C. Turner. 2004. The social identity theory of intergroup behavior. In John T. Jost and Jim Sidanius (eds.), Political psychology: Key readings (key readings in social psychology), 276–293. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

  • Thomae, Manuela & G. Tendayi Viki. 2013. Why did the woman cross the road? The effect of sexist humor on men’s rape proclivity. Journal of Social, Evolutionary and Cultural Psychology 7(3). 250–269. [Crossref]

  • Thomas, Caroline A. & Victoria M. Esses. 2004. Individual differences in reactions to sexist humor. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 7(1). 89–100. [Crossref]

  • Turner, John C. & Rupert J. Brown. 1978. Social status, cognitive alternatives and intergroup relations. In Henri Tajfel (ed.), Differentiation between social groups, 201–234. London, UK: Academic Press.

  • Turner, John, Michael A. Hogg, Penelope J. Oakes, Stephen D. Reicher & Margaret S. Wetherell. 1987. Rediscovering the social group: A self-categorization theory. New York, NY: Blackwell.

  • Viki, G. Tendayi & Dominic Abrams. 2002. But she ws unfaithful: Benevolent sexism and reactions to rape victims who violate traditional gender role expectations. Sex Roles 47(5/6). 289–293. [Crossref]

  • Viki, G. Tendayi, Patrick Chiroro & Dominic Abrams. 2006. Hostile sexism, type of rape, and self-reported rape proclivity within a sample of Zimbabwean males. Violence Against Women 12(8). 789–800. [Crossref] [PubMed]

  • Viki, G. Tendayi, Manuela Thomae, Amy Cullen & Hannah Fernandez. 2007. The effect of sexist humor and type of rape on men’s self-reported rape proclivity and victim blame. Current Research in Social Psychology 13(10). 122–132.

  • Woodzicka, Julie A. & Thomas E. Ford. 2010. A framework for thinking about the (not-so-funny) effects of sexist humor. Europe’s Journal of Psychology 6(3). 174–95.

About the article

Manuela Thomae

Manuela Thomae is a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Winchester. Her research focuses on the replication of WEIRD research findings in non-WEIRD contexts, intergroup contact, ambivalent sexism and sexist humor.

Afroditi Pina

Afroditi Pina is a Lecturer in Forensic Psychology at the Centre of Research and Education in Forensic Psychology (CORE-FP) at the University of Kent. Her areas of expertise are sexual and cyber-harassment perpetrators and victims.

Published Online: 2015-04-02

Published in Print: 2015-05-01

Citation Information: HUMOR, ISSN (Online) 1613-3722, ISSN (Print) 0933-1719, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/humor-2015-0023. Export Citation

Citing Articles

Here you can find all Crossref-listed publications in which this article is cited. If you would like to receive automatic email messages as soon as this article is cited in other publications, simply activate the “Citation Alert” on the top of this page.

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in