Delegitimizing a Woman Politician Through Sexist Humor in Online Public Discourse: A Discursive Analysis Using Positioning Theory

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This study explores the use of sexist humor targeting a woman politician in public comments online. We examine the case of a Philippine woman senator and analyze jokes about her alleged sex video that was raised in a state congressional proceeding and became the object of public talk in media and online spaces. Using Positioning Theory as a discursive approach to conceptualize sexist humor, we understand sexist jokes as acts of positioning that evoke storylines, construct identities, and claim rights and duties. We argue that sexist humor as used in a political context has a social force of not only maligning a woman but also of delegitimizing her as a woman politician. We identified two sets of storylines within sexist jokes in relation to the alleged sex video, positioning her as an “animal” and making her the object of disgust and positioning her as a “moral threat” and questioning her moral capacity and legitimacy. The woman politician consequently lost the right to be respected as a woman, as a person, and as a politician, whereas the public gained the right to be sexist and denigrate women. We discuss implications of sexist humor in online public discourse and pose questions on the possibility and difficulty of counter-talk.