Study Finds

Study: Men Who Make Sexist, Anti-Gay Jokes Feel Insecure About Masculinity

CULLOWHEE, N.C. — Ever heard a disparaging dig about a gay man or woman by a friend, or a slighting aside about a female manager? There’s a good chance the person making the jokes was simply projecting that his own masculinity feels threatened, a new study finds.

Researchers sought to find out why so many men find amusement in anti-gay or sexist jokes, and discovered much of it has to do with their fears about loss or lack of manhood.

Men making anti-gay or sexist jokes often feel insecure about their own views of masculinity, a new study finds.

The study, conducted at Western Carolina University, used a two-pronged experiment involving 387 heterosexual male participants. First, they completed online questionnaires to test social attitudes and levels of potential prejudice and antagonism against gay men or women. Second, the individuals were tested for their preferred types of humor and whether or particular jokes or humorous remarks would be helpful indicators for others to get an accurate assessment of their personality.

The results indicated that men making the sexist and anti-gay jokes were providing self-affirmation to their lofty and unrealistic views of typical gender norms for manhood.

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“Men higher in precarious manhood beliefs expressed amusement with sexist and anti-gay humor in response to a masculinity threat because they believe it reaffirms an accurate, more masculine impression of them,” says lead author Emma O’Connor in a press release. “It appears that by showing amusement with sexist and anti-gay humor, such men can distance themselves from the traits they want to disconfirm.”

The results also showed that men don’t turn to telling neutral jokes or anti-Muslim jokes when their masculinity feels at risk.

O’Connor and the researchers hope their small sample study will encourage workplace environments to help prevent humor being used as a common (and often overlooked) form of harassment.

“Work settings where women occupy positions of authority might inherently trigger masculinity threats for men higher in precarious manhood beliefs and thus sexist joking,” explains O’Connor.

“Given the social protection afforded to humor as a medium for communicating disparagement, it is possible that men use sexist humor in the workplace as a ‘safe’ way to reaffirm their threatened masculinity.”

The study’s findings were published in Springer’s April edition of the journal Sex Roles.

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