“Females will argue with you for 30 minutes and then be like ‘I ain’t even gonna argue with you”.       

 “It was just a joke;” “It’s not a big deal;” “I didn’t mean offense;” “Lighten up;” “Why do you have to make everything so serious?” “In that case there won’t be any more fun” “Feminazi”, “hope you never meet any woman of my team, or they will become feminists,” or “if we ask you something will it be labelled under #metoo”

This  language of  jokes is the Language of power.

The communication of Sexist humor is no mystery, appearing everywhere from the board room to chai bandi’s, from news conferences to sitcoms and this kind of humor is prevalent in our television content under the name of “just for fun” “just a joke” show. Humour that indicates sexist, homonegative, trans negative or racist is based on the unsaid assumptions that the individuals exposed to these types of humor will identify the stereotypes that form the basis on which the humor is developed and this benevolent sexism is not considered serious.

Sexist humor is a form of disparagement humor, communication in which one person or group (the disparager) insults, belittles another person or social group (the target) on the basis of characteristics that are often key to our social identity, including race, age, intelligence, weight, and sex.

Thinkers like Spencer and Freud have tried to negotiate through their work that humour acts as the release of ‘pent up nervous energy’. It’s irony that Freud’s theory about woman is premised on stereotypes and objectification but his another theory about two emotions – sexual desire and hostility- explains the underlying intention of most jokes and witty remarks which is about sex, hostility or both.

In creating or sharing or listening to a sexual joke one overcomes internal censor, vent libido and let out the hostility that’s been repressed. These jokes normalize the idea that a woman’s position is constricted to the kitchen and her instincts are prone to nurturing. Such jokes not only cements certain stereotypical beliefs and ideas but also trivializes feminism and it’s effort. Therefore, sexist humor can be defined as denigration of women through humor, it reduces the gravity of discrimination based on sex under the cover of benign amusement.

The consequences of sexist humor spreads its tentacles beyond the near social setting of a specific target or group, the light weight of the “just a joke” has the capacity to act as a blockade for the progress of feminist movements and in establishing an equal world. This is well said in the following words :

“A woman wants to be taken seriously in a male-dominated society. She finally feels like she’s achieving that. Then they make a joke about her going back to the kitchen where she belongs—and now what? If she doesn’t laugh, she’s obviously just an overly sensitive woman who can’t be taken seriously…. But if she does laugh, she’s saying that oppression of women is somehow funny. Whether she realizes it or not, she’s discrediting the feminist movement: she is submitting to the masculine ideology that women’s rights are not important enough to be taken seriously.”                                                                     

In a layman’s illustration :

Reactions to these would be interpreted as overtly sensitive

Underneath such jokes are sexist ideas and beliefs about the position of women. It depicts them as illogical, dumb, ignorant, irresponsible, mocking by exaggerating traditional feminine stereotypes or representing them as manipulators, cunning,  being selective in their approach to equality and seen as actively playing victim card.

A Research study concluded that while jokes don’t create hostility towards women, it reinforces the prejudice where it exists. Essentially, it explains that if one jokes about women and gets the laughs that one is competing for, those who are already hostile to women will see this as a social green light for their views. This study proved that men who ranked higher in hostile sexism had greater tolerance of sexual harassment in the workplace when exposed to sexist versus neutral (non-sexist) jokes. (Ford and Ferguson, 2004)

In  a study called “More Than “Just a Joke”: The Prejudice-Releasing Function of Sexist Humor”, it was found that men who were more hostile toward women also recommended larger funding cuts to a women’s organization at their university after watching sexist versus neutral comedy skits. Another study called “Why did the woman cross the road? The effect of Sexist Humor on Men’s Rape Proclivity” found that men higher in hostile sexism expressed greater willingness to rape a woman upon exposure to sexist versus nonsexist humor.

How can one identify if it’s a sexist humour or not?

In an article called Joke or Sexism? Misogynist Humor Condones Prejudice, the writer of the article, Pallavi Prasad provides a line of inquiry to see if a joke is funny or sexist.

“Does this joke insult women? Does it devalue women? Does it cement women in a gender role, or reduce them and their actions to exaggerations of existing sexist stereotypes? Does this joke reduce women to only their bodies? Does it refer to them as an object or piece of property? Do the women have any agency in the joke’s narrative? Are women portrayed solely from a male perspective with no personal agency or identity? Does it include violence against women? If yes, is it portrayed authentically to show reality, or is it crucial only to the punchline? Is the violence used to further prop up toxic masculinity and aggression?”

Yes these are too many questions because there are too many layers around every joke. Yet it is important to question.

And I like the cute bunny and I am funny but

I don’t want to be a sexist, honey.

This article is written by our Therapist and Fellow Laliteshwari


Ford, T. E., Boxer, C. F., Armstrong, J., & Edel, J. R. (2008). More than “just a joke”: The prejudice-releasing function of sexist humor. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(2), 159-170.

Ford, T. E., & Ferguson, M. A. (2004). Social consequences of disparagement humor: A prejudiced norm theory. Personality and social psychology review, 8(1), 79-94.

Joke or Sexism? Misogynist Humor Condones Prejudice By Pallavi Prasad Jun 27, 2019

Thomae, M., & Viki, G. T. (2013). Why did the woman cross the road? The effect of sexist humor on men’s rape proclivity. Journal of social, evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 7(3), 250.

This article was written by Laliteshwari, our therapist and fellow at Pause for Perspective