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Ponnada: Sexism isn't funny

BY SRI PONNADA | OCTOBER 07, 2013 5:00 AM

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I was talking to my best friend last night about how messy my room was a week ago and she said to me, “You need to learn to cook and clean, or you’ll never find a good man.”

Neither of us actually thinks that women should subscribe to such ridiculous prescribed gender roles, so I thought what she said was pretty hilarious. I joke around about sexist stereotypes like that all the time with my friends because:

It’s really funny and I also feel that addressing issues with humor is a good way of raising awareness about them.

However, I came upon some studies recently that have been making me question whether it’s really such a good idea for me to be saying things like “Girl, get back in the kitchen” — even if it’s just a joke.

Social psychology researchers at the University of Iowa conducted a study to determine whether sexist humor has broader social consequences related to societal sexism. And [not surprisingly] the current research suggests that sexist humor creates a context that justifies the oppression of women.

For the study, 80 male participants ranging from 18 to 65 were randomly exposed to sexist jokes, sexist statements, or neutral jokes. Seventy-two participants displayed high levels of hostile sexism —characterized by characterized by antagonistic attitudes toward women, particularly those who defy traditional gender roles — and they reported greater support for beliefs that justify societal sexism after exposure to sexist jokes than upon exposure to neutral jokes or non-humorous sexist statements.

A research project led by a Western Carolina University psychology professor a few years ago also indicated that jokes about women making sandwiches and PMS are not just hoopla; instead, exposure to sexist humor can lead to toleration of hostile feelings and discrimination against women.

It’s as if there’s no winning when you’re a woman. Unfortunately, trying to co-opt sexist humor doesn’t delegitimize it, it just reinforces its presence in society, regardless of the motives of the person making such jokes.

I mean, when I think about it, how much good can spewing ignorant shit about problematic pervasive ideas really do?

By making a joke out of complex attitudes that have lasting effects on the lives of women, we are normalizing these standpoints and also providing too much leeway for people who hold oppressive and discriminatory views to get away with their obnoxious beliefs.

These jokes have been said over and over so many times that the assumption upon hearing them is that they’re meant sardonically. However, as the studies show, many people who mean them sincerely are able to hide behind this assumption.

That’s why it’s important for us to reflect on our choice of words because the words we use do have a meaning, and they do have residual effects. It seems that we, as a society, are at a point where we’ve repeatedly been exposed to sexism in so many different contexts that it doesn’t even upset people anymore — which is extremely problematic. We are so engulfed by sexism that we often don’t even recognize it when it’s happening right in front of our eyes.

It’s silly to try to reclaim sexism when it’s something that isn’t worth claiming in the first place.


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