Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Men, Women, and Humor by Ellie Marek and Judith C. Tingley

Men and Women Respond to Humor

This is an article I wrote with an expert on humor — about a decade ago! Does it still apply? I think so. Do you? 

I apologize in advance for the blank space and rectangle in the middle of the post. After 30 minutes I can't figure out how to get rid of it! Sorry.

The war between the sexes has been going on forever. They were duking it out on Mount Olympus. It was certainly one of Shakespeare's favorite themes. The antagonism shows up often in humor. Many learned men (before learned women were recognized) — among them Plato, Aristotle, and Charles Darwin — believed that the basis of humor is assault. According to Victor Raskin, Ph.D. " . . . It's a civilized replacement for physical hostility. ... It's is a way to establish superiority."

We, the authors, (both learned women), thought so too as we reacted to a wave of humor on our e-mail which seemed to be definitely hostile — both male-bashing and female-bashing.

We thought the plethora of Internet gender jokes might well be examples of the "blason populaire" described by folklorist Alan Dundes. The term is used to describe humorous slurs against any group: ethnic, religious, or gender — a much more elegant term than "politically incorrect offensive jokes". Experts in cross cultural communication see this "blason populaire" as here to stay, so we decided to investigate!

We conducted a survey of 114 respondents, ages 20 to 70, equally divided between men and women. We asked them to respond to 21 jokes (half put-downs of each gender) with an adjective (funny, hostile, amusing, annoying, enjoyable, stupid or other) and an intensity: 1-10. 

Here's what we found out.
Men generally find this type of humor funny or amusing much more frequently than women do. They weren't offended by male or female put-down humor. They even thought this joke was funny:
Q. Why is it difficult to find men who are sensitive, caring, and good looking? A. They all already have boyfriends.
Women were much more frequently offended by both male-bashing and female-bashing humor than were men who were rarely offended. Female humor is traditionally keyed to stories and anecdotes, self-deprecating humor; not put-down jokes which are the favorite of many men. Men saw almost none of the jokes as hostile (about either men or women).
Women saw more hostility in jokes than did men and saw them as stupid more frequently.
Neither men nor women saw an increase in this type of humor, but both gave many varied reasons for the increase that they didn't think existed! Increased anger, threatened males, backlash, ignorance etc.

The lessons to be learned?
Women are more readily offended by jokes that slur either themselves or others.
If you want to use humor to influence women positively, eliminate this kind of humor.
They don't like it and probably won't learn to like it.

We also learned that neither men nor women read directions!
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