On Sunday, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on a supremely important development: a male professor made a joke about “lingerie” in an elevator — an elevator containing a gender studies professor. Clearly, Western civilization’s patriarchy has yet to be broken.
According to Katherine Mangan, political theory Professor Richard Ned Lebow of King’s College was in an elevator with a bunch of other human beings, including Professor Simona Sharoni, who teaches women’s and gender studies at Merrimack College. Sharoni, who clearly had been conditioned to submit to the patriarchy, offered to hit buttons on the elevator. That’s when Lebow did the unthinkable: he jokingly asked for the women’s lingerie department. And his buddies — the scum! — laughed.
So Sharoni complained to the International Studies Association, just as an empowered woman ought to do. She tremblingly wrote, “I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that we froze and didn’t confront him.” And they took her complaint seriously enough to launch an investigation. They determined that Lebow had violated the conduct code of the organization.
All of this despite the fact that Lebow wrote to Sharoni stating, “I certainly had no desire to insult women or make you feel uncomfortable.” According to the report:
He suggested that Sharoni, who was born in Romania and raised in Israel, might have misinterpreted his remark. When he was young, in the 1950s, he said, it was a "standard gag line" to ask the elevator operator for the hardware or lingerie floor as though one were in a department store. "Like you, I am strongly opposed to the exploitation, coercion, or humiliation of women," Lebow wrote. "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."
But this was merely doubling down! How dare he mansplain frivolity! According to the association, the cruelest cut of all was that suggestion that her frivolous complaint about frivolity was indeed frivolous. It didn’t feel frivolous! Instead, Lebow was told he must write an “unequivocal apology” to Sharoni. Lebow said no, because he’s not a ridiculous idiot. He instead wrote an email calling the entire situation a “horrifying and chilling example of political correctness” that “encourages others to censor their remarks for fear of retribution.” But Sharoni was steadfast:
For decades, women and other marginalized groups in the academy had to put up with white men who decided what counts as a violation and what is "frivolous." As someone who has dedicated her life to confronting sexism (and other forms of discrimination and oppression) in academic spaces, I cannot and will not remain silent when misogyny is at play.
Yes, someone must stand up to elderly white professors making obvious and stupid jokes about lingerie departments on elevators — jokes that have been told for decades! The scourge of the patriarchy is on the rise!
And then feminists wonder why so many Americans view them as humorless scolds? Perhaps because humorless scolds like Sharoni are making life miserable for random professors rather than focusing on actual injustices taking place.
Besides, who’s to say that Lebow didn’t just want to shop at the women’s lingerie department for himself? Isn’t her assumption actually transphobic? Perhaps she should be brought up on charges before the ISA. The hierarchy must be brought low!