Following on our last discussion on Tim Hunt, we thought we’d continue the discussion about humor in how it can both support (#distractinglysexy) and also be problematic in creating a welcoming environment (the aforementioned Tim Hunt’s “joke”).
Humor can also unite and bond people with shared values. And humor can help people learn and see the world from a different perspective than they would otherwise.
Clearly humor has some complexity to it. And humor can be quite specific to an audience/time/place. Even professional comedians that do understand humor, communication, and audiences have a hard time eliciting the response that matters to the most people possible: a laugh, and a genuine emotional response from the audience.
And humor can be even more fraught online through text only communication (twitter, email) unless you really know the person/people you’re interacting with quite well or are familiar with their voice. It is notoriously hard to convey tone through text.
Like many things, humor is context dependent. Especially satire like The Onion does. At its best, it pierces the heart of an issue, but only if you really understand the underlying context they’re channeling.
Hilda Bastian addressed the root of the problem with Tim Hunt’s remarks in a PLOS blog post:
Sexist and other discriminatory disparaging humor takes a code for granted: its funniness relies on people recognizing the stereotypes that are the basis for the joke. It asks us to not take discriminatory stereotyping seriously. That’s not going to take the sting out of it.
She links to this study on “prejudiced norm theory” about the idea that disparaging humor creates a cultural norm that condones discrimination. This is what we’ll discuss in DiversityJC this week! Read the article and bring your meta-sense of humor about humor.
How can we use humor to unite, rather than divide? Is merely laughing together a main ingredient to breaking down barriers?
How can humor be used to teach the world about diversity?
And on the other side: Can humor within/uniting the pro-diversity diaspora turn off those not as knowledgeable/conscious of diversity issues (not outright harassers, but those that can have their minds changed with data)? (e.g. hashtags like #banmen).
If treating humor academically/analyzing it makes you sad, don’t forget to always look on the bright side of life.
What’s the answer to the question posed in the title of this post? Suggest your own in the comments and we’ll reveal our answer at DiversityJC on Monday at 2pm! Hope to see you all there.