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No Kidding: Sexist Jokes Aren't Funny, They're Hostile

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"What's the difference between a woman and a pay phone?
You need a quarter to use a pay phone."

"How is a woman like a condom?
Both of them spend more time in your wallet than on your dick."

"What do you tell a woman with two black eyes?
Nothing, you already told her twice."

Women can be easily deceived, used and abused. Women are gold diggers, teasing you sexually but really only after your money. That's the subliminal message here, right? That last joke is great because it alludes to physical abuse, which we all know makes for hysterical comedy material.

Care for one more? Here goes!

"I like my violence like I like my beer: domestic"

That last one wasn't a joke told by a bunch of guys on their fifth pitcher of beer, slowly starting to slur their words and letting their inhibitions down.

Nope.

It was the recent Facebook status of popular east-end Montreal bar, Nacho Libre, whose social media manager somehow thought it completely appropriate to publish this cringe-inducing "joke." Isn't domestic abuse a riot?

That same bar recently had a sign outside, announcing the pick-up line of the day. Want to know what it was? Take notes, boys and girls. This one's bound to score you some digits.

"Does this handkerchief smell like chloroform?"

2014-02-19-sexism.jpg

Yup. Cue the laugh track.

Because, the preferred method of rendering their victims unconscious and helpless -- a method countless of known serial killers and rapists have used over the years -- is something to guffaw about. Something deemed so harmless, so inoffensive by so many that a bar owner would have no qualms placing that sign outside of his or her establishment; fearing no real repercussions or complaints.

Just a bit of edgy humour, that's all... After all, women need to lighten up and learn to take a joke! Can't we stop being so sensitive? It's only funny because it's shocking, right? No real harm meant by it.

Only problem is, harm was meant by it, because sexist jokes are not funny -- they're hostile.

Jokes about blondes, women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, women as sexual toys, women drivers (I could go on and on...) are not just harmless fun and games. They normalize sexism and hostility towards women in a way that most people don't even realize because these types of "jokes" are so omnipresent in our society.

A research project led by a Western Carolina University psychology professor indicates that exposure to sexist humour can lead to tolerance of hostile feelings and discrimination against women.

Like we needed a scientific study to reach that conclusion...

Still, it's important to point to actual studies that pinpoint the results of something so many consider utterly benign. In the study, men were exposed to sexist images and humour, and then asked to participate in a project designed to determine how funding cuts should be allocated among select student organizations.

The study found that, upon exposure to sexist humour, men higher in sexism discriminated against women by allocating larger funding cuts to a women's organization than they did to other organizations. They also found that, in the presence of sexist humour, participants believed the other participants would approve of the funding cuts to women's organizations.

What this shows is that humorous disparagement creates the perception of a shared standard of tolerance of discrimination that may guide behaviour when people believe others feel the same way.

"Sexist humor is not simply benign amusement. It can affect men's perceptions of their immediate social surroundings and allow them to feel comfortable with behavioral expressions of sexism without the fear of disapproval of their peers," said Thomas E. Ford, a faculty member in the psychology department at WCU. "Specifically, we propose that sexist humor acts as a 'releaser' of prejudice."

Think about that for a minute.

Sexist jokes not only allow men (and sadly, women) to believe that sexist behaviour falls within the bounds of social acceptability, it also reveals people's deep-rooted -- and often undetected -- prejudices about a woman's place in our world.

I can't even begin to count the number of decent, intelligent, well-behaved male friends, who would never think to verbally or physically disrespect me, who have made silly "go make me a sandwich" jokes at my expense. Usually after I've written an opinion piece like this one.

There is this deliberate blindness, this unwillingness to see, this desire to "mansplain" it away that simply amazes me, when it comes to admitting that sexist attitudes are doing real harm to women and the self-image of girls.

To their credit, this inappropriate status came to my attention because two men shared it on their Facebook feed. The first man calling out the bar, and the second sharing it on his wall; allowing me to see it.

It's reassuring to know that men are starting to see the inappropriateness in what is often considered mainstream, harmless fun. It allows me to believe that progress -- albeit it painfully slow at times -- is taking place. But we're not there yet.

While racist and homophobic jokes are no longer tolerated the way they once were, and people have become sensitized to the discrimination they represent, demeaning jokes involving women continue to get a free pass.

Women being treated as nothing more than sexual objects, women belonging in the kitchen, and generally being treated as inferior, are still de rigeur. Sexist jokes are so normalized that a bar can post jokes about violence to women and think it "edgy."

After all, if you can't laugh at date rape and domestic abuse, what can you laugh at?

Here's an idea: try being funny without being offensive. It may require a little more work on your part, but hey... expand your limited horizons and start thinking outside of your sexist/racist/homophobic box. Just because you throw a flippant "It's just a joke!" disclaimer at me, does not make it all right. This is more than just casual humour. Jokes like these demean the person or group they're directed towards every single time, and if you stay silent and choose not to denounce them you, too, are being passively sexist.

And if you're reading this and already attempting to explain to me why these jokes really aren't harmful, you are not actively listening. It's actually the easiest -- and laziest -- way to dismiss a valid concern. You are too busy enjoying your male privilege, or you are coming from that misinformed and mistaken place that thinks that equality has already been achieved and here's this annoyingly loud feminist complaining about something or other again...

For the record, and in the interest of fairness, I don't find dumb man jokes funny either. I find them offensive and silly. However -- and here's the main difference -- men have not historically had to deal with pay inequality, rape, have not been the majority of victims of domestic violence and are overwhelmingly not the objects of sexual harassment.

Women are. And sexist jokes like these perpetuate the stereotypes that continue to do us major harm.

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