Disparagement humor

… Or, no, it’s really not just a joke.

Disparagement humor is the type of humor designed to make a marginalized group look ridiculous. If the punchline is “Ha, ha, [insert marginalized group here] is [insert stereotype here]!” it’s probably disparagement humor. Jokes about women liking shoes, about black people being ignorant, about disabled people being stupid, or about Asian people liking music, are all examples of disparagement humor. 

In the case of sexism, disparagement humor has been shown to release and normalize sexism. When exposed to sexist humor, men are more likely to behave in a sexist way, and men who enjoy sexist humor are more likely to view sexism as acceptable. That’s bad enough, but it doesn’t stop there. Sexist humor increases rape proclivity if the men find such humor funny. In other words, when men who like sexist humor are exposed to it, they’re more likely to say they’d do stuff that amounts to rape, and they’re more likely to sympathize with rapists in hypothetical scenarios.

There’s also a link between enjoyment of sexist humor and physical, emotional, sexual, and relationship aggression in men. Men who like sexist humor are more likely to be violent, aggressive and abusive.

Similar results have been found for racist humor. People exposed to racist humor are more likely to behave in racist ways, and people who enjoy racist humor are more likely to be racist. Racist humor contributes to hostile environments and is harmful to those targeted by it.

Other vulnerable groups, such as GBLTQIA people and disabled people, have not been studied as much, but given the well-characterized effects of disparagement humor on sexism and racism, it would be foolish to expect anything other than analogous effects.

Because of the fact that disparagement humor normalizes prejudice, that it causes an increase in prejudiced behavior and aggression, and that it thus causes real and measurable harm to the marginalized, I will not tolerate disparagement humor on my blog. Joke about other stuff all you like, but don’t make racist, sexist, or otherwise bigoted jokes. They won’t fly here.

15 thoughts on “Disparagement humor

  1. Handy! Moar data points. We’d only known about some of those studies. Thanks for the roundup.

    • autisticook says:

      Can I ask you to tell me when I make a bad joke? I know I’m not too sensitive sometimes and you know more on this subject than I do. So I’d really appreciate getting educated when I get it wrong! I know that’s asking a lot but it’s still a confusing thing for me after all those years of using really offensive jokes as a way to fit in. It would mean a lot!

      • autisticook says:

        Lol that was meant as a general comment but instead it looks as if I replied to synapticsymphony. Sorry!

      • ischemgeek says:

        I’ve yet to see you make a joke like that, but if you want me to, I will let you know if I see it. Thanks. :)

        I hope I don’t come off as moralizing above – to a large extent, it’s hard to avoid absorbing isms from our cultures. Not sure about your culture, but Canadian culture is quite bigoted, and it’s hard to see bigotry you grew up steeped in. I think it’s less an issue of whether or not you’ve absorbed bigotry from your culture and more of whether or not you’re willing to learn to recognize it and fight those tendencies within yourself.

      • autisticook says:

        I don’t think it’s moralising at all. It’s something I’m working on myself. I encounter a lot of “but if we can’t joke about things, then where does that leave us?” So I think posts like this give a vital framework to get to a point where jokes don’t need to be harmful to be funny.

        (And no, that’s NOT my autistic lack of humour). :p

      • ischemgeek says:

        I’m not a social scientist so I’m not sure how you’d formulate a testable hypothesis of this, but I postulate that reversing the power dynamics in your humor – i.e., instead of making sexist jokes, making jokes that ridicule sexism, for example – would have the opposite effect of sexist humor. And speaking from experience, jokes that mock sexism can be hilarious.

        So I’d imagine that not only do jokes not need to be harmful to be funny, but they can also be helpful and funny at the same time. :)

    • ischemgeek says:

      If you know of some along ableism, heterosexism, or cissexism lines, I’d love a tip off for it. I couldn’t find anything, but I’m assuming I’m just failing my Google Fu skill check.

  2. notesoncrazy says:

    A friend recently posted on facebook that her father had forwarded her a chain email to ask if the joke was racist. My friend just wanted to say that her dad was awesome, but of course facebook demanded the joke, she copied and pasted it into a comment, and a debate ensued over whether the punchline of the joke was racist, or poked fun at racism, and whether it even mattered.

    Personally I’m on the side that it pokes fun at racism, and so I’m going to post it here in response to your comment about looking for jokes that ridicule isms. I’m more interested in it prompting discussion or even just personal reflection than making a joke. And of course, if you land on the side of believing it’s racist, and you don’t feel it adds to the conversation, feel free to delete this whole comment, because my intention is definitely not to try to sneak in a racist joke on a post that explicitly states you aren’t interested in racist/anything-ist remarks on your blog!!!

    > A US Navy cruiser anchored in Mississippi for a week’s shore leave.

    > The first evening, the ship’s Captain received the following note from
    > the wife of a very wealthy and influential plantation owner:
    >
    > “Dear Captain, Thursday will be my daughter Melinda’s Debutante Ball.
    > I would like you to send four well-mannered, handsome, unmarried
    > officers in their formal dress uniforms to attend the dance.”
    >
    >
    > “They should arrive promptly at 8:00 PM prepared for an evening of
    > polite Southern conversation. They should be excellent dancers, as
    > they will be the escorts of lovely refined young ladies. One last
    > point: “No Jews please.”
    >
    > Sending a written message by his own yeoman, the captain replied:
    >
    “Madam, thank you for your invitation. In order to present the widest
    > possible knowledge base for polite conversation, I am sending four of
    > my best and most prized officers.”
    >
    > “One is a lieutenant commander, and a graduate of Annapolis with an
    > additional Masters degree from MIT in fluid technologies and ship
    > design.”
    >
    > “The second is a Lieutenant, one of our helicopter pilots, and a
    > graduate of Northwestern University in Chicago , with a BS in
    > Aeronautical Engineering. His Masters Degree and PhD. In Aeronautical
    > and Mechanical Engineering are from Texas Tech University and he is
    > also an astronaut candidate.”
    >
    > “The third officer is also a lieutenant, with degrees in both computer
    > systems and information technology from SMU and he is awaiting
    > notification on his Doctoral Dissertation from Cal Tech.”
    >
    > “Finally, the fourth officer, also a lieutenant commander, is our
    > ship’s doctor, with an undergraduate degree from the University of
    > Georgia and his medical degree is from the University of North
    > Carolina . We are very proud of him, as he is also a senior fellow in
    > Trauma Surgery at Bethesda .”
    >
    > Upon receiving this letter, Melinda’s mother was quite excited and
    > looked forward to Thursday with pleasure. Her daughter would be
    > escorted by four handsome naval officers without peer (and the other
    > women in her social circle would be insanely jealous).
    >
    > At precisely 8:00 PM on Thursday, Melinda’s mother heard a polite rap
    > at the door which she opened to find, in full dress uniform, four very
    > handsome, smiling Black officers.
    >
    > Her mouth fell open, but pulling herself together, she stammered,
    > “There must be some mistake.”
    >
    > “No, Madam,” said the first officer.
    >
    > “Captain Goldberg never makes mistakes.”

  3. invisibleautistic/Robin says:

    It’s a VERY fine line as to where and when to make the joke, if you do it at all. For me, as an Asian, there are certain Asian stereotype jokes that I will crack (ex. Asians are good at math), because to some extent it may actually put Asians in a positive light for once as opposed to the following: that I’m stupid, a Communist, only work in factories/restaurants, etc., eat dogs and other animals, and so on. But I could definitely see Asians who aren’t that great at math rolling their eyes at the stereotype, because it disparages who they are.

    • invisibleautistic/Robin says:

      I guess I draw the line where a joke will put a group of people in a VERY negative light. It used to be that I wished that other people would stop saying/joking that all Asians are smart, but then I’ve had worse “jokes” than that thrown at me by other people.

      • invisibleautistic/Robin says:

        So, baby steps! If everyone can get to “all Asians like music” as opposed to “all Asians eat dogs,” I think that is a tremendous achievement for humanity. I just wish we could progress faster!

      • autisticook says:

        You’re more accepting than me, I think. I kind of feel belittled or not seen as an individual when someone makes a joke about women being good at a certain thing (women being the main axis I’m disprivileged on, I guess) because hey, maybe not all women are good at that and maybe I’m one of those and does that make me less? Or even worse, NOT AS FUNNY? :P

    • invisibleautistic/Robin says:

      Autisticook, I will admit that I do get confused by all these stereotypes! There are so many people who are way better at math than I am, even though I’m Asian, and as a woman, I don’t wear makeup at all or talk a lot, so I don’t understand how these jokes got made in the first place!

  4. invisibleautistic/Robin says:

    *I just wish we could progress faster to just recognizing someone as a person as opposed to recognizing someone based on their stereotype

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