Family Ties: Divorce Jokes May Be Sexist

Family Ties: Divorce Jokes May Be Sexist

Why Did People at a Work Event Complain about my Telling Divorce Jokes?

Question:I am divorced and have a lot of divorced friends, co-workers, and acquaintances.I think of myself as having a good sense of humor, and enjoy telling jokes. Recently,I was at a company social event and I told a group of co-workers several divorce jokes,” such as the following:

1. Why do divorced men get married again? Bad memory.
2. What do you call a woman who has lost 95 percent of her intelligence? Divorced.
3. Why are hurricanes usually named after women? Because when they arrive, they’re wet and wild, but when they go, they take your house and car.

The next day at work I received a notice from my manager telling me that there had been complaints from a couple of my co-workers about my jokes. Is it considered socially unacceptable to tell divorce jokes?

A: Many divorce jokes, including the examples of jokes you provided in your questions, put down either men or (as in your case) women. Such jokes can be perceived not as divorce jokes,” but as sexist jokes. I am not surprised that some of your co-workers (probably women) were offended by your jokes, as they are really demeaning to women. Further, while you may not have intended any harm or meant to offend anyone, your joke-telling could be construed as a form of harassment “” a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), harassment may include not only epithets or name calling, slurs, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, and offensive objects or pictures, but also offensive jokes, ridicule or mockery, and insults or put-downs. The EEOC Web site explains that Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.”

So unless you have a pattern of behavior that is intimidating, hostile, or offensive” to women at your job, your joke-telling is not a legal violation. Although humor can be an effective tool to help us cope with the adversities of life (such as divorce), you would be well-advised to stick to jokes that do not put down or demean either women or men, or any group for that matter.

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