chapter  5
11 Pages

GENDER AND HUMOUR

Whether men and women have different senses of humour is usually studied in terms of their humour preference as consumers. Such studies reveal ambiguous evidence about differences between men’s and women’s humour, at least within the Anglo-Saxon culture which is the main source of such information (it should be added that most of this information derives from laboratory experiments in which the overwhelming majority of experimental subjects are students: the extent to which such information is representative must be open to question, both because of the restricted age and class range of the subjects, and because of the untypical circumstances in which they are exposed to humour). Some studies in this area suggest clear and systematic differences: for example that men are more likely to appreciate sexual humour than women (Terry and Estel, 1974) and that men’s humour is more aggressive whereas women prefer ‘absurd’ humour (Chapman and Gadfield, 1976). Other research suggests a more complex pattern. For example, a series of studies by La Fave (1972) indicates that in general people prefer jokes that are aimed at some group of which they are not members, or feel no empathy with. It is important to note that the ‘reference group’ to which the individual belongs is

defined primarily by the individual’s sense of identity rather than by objective demographic characteristics such as biological gender. When this principle was applied to gender La Fave found that

(1972:205)

Roughly consistent with this, Chapman and Gadfield (1976) found that men preferred sexual humour more when the theme of the humour was consistent with traditional definitions of masculinity and the status of men was not under threat, whereas women did not like such humour, especially when they defined themselves as influenced by the women’s movement. Otherwise there were no significant differences between men and women where appreciation of sexual humour was concerned, although both men and women who defined themselves as conservative in their value orientation did not like sexual humour in general.