A recent study published in the journal Sex Roles concludes that men make sexist and homophobic jokes when they feel their masculinity being threatened.
The study was conducted by Emma O’Connor, a researcher at the Western Carolina University. She began the study as a way to understand how humor operates in social settings, especially when someone uses jokes disparaging others as a way to improve their own social standing.
For the experiment, O’Connor and her researchers surveyed 387 heterosexual men about their social attitudes, personalities and levels of antagonism towards women and gay men. They also asked the men about their preferred types of humor and the degree to which they believed their humor shaped others view of them.
Researchers found that men who defined their masculinity through rigidly defined traditional social norms were more likely to make anti-gay and sexist jokes when they felt their masculinity being threatened.
“They believe it reaffirms an accurate, more masculine impression of them,” O’Connor said. “It appears that by showing amusement with sexist and anti-gay humor, such men can distance themselves from the traits they want to disconfirm.”
Women who experience sexual harassment at the workplace most commonly report hearing sexist jokes and teasing, says O’Connor, something that probably happens more so in “work settings where women occupy positions of authority [that] might inherently trigger masculinity threats.”
O’Connor hopes that her study can help workplace managers understand where such “jokes” originate from and do their best to help reduce perceived masculinity threats in the office, thus reducing incidents of sexual harassment.
One silver-lining from the study: O’Connor found that men do not make neutral or anti-Muslim jokes when feeling threatened, perhaps because there’s little perceived social benefits from making such jokes when your own masculinity feels under attack.
(Featured image by Spiderstock via iStock)