Are We Havin a Laugh? Sexist Jokes and Just Sexism
In this piece, philosopher Roger Scruton bemoans the fact (at least in his mind) that our modern society is beset with Politically Correct censors who go around looking for people telling racist and sexist jokes in order to make them feel bad. We have become a society that can't take a joke.
For Scruton, laughter is something distinctly human. It is a way that human beings can create bonds of fellow feeling. A good joke and the resulting spontaneous laughter brings out a shared world between people.
Thus, ethnic jokes can be a good thing. In Scruton's view, even a crude ethnic joke can be a way to combat racism. By telling a racist joke, you can laugh and demonstrate that the differences between people don't really matter. They're funny; not worth being serious about.
The same goes for sexist jokes. As Scruton sees it, everyone knows that there are differences between genders. Feminists are not funny because they are so serious about equality and blurring gender lines:
"Even more sinful than the ethnic joke in the eyes of our moral guardians is the old comedy of the sexes. Despite all the ingenious labor of the feminists, ordinary people notice the very real differences between the sexes, and the very great need to accommodate those differences and to defuse the conflicts to which they might give rise. Humor has been the traditional recourse of humanity in this predicament, as men jokingly defer to their "better half," and women submit to the edicts of "his nibs." ... For the feminist the failings of men are no laughing matter. Not surprisingly, therefore, the literature of feminism is devoid of humor — and advisedly so, for if it ever were to employ this resource it would die laughing at itself."
Both Plato and Aristotle were wary about laughter, but not because they were puritans. They believed that laughter often represented a form of derision. Scruton thinks that ethnic and sexist jokes are about "laughing with you" when we also know that laughter can be a malicious way of "laughting at you". For Aristotle, laughter is a sign that you find something ridiculous, worthy of derision. In the Poetics, he even suggests that laughter can be used as a social learning tool. Wise playwrights can portray ridiculous subjects and teach audiences what is base, stupid, and ugly to laught at.
A new study seems to support some of this thinking. The findings suggest that when men are shown sexist comedy routines they are more likely to approve of actions that disciminate against women's interests. The researchers suggest the reason for this is that the sexist humor creates the impression of a shared world of discrimination, a world in which it is just obvious that women can be discriminated against. It gives the perception to some people that others see the world the way they do, so its perfectly alright to continue thinking the way they do.
I can say this makes sense to me based on some very limited data. I can't tell you how many people have told me "I'm not prejudiced against black people, but I gotta agree with Chris Rock, some people just are ni***rs".