Academic refuses to apologise for ‘lame’ joke

An academic is facing disciplinary action after he made a "lame" joke about getting out of a lift in a ladies' lingerie department while at a conference.

Richard Ned Lebow, 76, made the remarked in a packed lift at a convention in San Francisco when he asked someone to press the button for the ladies' lingerie floor.

His joke fell flat for Dr Simona Sharoni, 57, a professor of women's and gender studies at Merrimack College, Massachusetts, as well as one of her colleagues.

She said they were too stunned to confront him at the time, but later reported him.

The International Studies Association (ISA), which staged the convention, said Mr Lebow had violated its code and further worsened matters by sending an email to the complainant.

Mr Lebow, professor of international political theory at King's College London, has been given until Tuesday to apologise.

Ms Sharoni has told Sky News that Mr Lebow has "instigated" an "ongoing public smear campaign" against her, which serves "as a warning to those who speak up and demand accountability".

She says she did not know Mr Lebow beforehand and is solely exercising her "right and responsibility" to file a complaint about a comment she and her colleague found "inappropriate and offensive".

Image: Are You Being Served? was an innuendo-heavy comedy

She told Sky News: "A comment about 'ladies lingerie' in a public setting, at an academic conference, is both unprofessional and inappropriate because of its sexual innuendo.

"Those who suggest that I should have approached Professor Lebow instead of filing an official complaint overlook the broader context of the incident as well as systemic sexism that women in the academy… have dealt with for decades."

British media reports have suggested Mr Lebow was riffing the joke from the then-popular 1970s and 1980s British show Are You Being Served?, an innuendo heavy comedy set in a department store.

Ms Sharoni says: "The issue is not the intent of the comment nor the content or historical/cultural context of the 'joke'.

"What we should be talking about is systemic sexism (and racism and other isms), the persistence of misogyny in the workplace, and the violent response of men when they are being held accountable! All he was asked to do was to apologise."

She says Mr Lebow is "portraying himself as the victim" after he approached the media and that she has been subject to "hate speech, character assassination, and violent threats".

Mr Lebow, who has said he was concerned the matter was not addressed informally, wrote to Ms Sharoni after the incident in the lift.

He said: "Like you, I am strongly opposed to the exploitation, coercion or humiliation of women."

He suggested that her complaint, which he considers "frivolous", could "be directing time and effort away from the real offences that trouble us both".

"The elevator was jampacked and claustrophobic, which may be why I made my admittedly lame, but inoffensive, remark," he told Inside Higher Ed website.

He added: "There is nothing to apologise for. If I did apologise it would be an acknowledgment that an innocent remark in an elevator is somehow wrong.

"This is my 53rd year of teaching. I have always supported women, mentored and co-authored with women, and worked hard to get deserving women tenure and promotion."

More from UK

Mr Lebow told Sky News: "This is a phony deadline invented by ISA's executive director. Their code of conduct says an appeal must be made within 'a reasonable period of time'.

"I will be submitting my appeal on Saturday."

Original Article

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