Added: Lionell Losada - Date: 24.03.2022 03:38 - Views: 35138 - Clicks: 1982
Last month, during a conference for scholars who study international affairs, Simona Sharoni, a professor of women's and gender studies at Merrimack College, asked a crowded hotel elevator what floor everyone needed. Was that sexual harassment? Academics have been debating the question among themselves since last month, when Sharoni filed a formal complaint about the incident, triggering an investigation by the International Studies Association.
The story went public last week in a Washington Post column. Craig N. I hope that, in time, Ned will see it that way. It is unclear what will happen if Lebow persists in refusing to issue it. In turn, he has asked the ISA to reverse itself and apologize to him or risk possible legal action. And his objections have now been repeated in newspapers around the country, thanks to a write-up by the Associated Press. There's never been anything like this with me, quite to the contrary, I have mentored and supported women throughout my career. And Sharoni, for her part, feels that she has been personally mistreated and that there are larger stakes that compel her to speak up for her position.
After corresponding with both parties, I have no doubt that they both earnestly believe that they were wronged and that they are now standing up for a greater good. What I do want to persuade you is that nothing is to be gained by vilifying either—that no matter who is right or wrong in this case, society will never be rid of people who tell the wrong joke at the wrong time, nor people who frivolously object to pitch-perfect jokes. Blaming outliers who are wrong for whatever mischief ensues is an evasion. They do not get to dictate how the rest of us react. But know the most consequential problems illuminated by the dispute between Lebow and Sharoni have little to do with them personally.
Their dispute is more fruitfully seen as a public stress-test for the subculture of academia, where lots of formal disagreements about sexual misconduct loom in the future. This is a relatively easy case in many respects: everyone agrees on the facts. And a dispute over a single joke is much less fraught than one concerning an allegation of sexual assault or a pattern of abuse that stymies a career. Yet both parties in this dispute and many onlookers strongly object to how it has unfolded. Everyone is right to be dissatisfied, regardless of who is correct. Digging into this relatively easy case, I quickly saw how intellectually unprepared a prominent corner of academia was to adjudicate even a simple complaint about a joke.
The unenviable job of representing the International Studies Association in this matter belonged to its executive director, Mark A. Boyer, a professor at the University of Connecticut. This morning around AM I stepped into a crowded elevator at the Hilton. Because I was standing near the buttons, I offered to press the floors for people in the elevator——mostly ISA attendees and all white middle-aged men, except for myself and another woman.
One of the men, Ned Richard Lebow, did not share a floor . Instead he said, with a smile on his face, "women's lingerie," and all his buddies laughed. I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that we froze and didn't confront him. As a survivor of sexual harassment in the academy, I am quite shaken by this incident. If you need to reach me, please call [redacted]. Lebow was quickly notified that he was under investigation. You are asked to do the same. Lebow was surprised by the complaint.
He replied to Boyer by offering context that he felt sure would clear the matter right up:. I feel sorry for the woman who has nothing to think about but a relatively inoffensive offhand remark in a lift at ISA. In the US, you may not know, and perhaps nor does she, that in the old days, when they had elevator operators, people in department stores would name the items they were shopping for if they did not know the floors. I am not pleased that you have seen fit to recommend that the Committee investigate this complaint. It encourages more frivolous complaints and detracts attention from serious ones that deserve real attention.
If this is unsuccessful or inappropriate to the situation, then the Complainant may seek redress through the procedures outlined under 2 and 3. He was civil but not entirely conciliatory:. I was very surprised to learn about the complaint you lodged against me with ISA. I certainly had no desire to insult women or to make you feel uncomfortable. I am struggling to understand why you were offended, and perhaps you can enlighten me in this regard.
It may be that you interpreted my remark out of context. In my youth——the s and s——lifts were not automatic and had operators. In department stores they would ask customers for their floors but also call out what could be purchased on each floor. 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.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the matter. Sharoni, I am asking that you have no further contact with her. Meanwhile, that committee decided the matter. Unwanted conduct affecting the dignity of men and women. It may be related to age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, disability, religion, nationality, or any personal characteristic of the individual, and may be persistent or isolated.
The key is that the actions or comments are experienced as demeaning and unacceptable by the recipient. With those items in mind, the fact that you chose to reach out to Prof. Actually, the ISA would read the apology first and forward it along to Sharoni if it was sufficient. Please circulate my response to both committees as I will circulate theirs to the ISA membership.
I followed protocol in filing my concerns with the ISA, which the association upheld, and hoped it would end with a simple recognition by Professor Lebow that what he said was inappropriate in context. He is a renowned and respected scholar and I have no intention of harming his hard-earned reputation — which is why I did not choose the media route. However, basic civility is a burden society imposes on all of us, or ought to. In refusing to apologize and instead opting to launch a public smear campaign directed at me, Professor Lebow and his supporters undermine ISA's ongoing efforts to create an inclusive climate at its conferences.
Most alarming, is the message to others, especially graduate students and junior faculty, who may consider reporting violations of the Code of Conduct, that filing a complaint, may result in personal and professional retaliation. From inappropriate jokes in public spaces to unwanted sexual advances and assault, men in positions of power are outraged when they are being held able, even if the sanction is as minor as a request for an apology.
Even with all these details, your reaction may still turn in large part on whether you agree with Lebow or Sharoni about the original joke. But I think that all of the parties to the dispute were set up for frustration by glaring flaws in how this corner of academia handles these disputes.
The definition of harassment that ISA uses could hardly be less helpful to someone trying to figure out whether a given action would run afoul of the rules. Yet there is a committee that investigates and decides. That implies some added threshold of reasonableness. But what standard is used to determine what qualifies?
A reasonable-person standard? The individual standards of committee members? The standards of the average person in a given identity group? The standards of the most sensitive person who registers a formal complaint? Why were new standards introduced in the decision? Having to articulate their reasoning would at least ground it, suggest a rigorous effort was made by the decision-makers, and helpfully clarify community standards.
With vague standards adhered to loosely, any decision was much likelier to be perceived by those on the losing side as capricious, biased, or unreasonable. It involves the folly and the frailty of human pretension, the fact that we clothe our private parts to deny that we are, in the end, just animals, which is a realization that delivers an existential feeling of discomfort, which we tame through inversion, with laughter. Not all of us can feel it; only those blessed with a fundamental appreciation of the absurd, which is the basis of all humor and unites us in our humanity.
Underpants are a litmus test for a sense of humor, which attests to our essential goodness. Just so long as they commit to some coherent line of reasoning. The ISA is vague in setting forth what exactly must happen before a formal complaint is filed. It is easy to see why Lebow believes his accuser failed to follow those guidelines. Both the ISA and Sharoni seem to believe that it people defending themselves against complaints should refrain from calling them frivolous.
However, that standard begs the question—surely a frivolous complaint is at least possible, and any fair system must leave room for a respondent who believes a complaint to be frivolous to make the case for that proposition. Surely, as a matter of principle, no association of truth-seeking scholars should compel a member to make a statement he or she believes to be factually false?
The root of the problem, I think, is a definition of harassment that encompasses even that which someone just experiences as demeaning, coupled with a standard for apologies that treats addressing their experience as wrong. Sharoni thought that the ISA procedure would offer her the ability to lodge and adjudicate her complaint in private. And the ISA used language with Lebow that implied he was obligated to refrain from appealing to third parties even if he believed that he was being egregiously mistreated.
Simply, ISA will treat the process and its contents confidentially. But quite naturally, we cannot prevent you from treating it otherwise. There should be open debates about relative claims. He felt observing a gag order would be unfair and stymie that project. Each of the shortcomings that I flagged would require different reforms to address, but perhaps fall short of fully capturing the bigger problems that loom over disputes like this. Should all jokes with any sexual innuendo be banned from ISA conferences? Sharoni thinks they already are.
If a vote were taken, what would the be? Do a majority of ISA members agree? What about a majority of women who belong to the ISA? I find the behavior of ISA concerning for several reasons. I don't think it is the place of academic organizations to try to police speech in public places, such as elevators.
In this particular case, Professor Lebow's comment was an iconic joke, even instantiated in Harry Potter novels. Has it now become the job of our professional organizations to criminalize humor? Even when specific comments may be considered distasteful by some, I believe free speech constitutes the bedrock of academic and democratic freedom.
Democratic society must rest on norms of tolerance, free speech and due process to function fairly and effectively; without such norms, we risk devolving into left-wing authoritarianism or right-wing fascism. If the vast majority of her colleagues share her sense of this case—that the ISA should not police humor at their conferences, that tolerance and free speech ought to be bedrock values—then their scholarly association should not be demanding that Lebow apologize. I am not suggesting that every case be put to a full vote of international-relations professors, but the current governing language is so vague and empty that it is hard to know what members might want even with simple, undisputed facts.
I found it particularly odd that Professor Lebow was sanctioned for following ISA's code of conduct in trying to resolve the conflict directly. If we can't even talk to each other without any potential conflict requiring mediation by outside authorities, we cede much of the agency we strive to achieve under democratic forms of governance.
Some prefer bureaucratic machinery to talking to one another. And the ISA seems to excel in this case at helping its membership to evade clarity on what they want. Or perhaps the impulse was to write a code that errs on the side of accommodating complaints from the most sensitive whatever they turn out to be?Girls in lingerine
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Is 'Ladies Lingerie' a Harmless Joke or Harassment?