A Framework for Thinking about the (not-so-funny) Effects of Sexist Humor

Julie A. Woodzicka, Thomas E. Ford


The prevalence of sexist humor in popular culture and its disguise as benign amusement or “just a joke” give it potential to cultivate distress and harassment for women and to facilitate tolerance of sexism and discriminatory behavior among men. Thus, understanding the social consequences of sexist humor is a critical project for research in social psychology. The purpose of our paper is to provide researchers with a conceptual framework for organizing and evaluating empirical research and theories on sexist humor. We divided research on sexist humor into two categories: direct effects and indirect effects. Research on direct effects addresses questions about variables that moderate the interpretation of sexist humor as benign amusement versus a reprehensible expression of sexism. Research on indirect effects considers questions about the broader social consequences of exposure to sexist humor. For instance, “how does exposure to sexist humor affect the way people think about women and their perceptions of discrimination against women?” and “does sexist humor promote sexist behavior among men?” For each category of research, we describe representative empirical research and theoretical frameworks used to guide that research. Importantly, we also raise important issues or questions that require further empirical research or theoretical development. We hope that this research will cultivate further interest in theoretically guided empirical research on sexist humor.


sexist humor; sexism; hostile work environment; effects of humor

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