Ryan, Kathryn M., and Jeanne Kanjorski — The Enjoyment of Sexist Humor, Rape Attitudes, and Relationship Aggression in College Students

Ryan, Kathryn M., and Jeanne Kanjorski. “The Enjoyment of Sexist Humor, Rape Attitudes, and Relationship Aggression in College Students.” Sex Roles 38.9-10 (1998): 743-756. Web. 12 Feb. 2015.

This study explored the relationship between rape supportive attitudes and the enjoyment of sexist humor, sexually coercive behavior, and dating violence in college age men and women (743). Researchers focused on certain attitudes that can be predictors of sexual aggression in men, including Rape Myth Acceptance, Acceptance of Interpersonal Violence, Adversarial Sexual Beliefs, and Hostility toward Women. Rape Myth Acceptance includes beliefs about who gets raped, whether women lie about being raped, whether women deserved to be raped, and who are possible rape victims (748). Adversarial Sexual Beliefs focus on the idea of women as deceitful and manipulative. Acceptance of Interpersonal Violence, in this study, refers to sexual acts that are targeted against women and the acceptance of such acts. Hostility toward Women includes acts of physical and sexual aggression. Combinations of these attitudes are correlated with college men admitting their own likelihood of forcing sex and self-reported sexual aggression. Amy Richlin, a distinguished scholar, is quoted in her own study for saying, “cultures where rape is a joke are cultures that foster rape.” Researchers based their study off Richlin’s idea and Freudian theories to determine whether a man’s enjoyment of sexist humor can lead to rape-supportive attitudes. Freud described two types of humor. Non-tendentious humor “includes ‘innocent’ jokes that involve word play, substitution, absurdity, and the like” (744). Tendentious humor has a sexual or hostile aim and can be used on potential sex partners to express desires or can be used in a hostile way to attack an individual or a group. Humor can also be used to express dominance in a group or to enforce norms. Sexual jokes and comments are the most common form of sexual harassment. It has been found that men prefer hostile forms of humor that target women, especially if the man shows aggressive tendencies. However, men and women are equally likely to tell sexual and aggressive jokes with the target of the joke being women or gay men (745). It is suggested that men bond through sexist humor because it is seen as erotic and not aggressive. Women tend to laugh at sexist jokes but it may not be because the jokes are actually funny. Not laughing at a sexist joke could imply that the woman lacks a sense of humor and is being defensive (746).

The researchers held two hypotheses: “Men will rate the sexist jokes as funnier, more acceptable, and less offensive than women; however, they will not be significantly more likely to tell the jokes” and “Men will show a positive correlation between the enjoyment of sexist humor and Rape Myth Acceptance, Acceptance of Interpersonal Violence, Adversarial Sexual Beliefs, the self-reported likelihood of forcing sex, and sexual and physical aggression against their dating partners” (746). Around 400 college students rated a list of ten jokes on how funny they were, how acceptable it was to tell the jokes, how offensive they were, and how likely they were to tell the jokes. On example of a joke used in the study was, “Why did the woman cross the road? —Hey!! What’s she doing out of the kitchen?” Another example is “What’s the difference between a woman and a light bulb? – You can unscrew the light bulb” (747). Results of this study confirmed the first hypothesis because women enjoyed the sexist jokes significantly less than men, but they were not less likely to tell the joke. Women also showed less likelihood of forcing sex on their partner and less sexual aggression but more physical and psychological aggression (750). The second hypothesis was also confirmed and the enjoyment of sexist humor was associated with the jokes’ acceptability, inoffensiveness, and the likelihood that the person would tell the jokes. This study concludes that sexist jokes are usually enjoyed by men who are hostile toward women and aggressive with their partners (752). Also, “women may be more attuned than men to the hostile nature of the jokes and the effect this hostility may have on an intended audience” (753) so they are less likely to tell sexist jokes. These researchers proposed a way to reduce sexual and physical relationship violence by reducing tolerance for sexist humor and rape-supportive ideals.

Richlin’s assertion — “cultures where rape is a joke are cultures that foster rape” – represents the basis of my research and it emphasizes the need for reducing the tolerance of sexist humor. This is difficult to do but it is the ultimate goal of this type of research. It was found in this study that women are still likely to tell sexist jokes but I think this is because they will be judged as prude or boring if they do not laugh along. College students have conformed to their peer groups in order to fit in so they are deeply influenced by others’ behaviors. This could be due to the immaturity of students and the likeliness to follow the pack just so they are well liked or considered popular. I found it not so surprising that men and women were equally likely to tell sexist jokes because women are conditioned to think that these jokes are acceptable, funny, and are what people like to hear. When girls tell these jokes to each other they are accepting the vulgarity and violent words used against them, making it seem as if they do not mind being degraded. I ultimately think that sexist jokes intensify the hostility and aggression already found in men and these feelings are directed toward women. In my own personal experience, I have heard male students talk about women in degrading ways, especially when a woman rejects their sexual advances. A girl is called a bitch and is snubbed by a boy when she is uninterested or says no, causing the male to get angry and going back to tell his friends about the interaction in his favor.

This article also makes me wonder whether sexist thoughts really start taking hold in college or if they start younger and if they continue on even after college. Would the reactions of college women after hearing a sexist joke be different than that of middle aged women? Are older men less accepting of these types of jokes? From a sociological standpoint, I think gender roles are socialized during youth and affirmed throughout life. To stand up for rape and sexual violence victims without blaming them goes against the socialized notion that women are inferior and sexual acts are a right to be demanded.

–Lacey Kondos

Comments Off

Filed under Uncategorized