Many years ago, as a social psychologist specializing in gender equity, I was invited to attend a weekend workshop at the Air Force Academy. I was there to suggest ways to reduce prejudice against women, who were inching up to 10-percent of enlistees. At one of our first sessions, the topic of sexist humor arose. A senior officer grumbled that he always asked his junior officers if it was OK if he told them a joke, and they invariably said yes. Here was his joke:
Q: Why do doctors always spank a newborn baby?
A: So the penises will fall off the dumb ones.
The room fell silent, though I imagined every female subordinate thinking, “Who among us will say, No, sir, I’d rather not hear your joke, which for some reason I suspect won’t be funny?” And then the department secretary, an elegant woman in her 60s, rose to her feet and said to the officer, as if to a misbehaving schoolboy, “I was raised to believe that if you have to ask permission to tell a joke, you know you shouldn’t.”
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