Ridicule, gender hegemony, and the disciplinary function of mainstream gender humour

Mostafa Abedinifard
  • Social Semiotics, January 2016, Taylor & Francis
  • DOI: 10.1080/10350330.2015.1134817

Gender Humor Helps to Maintain Patriarchy

What is it about?

This paper focuses on ridiculing humor as a punitive force that reinforces gender norms. Much theoretical and empirical research in gender studies recognizes the punitive function of gendered humor and/or ridicule; however, it is not granted any theoretical significance. To resolve this tension, I integrate social psychologist Michael Billig’s theory of ridicule as a universal reinforcer of the social order, along with the notion of gender order (as a particular type of social order) as outlined in masculinities theorist Raewyn Connell’s gender hierarchy model. I contend that as a form of mainstream gender humor, ridicule serves as a tool for policing the gender order and creating self-regulating gendered subjects.

Why is it important?

The argument enables a rereading of mainstream gender humor, especially when it deploys ridicule to target non-hegemonic gendered subjectivities, practices, and performances. Such apparently banal humor, as I illustrate with examples of contemporary Anglo-American mainstream gender humor, speaks to and protects the fundamental elements of the gender order of the society and culture in which the humor circulates. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of the implications of the main argument for pro-gender democracy research and activism.

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