Sexist jokes fuel sexist attitudes

Oliver Bineth

I remember one day, my 16-year-old sister came home terrified after a man had whistled at her on the street. She felt anxious, paralyzed and guilty. I hated to see her like that. Sadly for women, this is something that they encounter often. Why? It’s because we live in a society that allows sexism. 

Let me tell you a joke: A wife says to her husband: “I look fat. Can you give me a compliment?” Her husband answers: “You have a perfect eyesight.” 

Did you laugh? This joke was published on under the “Sexist Jokes” section, and yes, this section actually exists. It has received more than 19,200 likes. Some people think that this joke is innocent, but in reality it does more damage than you think. 

Many people, especially men, have no idea what impact these sexist jokes have. Not only is it hurtful to women, but it also shapes the way men think about women.

The problem with addressing sexism is the fact that society has embedded into our minds that it is okay to be sexist; therefore, a lot of us don’t see a problem with the jokes we make about women. While sexist jokes can be funny, a lot of the time, the people who make these jokes really do just see women as objects. 

Western Carolina University Psychology Professor Thomas E. Ford, examined the effects of sexism in humor in his research More Than “Just a Joke”.

In his study, Ford analyzed students deciding how much money they were donating to fictional women’s organizations right after having read sexist jokes. The results showed that students rating high on sexist attitude gave almost nothing to the organizations while students thatdidn’t rate high on sexism donated even more after being influenced by the jokes. In short, sexist humor fuels sexist people and makes them more prejudiced. 

“Sexist humor is not simply [good-natured] amusement,” Ford said in an interview with Huffington Post.  “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. Specifically, we propose that sexist humor acts as a ‘releaser’ of prejudice.”

At the beginning of the semester, Whittier College held an event called Sex Signals to educate students about the dangers of sexual relationships. The presenters acted out a scene where the friend of guy who raped a girl at a party was being interviewed. 

According to a female student who attended the event, a group of boys jokingly whispered the question: “Why are you being a snitch?” in reference to the interview. Shocked and terrified by the joke these boys had just made about rape, the student immediately got up and left the workshop. Still afraid of the group of male students she overheard at the event, the female student requested anonymity in this article. 

The consequences of sexist jokes are immediate and profound, yet our society still tolerates such behavior. 

Sexism has a long history, but now, thanks to social media, it doesn’t seem like things will get better anytime soon. 

Thousands of posts and tweets shame and criticize women everyday, the latest example being the female Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton, who was targeted by demeaning tweets during the first Presidential Debate. One twitter user, @patgarofalo, tweeted “I don’t have an ex-wife. But if I did, it would sound like Hillary Clinton.” 

In 2014, 44 years after publishing The Female Enunch, feminist writer Germaine Greer explained to BBC how she felt things got worse with the internet. “Liberation hasn’t happened,” Greer said. “People like to think that it has. Even sexual liberation didn’t happen. What happened was commercial pornography was liberated, fantasy was liberated, but people weren’t liberated ... It seems to me that men are even less tolerant of women as they were before.”

Feminist journalist and blogger Laurie Penny, wrote that misogyny is reactionary. In other words, growing sexism is the way by which men react to the stronger representation of women. Men reinforce their masculinity through the domination of women, but when they are no longer able to perform this action, they suffer an identity crisis. This domination can range from “mansplaining” things away to domestic violence.

“I am old enough to have lived in a world without sexism and sexual harassment,” Feminist scholar Dale Spender wrote. “Not because they weren’t everyday occurrences in my life but because THESE WORDS DIDN’T EXIST. It was not until the feminist writers of the 1970s made them up and used them publicly and defined their meanings — an opportunity that men had enjoyed for centuries — that women could name these experiences of their daily life.”

What can we do to eliminate sexism? First of all, become aware when something sexist is taking place, whether it be in your own actions or in others’. If you hear someone telling jokes about women, don’t laugh at them; all that does is encourage sexism. Instead, call people out on their prejudiced behavior. The more you recognize sexist behavior, the less likely you will contribute to it in the future.