By Enrique Tessieri
How would you react if somebody at work during a coffee break would crack a racist, sexist of homophobic joke? We’ve all been in such uncomfortable situations many times in our lives. Sometimes our silence glares back at us, other times we do react.
A study in the United States by Janet Swim and Laurie Hyers asked the following question to women who’d hear a sexist joke or comment: Would you put them in their place, or would you be too nice to confront?
When the study was actually carried out, 50% of the women participants ignored the sexist comment, while 16% commented on its inappropriateness. Two percent grumbled but did nothing.
According to Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton of the University of California at Berkeley, when faced with sexism or prejudice our reaction will be very different from what we think we will do.
He continues: “Why? People underestimate the power of social norms (specifically, the norm of being polite, even against social transgressors). In addition, in such situations, people anticipate feeling angry, but in actuality they feel anxious…In other words, we ancticipate that we will stand up against prejudice, when in reality we end up being, well, too nice and polite to further disrupt the social order.”
Probably Mendoza-Denton’s conclusions are correct but in a wider context, if we saw how the media and other politicians reacted to the anti-immigration and even racist platforms of some of the Perussuomalaiset (PS) and other party candidates before the April election, was their reaction like the 50% in the Swim and Hyers study? Did they choose to remain quiet because they didn’t want to disrupt the social or political order of things?
If, on the other hand, we totally agree with Mendoza-Denton, does it imply that prejudice is so ingrained in our society that most of us are afraid to challenge it because that would be questioning our social order and the very essence of how we see ourselves and who can belong to our ethnic club?