Sexist Humor and Rape Proclivity: The Moderating Role of Joke Teller Gender and Severity of Sexual Assault

Sexist men have a higher proclivity to rape after reading sexist jokes told by a woman.

FindingsMethodology

Content Warning: Rape, Sexual Assault

Sexist humor, specifically jokes that belittle women, is often perceived as harmless. In reality, sexist humor creates an environment where it becomes socially acceptable to express sexism and perpetrate violence against women. Previous studies have shown that men’s enjoyment of sexist jokes is positively correlated to their self-reported rape proclivity. Rape proclivity is an important concept in sexual violence. It is a self-reported measurement that demonstrates a man’s willingness to rape a woman under the circumstance that they would not be discovered. Alone, it does not determine if a man is more likely to actually commit rape, only his self-reported willingness to rape.

In this study, male participants were categorized as having high hostile sexism or low hostile sexism based on their responses to statements of antagonism towards women (hostile sexism) The male participants were shown a series of sexist jokes told by a man or a woman, after which they read four rape scenarios of different levels of violence. Participants then answered a series of questions designed to determine their rape proclivity. The authors of this study sought to understand if a man’s rape proclivity was affected by the gender of the joke teller. Additionally they investigated whether the self-reported rape proclivity applied only to the woman in the specific rape scenarios or was generalizable to all women.

Findings

When presented with a series of sexist jokes, men harboring high levels of hostile sexism reported greater rape proclivity in moderately violent rape scenarios if a woman told the jokes than if a man told them. This rape proclivity was not limited to the specific woman described in the scenario, but generalized towards women as a whole.

In moderately violent rape scenarios:

  • Men higher in hostile sexism reported greater rape proclivity than men low in hostile sexism.
  • Men higher in hostile sexism reported greater rape proclivity when a woman had previously told sexist jokes than when a man told sexist jokes.

In highly violent rape scenarios,

  • Men higher in hostile sexism reported greater rape proclivity than men low in hostile sexism.
  • Rape proclivity among men high in hostile sexism did not differ as a function of the gender of the joke teller.   

The authors replicated these findings in a second experiment measuring rape proclivity in general, rather than in reference to a specific fictitious woman. Taken together, these findings demonstrate that sexist humor, particularly when initiated by women, fosters a social context of tolerance of sexism among men high in hostile sexism. In the context of sexist humor, sexist men feel freer to express their antagonism against women through subtle sexist acts as well as sexual violence.

Methodology

This study was composed of one pilot study and two experiments. For each, male university students at the University of Granada volunteered to participate. In the pilot study, 49 participants answered questions on the violence of a particular rape scenario. Their responses were used to categorize each of the four rape scenarios as moderately or highly violent.

In the first of the two experiments, 144 male participants were assessed for either high or low hostile sexism using the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory. They were then assigned into one of two experimental conditions: in one condition a male told the sexist jokes, while in the other a woman told the sexist jokes. After reading the jokes, participants read the same rape scenarios as in the pilot study. They were then asked a series of questions designed to determine their rape proclivity to the specific woman mentioned in the rape scenarios.

In the second experiment, a different group of 128 male participants were assessed for either high or low hostile sexism using the same method as the first experiment. They then read the same series of sexist jokes, except that the name of the joke teller was not specified (it was only said that a man or a woman sent the sexist jokes). Participants then read the same rape scenarios as the pilot study. They answered the same questions as the first experiment, but these questions were designed to determine their rape proclivity of all women by asking questions about women as a whole, instead of the specific woman in the rape scenarios.


MLA: Romero-Sanchez, Monica, et al. “Sexist Humor and Rape Proclivity: The Moderating Role of Joke Teller Gender and Severity of Sexual Assault.” Violence Against Women, vol. 23, no. 8, 2017, pp 951-972. doi: 10.1177/1077801216654017                     APA: Romero-Sanchez, M., Carretero-Dios, H., Megias, J. L., Moya, M., & Ford, T. E. (2017). Sexist Humor and Rape Proclivity: The Moderating Role of Joke Teller Gender and Severity of Sexual Assault. Violence Against Women, 23(8), 951-972. doi: 10.1177/1077801216654017                    
Chicago: Romero-Sanchez, Monica, Hugo Carretero-Dios, Jesus L. Megias, Miguel Moya, and Thomas E. Ford. “Sexist Humor and Rape Proclivity: The Moderating Role of Joke Teller Gender and Severity of Sexual Assault.” Violence Against Women, vol. 23, no. 8 (July 2017): 951-972. doi: 10.1177/1077801216654017