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Men use sexist and homophobic jokes due to insecurity over their masculinity, study claims

They feel the need to reaffirm their own sense of self

Rachel Hosie
Friday 21 April 2017 10:49 BST

There is a certain man who thinks it’s funny to suggest a woman get back in the kitchen. Or tells her not to cry when something goes slightly awry. Or asks whether it’s her ‘time of the month’ if she’s annoyed.

Those men - well, they’re many things - but according to a new study, men who make sexist jokes are probably just insecure about their masculinity.

In news that will come as little surprise to many, science has proven that men who use sexist and anti-gay humour do so to reaffirm their own sense of self, particularly when they feel their masculinity is being threatened.

Disparaging jokes are often used to reinforce one’s position as part of an in-group by clearly separating them from an out-group.

Researchers from the Western Carolina University in the US conducted two experiments with 387 heterosexual men.

The participants completed online tests to reveal their personalities, social attitudes and prejudice levels against women and gay men.

In the questionnaire, the men were asked how much they agreed with various statements such as “Women seek to gain power by getting control over men” and “Once a woman gets a man to commit to her, she usually tries to put him on a tight leash.”

The men’s preferred type of humour was then also deciphered, as well as whether they thought their humour would help others form a more accurate impression of them.

The results of the study suggest that men who hold more precarious manhood beliefs - particularly when they feel their masculinity as defined by typical gender norms is being challenged - are more likely to use sexist and anti-gay jokes to provide self-affirmation.

“Men higher in precarious manhood beliefs expressed amusement with sexist and anti-gay humour in response to a masculinity threat because they believe it reaffirms an accurate, more masculine impression of them,” lead study author Emma O’Connor explained.

“It appears that by showing amusement with sexist and anti-gay humour, such men can distance themselves from the traits they want to disconfirm,” she says.

The researchers hope that the findings of the study will help prevent such humour occurring, particularly in the workplace.

“Work settings where women occupy positions of authority might inherently trigger masculinity threats for men higher in precarious manhood beliefs and thus sexist joking,” says O'Connor, who adds that sexist jokes and teasing are two of the most common forms of sexual harassment women face at work.

“Given the social protection afforded to humour as a medium for communicating disparagement, it is possible that men use sexist humour in the workplace as a 'safe' way to reaffirm their threatened masculinity,” explains O'Connor.

But she believes that if managers better understood how and why such harassment occurs, they’d be able to prevent and handle it more effectively.

“For instance, they might more closely monitor workplace settings that could trigger masculinity threats and subsequent sexist joking, or they might attempt to reduce the extent to which men perceive masculinity threats in those settings in the first place.”

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