The reboot of the 1984 movie Ghostbusters was released nationwide last Friday. While it has received mostly positive reviews, there is a contingent of the online community who find the movie’s whole concept objectionable. A principal reason for this is that the movie’s cast is all female, which these critics equate with “butchering a remake of a beloved classic” by infusing it with “awkward political posturing,” putting the whole movie in service of a “hysterical” and “progressive feminist” ideology. The pushback against this movie has been so intense that its YouTube trailer has become the most disliked in YouTube history.
Putting aside the sillier arguments in support of this position (ex. “But how can I [hate women]? My daughter is one.”), one of the issues raised by the movie is how pop culture’s treatment of women—and the role humor plays in particular—can perpetuate sexism. More than jokes with sexist stereotypes, one of the outcomes of this debate is the resurgence of the idea that only men can be funny (a common refrain in comments on the trailer). While the comment may seem laughable at first given the number of popular female comedians, it is worth asking whether our perception of humor is gendered. In other words, are the people claiming this movie is unfunny because it stars women in bad faith, or are they socialized to only perceive something as funny when it comes from a man? Intrigued by what research has shown about this topic, I did a search to see what has been published. Here’s what I found:
- Julie Woodzicka and Thomas Ford. “A Framework for Thinking about the (not-so-funny) Effects of Sexist Humor.” Europe’s Journal of Psychology. August 2010. The paper proposes a framework for investigating the social effects (both direct and indirect) of sexist humor, using both empirical research and theory.
- Laura Mickes, Drew Walker, Julian Parris, Robert Mankoff, and Nicholas Christenfeld, “Who’s funny: Gender stereotypes, humor production, and memory bias.” Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. February 2012. The paper reports on a study showing how males tend to prefer humor written by males, and how people tend to falsely attribute funnier things to men rather than women.
- Barbara Plester, “’Take it like a man!’: Performing hegemonic masculinity through organizational humour.” Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization, August 2015. Drawing from Judith Butler’s performativity theory, this paper looks at how gender is performed through humor.
- Susan Douglas. The Rise of Enlightened Sexism: How Pop Culture Took Us from Girl Power to Girls Gone Wild. Times Books, 2010. A book on how sexism is being repeated in pop culture under the guise of emancipation.
What are you reading?