Sexist Jokes Make Men Think Sexist Behavior Is Okay, Study Says

Yes, men's magazines filled with sexist humor do influence men's attitudes towards sexist behavior and sexual assault, researchers find.

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Oct 13 2016, 9:20pm

Photo by HOWL via Stocksy

According to a study published in 2016 in Psychology of Men and Masculinity, men's magazines that objectify women and celebrate excessive masculinity are normalizing hostile sexism among young men.

While many of these magazines have suffered financially, like Maxim, or shuttered altogether, UK-based Loaded and Nuts, in recent years, "guy culture" continues to thrive online and on university campuses, researchers note. In a series of three studies, the authors reveal "how a concrete source of social influence – lads' mags – can shape the expression of a prejudice that is typically considered unacceptable in an egalitarian society."

In the first study, researchers surveyed 423 men between the ages of 18 and 30 who live in the UK, asking them about their men's magazine consumption as well as if they'd pay for sex. They were also asked to share their attitudes about women and their responses to myths about sexual aggression. According to the study, researchers found that "ambivalent sexism predicted attitudes toward the consumption of lads' mags, but not other forms of direct sexual consumption (paying for sex or patronizing strip clubs)."

Read more: Why Nerds Are So Sexist

The second study tackled the assumption that men who read sexist jokes in men's magazines find them ironic, not hostile—a long-toted argument by editors of such publications. Eighty-one male UK university students were shown jokes from a men's mag in and outside the context of a publication and asked to rate each on a scale of hostility, irony, and humor. Researchers found that the jokes were not considered more ironic or more humorous when presented in or out of the context of a magazine.

In the final study, researchers wondered if people would look at men's mags differently if they were shown evidence of their similarity in discourse to rapist discourse. They asked 274 undergraduate students at a US school to sort quotations, many of them hostile or describing violence, taken from a men's magazine and those attributed to convicted rapists.

Some examples, as reported by The Independent, include:

  • "If your girl is making a face that seems forced during sex, then she's pretending to enjoy you, but if she looks like she's just been punched in the kidneys, she's in the moment."
  • "If the girl you've taken for a drink won't spread for your head, think about this mathematical statistic: 85 per cent of rape cases go unreported."
  • "You know girls in general are all right. But some of them are bitches ... The bitches are the type that ... need to have it stuffed to them hard and heavy."

Only the last one was attributed to a convicted rapist.

Out of 16 quotes, researchers found that only half were correctly identified by students. Participants later reported "believing that lads' mags were less legitimate after engaging in the sorting task than at pre-test."

Peter Hegarty is a psychology professor at University of Surrey and the lead author on the study. Hegarty says that men's magazines generally "broadened the kinds of sexism that men found normal."

The 'locker room' idea was Trump saying 'all men talk in this ironic way, it has no consequences.

"I first got interested in lads' mags because young women students often talked about them as offensive and difficult to challenge because they were the norm," he tells Broadly. "Men who read lads' mags a lot scored higher on several measures of sexism, including acceptance of modern myths about sexual assault."

When asked if women should be wary of men who read these publications religiously, he suggested they "proceed at [their] own risk."

Hegarty's study is hardly the first to point out the insidiousness of sexist humor. Some have even documented a correlation between victim blaming and the proclivity to rape.

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Today's publication comes as the public and the media continue to debate Republican nominee Donald Trump's recently released 2005 video, in which he bragged about assaulting women. He's since chocked those comments up to "locker room talk."

"Trump bragged about assault, made millions of women feel less safe, and denied that he had done so by calling all men sexists in one move," says Hegarty. "The 'locker room' idea was Trump saying 'all men talk in this ironic way, it has no consequences.' But, Hegarty says, the studies suggest that social context has an impact on what sexism men will consider OK or not OK.