A male political science professor and a female gender studies professor walk into a crowded elevator…
And the doors open on an ethics committee.
Never heard that joke? Probably because it actually happened last month. The catalyst for the scuffle was an actual joke, and a run-of-the-mill one at that.
Richard Ned Lebow, a teacher at King’s College, has been under fire for his fateful choice of humor. When entering the elevator at a San Francisco convention, he was asked by gender studies professor Simona Sharoni which floor he was going to. In admirable dad joke fashion, Lebow replied “ladies’ lingere.” The joke was a nod to the olden days of department stores when customers told an elevator operator which floor of merchandise they were going to. Sharoni apparently didn’t find the silly little quip so entertaining.
Sharoni, in the true gender studies fashion, went directly to the International Studies Association– the host of the convention the two were attending–to file a formal complaint. Some details contained within have been disputed by Lebow. Once the shunned professor initially caught wind of the complaint he preemptively reached out to Sharoni through writing.
According to the Washington Post, Lebow bowed before the frothing feminist, telling her,
“Like you, I am strongly opposed to the exploitation, coercion or humiliation of women…As such evils continue, it seems to me to make sense to direct our attention to real offenses, not those that are imagined or marginal. By making a complaint to ISA that I consider frivolous — and I expect, will be judged this way by the ethics committee — you may be directing time and effort away from the real offenses that trouble us both.”
This did little to defuse the ticking time bomb of outrage placed at Lebow’s feet. The committee became incensed and the letter caused Sharoni to grow more indignant.
Mark Boyer, Executive Director of the ISA, deemed the committee found the joke “offensive and inappropriate.” Additionally, Boyer considered the professor reaching out to Sharoni while the matter was under consideration “frivolous” and potentially a “more serious violation.”
When told to apologize, Lebow refused. He described in an e-mail to colleagues that he found the committee’s decision to be “a horrifying and chilling example of political correctness” that “encourages others to censor their remarks for fear of retribution.”
Sharoni wrote in an e-mail to Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post that rejecting the principle of political correctness was a “blanket excuse by those who refuse to rethink and change their racist, sexist and homophobic beliefs and practices. From inappropriate jokes in public spaces to unwanted sexual advances and assault, men in positions of power are outraged when they are being held accountable, even if the sanction is as minor as a request for an apology.”
Seems like a fun lady.
feature image: Richard Ned Lebow via Dartmouth News