It gets so much worse.
He says he was joking when he asked to be let off an elevator at the ladies’ lingerie department. A female scholar who was attending the same annual meeting of the International Studies Association was not amused, and neither was the association when she complained.
Now his refusal to formally apologize has touched off the latest skirmish in the #MeToo battles rocking academe. At issue is whether a comment made in jest rises to the level of a punishable offense, and what happens when a complaint some deem as trivial results in a vicious online backlash against the offended party.
The fuss started when Richard Ned Lebow, a professor of political theory at King’s College London, and Simona Sharoni, a professor of women’s and gender studies at Merrimack College, ended up in the same crowded elevator during a conference at a Hilton in San Francisco last month.
She said she offered to press the floor buttons for people in the elevator, whom she described as mostly conference attendees and all, except one other woman, white middle-aged men. Instead of saying a floor, Lebow smiled and asked for the women’s lingerie department “and all his buddies laughed,” Sharoni wrote in a complaint, the details of which he disputed, to the association later that day.
“After they walked out, the woman standing next to me turned to me and said, ‘I wonder if we should have told them that it is no longer acceptable to make these jokes!” she said in her complaint.
Sharoni, who wrote in her complaint that she has experienced sexual harassment in academe in the past and was shaken by the incident, said it took her a while to figure out that Lebow thought it was funny “to make a reference to men shopping for lingerie while attending an academic conference. I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that we froze and didn’t confront him,” she wrote.