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Researchers have found that exposure to sexist humour makes men who already have sexist tendencies more likely to discriminate, reports Yahoo’s LiveScience.com.

The research was carried out by psychologist Thomas Ford and some of his graduate students at Western Carolina University:

The participants were asked to imagine they were members of a work group in an organization. They then either read sexist jokes, comparable non-humorous sexist statements or neutral (non-sexist) jokes. They were then asked to say how much money they would be willing to donate to help a women’s organization.

After reading sexist jokes, the men were less likely to donate to the women’s organisation – but not after reading sexist statements or neutral jokes. Which, I think, demonstrates the power of humour to normalise and justify prejudice under the guise of it being ‘all in good fun’.

Feminists are used to being told that we just can’t take a joke – note the stereotype of the humourless feminist. But this study shows that these jokes have a real effect.

In a second test, “men were shown video clips of sexist or non-sexist comedy skits and were then asked to participate in a project designed to determine how funding cuts should be allocated amongst select student organizations”.

Says Ford:

“We found that, upon exposure to sexist humor, men higher in sexism discriminated against women by allocating larger funding cuts to a women’s organization than they did to other organizations…

“We also found that, in the presence of sexist humor, participants believed the other participants would approve of the funding cuts to women’s organizations… We believe this shows that humorous disparagement creates the perception of a shared standard of tolerance of discrimination that may guide behavior when people believe others feel the same way.”

Perhaps this means exposing sexists to feminist humour will reform them!

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