1A judgmental label such as "sexist" does not mean the same thing to different people. I've picked instances of joking that I think most readers would judge as sexist. That is not a claim that the participants themselves orient to the talk as sexist; or if they did, that they would agree that such joking is problematic. Indeed, one purpose of undertaking such analysis is to attempt to characterize what the talk is and what it is doing for its producers in the first place. What do people accomplish in and through joking based on negative sexual stereotypes?Sometimes people engage in joking talk that might be characterized as blatantly sexist.
2 In all three cases, this talk provides a resource for participants to mark aspects of identity and relationship while furthering joking and laughter. The laughables and laughter provide sequential warrants for extending such talk. Furthermore, analysis will show how participants may implicate themselves more or less in offensive talk; there are minimal ways to play along just as there are ways to mark one's full cooperation in what is getting said. These issues will be taken up in the discussion of each instance and in the closing remarks.Three examples are presented below. One involves demeaning joking about categories of women; the other two involve demeaning joking about particular individuals.
Example 1: Stan and Dave
3 and provides an alternative term, "coot" (line 40), thereby implicating himself fully in the demeaning talk. Their use of metaphorical language helps key a shift into a play frame (Goffman, 1974), and they sustain it with additional metaphors ("shit," "dog meat"). Stan compares girls "down here" (in the college town) to the city girls "up there" (in the big city in that state) in terms of their desirability, sexual availability, and demeanor (lines 44-54). They compare overweight girls to livestock and laugh (lines 58-66). Following Dave's laughter, Stan poses a question that takes them to another topic (lines 67-68).Dave's initial assessment of the "wool" at weddings is gratuitous in that it takes one element from Stan's prior telling and uses it to sexualize the talk. Weddings are now occasions for noticing good-looking women. Stan immediately agrees with Dave's assessment
Example 2: Dan and Jeff
4 , but he does not refer to the specific woman until following Jeff's show of interest (line 82). He identifies the "girl" by first name only in a question that calls on Jeff to confirm recognition of her. Jeff does so by providing an additional descriptor of her as having "big- wangers" (line 84)--hearable as a colloquialism for breasts. Jeff's questioning intonation invites Dan to confirm that they are talking about the same person. In this way it slips sexism in as part of the ongoing talk activity5 . It also serves to shift the talk from the topic of holiday plans to Donna and her appearance. Dan produces an unenthusiastic confirmation (line 86) and a nonsexual reference to her by a room location (lines 88-89). Jeff again assesses while shifting the referent from breasts to the whole person ("Big girl, bi:g.="). Dan seconds this assessment and links back to the previous "wangers" reference by adding that "everything's" big on her. Jeff's expressed appreciation (line 94) of Donna draws laughter from Dan but no reciprocal appreciation. Jeff again appreciates (line 98) and Dan agrees but does not share the assessment, implicitly marking it as Jeff's alone (lines 100-101). Dan then asks Jeff's holiday plans, and this moves them away from the playful talk about Donna.Dan's initial reference to Dana as "one a the girls" (line 79) genders the scene
Example 3: W and T
6 . W is telling a story about Monica, who is his "little sister" via his fraternity. Such a relationship implies in part that they spend time together in non-dating, non-sexual relationship. As we pick up on the story in progress, he is telling about her coming out of her room and asking him how she looks. His reference to not starting with her "on the wrong foot" suggests that she was treating him (inappropriately) like a date. In overlap with his talk that would return to events in the story (line 34), T offers a negative assessment of Monica's looks. From there they move into joking talk about Melissa as a possible sexual partner:Two university students talk in a dormitory room
7 In a mock-Southern dialect (associated with a stereotypical "redneck" identity), T invokes and then declines the possibility of doing her violence (line 44). W affiliates in expressing sexual desire "in character" also using a mock-Southern dialect (lines 46, 48-49). He makes a sexual pun on the word "rise" (51) which T reworks (52). After lengthy shared laughter, W resumes his story (line 58).T packages his assessment of Monica's looks (lines 35-36) with a tag question that explicitly seeks W's agreement. W's ambiguous response marks his unwillingness to agree with the assessment. Orienting to this, T produces a subsequent version (Davidson, 1984) that begins with a more positive but also more explicitly sexual description (lines 39-40). W affiliates by assessing Monica's breasts (line 42). This line also helps key a shift into playfulness by its repetition of the three part assessment: "XXX little XXX" ("nice litt:le-bo:dy" and "cute little breasts").
8. For all these reasons, it is not surprising to find sexually demeaning talk occurring in environments characterized by joking, humor, and laughter.The introduction of sexual joking, whether it involves assessments, metaphorical language, or stereotyping, presents a potent interactional crossroads. By acknowledging the sexualized items the A speakers implicate themselves in this kind of talk. However, if the A Speakers disattend the sexual talk they risk being treated as naive, hypocritical, puritanical, unfriendly, or (perhaps worst of all for these individuals) not a "real" man
9 and substantive critique of such talk will benefit from coming to grips with how it unfolds in situ and what it is about for the people producing it. Otherwise we risk reifying a divide between participants' and analysts' worlds that trivializes both.Affirming identity and pursuing relational intimacy are not in and of themselves problematic actions. Neither, of course, is joking. We can ask ourselves what alternatives exist for these men to joke, affirm masculinity, and affiliate, without demeaning women. Yet asking such questions and labeling this talk "sexist" are part of our interaction as writer and reader, not theirs. They produced their talk for and with each other,
1. For a discussion of sexism see Hopper, 2003, 27-30.
2. That these all involve (presumably heterosexual) males talking about females is a matter of convenience sampling. It does not mean that only males engage in such talk, although it is possible that certain groups do so with greater regularity.
3. Interestingly, Stan locates his assessment in a single wedding; Dave's assessment is of weddings, generalized.
4. See analysis of this in Hopper, 2003, pp. 122-123; also see Hopper and LeBaron, 1998 characterizing how participants bring gender into talk
5. See Sacks and Schegloff (1979) regarding rules for person reference in conversation.
6. See insightful analyses of this conversation in Beach, 2000, and Hopper, 2003, p. 162.
7. For a discussion of repetition's role in triggering play, see Hopper and Glenn, 1994.
8. Sacks (1974) shows how in a teenage group therapy session dirty jokes may pose "understanding tests" for which those caught not "getting" the joke may be teased or regarded as naïve. Glenn (2003) shows how a hearer failing to get a sexual joke leads him to be a victim of laughing at.
9. Their talk may also orient to other present and future listeners; we can only speculate how knowledge of being recorded might have figured in their interactions.