Dartmouth's Daily Blog
News, commentary, criticism and praise for the College on the Hill, enlivened with history, culture and travel when we feel so moved.
This is an archived post. Please click here to see the latest entries.
Ned LeBow and the New Victorians
with a dose of reeducation camp spirit to boot.
There was a time a great many years ago when the very thought of women’s undergarments was a source of titillation. Petticoats and pantaloons were considered risqué, and as the attached poster from a bawdy Paris nightclub shows, men would pay real money to see some ruffle and frill.
This Victorian sensibility even extended to forbidding references to the stomach, for example, because the stomach leads to the intestines, and — trigger warning — we all know where the intestines lead.
Similarly, at that time spoken references to women’s undergarments elicited a frisson or worse. Hence the amusement when an elevator operator in a department store would announce that the lift had reached the floor where certain almost-unmentionable goods could be purchased: “Ladies lingerie” he wouldn’t intone to general merriment.
In a certain way (like mother-in-law jokes or references to pollution off the New Jersey Turnpike) the trope entered the language and it endured long after elevator operators had been replaced by automatic buttons (I have made the joke myself in elevators on several occasions — without an untoward reaction by listeners), and it continued even when the time came that actress Jayne Mansfield could pitch a Playtex 18-hour, long line bra on television as being particularly appropriate for “us full figure girls.” Personally I recall the time in the 70s when the word “bra” could first be spoken in polite company.
That’s a long run up to a current controversy which has members of the International Studies Association all atwitter because former Dartmouth Professor of Government Ned LeBow, a 76-year-old man, had the poor grace to invoke the “ladies lingerie” joke in the elevator at an ISA conference. An attendee, Simona Sharoni, age 56 and a professor of women’s and gender studies at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, announced herself to be grievously offended, and she filed a formal complaint with the ISA.
No, I am not kidding.
What kind of person, let alone a college professor, is so bereft of common sense as to take offence at a somewhat tired joke? Humorist P.J. O’Rourke wrote about the perennially indignant, but at least such folks protested about things of greater moment than a flip remark. And if I told you that Sharoni had a Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University? Unreal. You’d think she would have ceased being upset by such things when a boy first called her a poo poo head. In the sandbox at nursery school.
But not only did the ISA conference organizers take Sharoni’s complaints seriously, they ordered LeBow to apologize “unequivocally.”
In other words, he couldn’t apologize in a manner that sought to explain or justify his lighthearted comment or that cast doubt upon the reaction of the faint-hearted feminist academic who heard his joke. He had to issue a mea culpa in no uncertain terms.
Again, no, I am not kidding.
In mandating a specific type of apology, the ISA has moved from the support of an ever-so-precious Victorian morality to a kind of Communist re-education that I thought had ended up on the ash heap history, at least in Eastern Europe in 1989. I understand that such things still take place in North Korea and China.
LeBow, to his credit, is fighting back against the scolds and the commissars.
If you want to read more about this irredeemably silly controversy, it has been reported on in the Washington Post, the Valley News, Inside Higher Education, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Associated Press.
I guess that there are no other more important topics to discuss at our colleges and universities.
Addendum: The next time you wonder why a significant percentage of Americans feel disdain for higher education, the above might be Exhibit 1 in your argument.
Addendum: Several alumni wrote in:
August 14, 2013
Breaking: Of Crips and Bloods and Memories of Ghetto Parties
History repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce, or sometimes it just repeats itself. From the New York Times on November 30, 1998: At Dartmouth College, white students at a ”ghetto party” dressed…
June 25, 2013
Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson’s War on Students Part (2/2)
Part 1, Part 2 Today’s post again recounts the events that befell the Freshman. However, the content of the Hanover Police department report reproduced in this space yesterday is supplemented by information from my own…
October 18, 2009
When Love Beckoned in 52nd Street
We were at San Francisco’s BIX last evening, enjoying prosecco, cheese, and a bit of music. A full year of inhabitation in Northern California has unraveled to me no decent venue for proper lounging, but…
October 9, 2009
D Afraid of a Little Competish
So our colleague and Dartblog writer Joe Asch informed me that the D has rejected our cunning advertising campaign. Uh-oh. The Dartmouth is widely known as a breeding ground for instant New York Times successes,…
September 4, 2009
How Regents Should Reign
As Dartmouth alumni proceed through the legal hoops necessary to defuse a Board-packing plan—which put in unhappy desuetude an historic 1891 Agreement between alumni and the College guaranteeing a half-democratically-elected Board of Trustees—it strikes one…
August 29, 2009
Election Reform Study Committee
If you are an alum of the College on the Hill, you may have received a number of e-mails of late beseeching your input for a new arm of the College’s Alumni Control Apparatus called…
- The Dartmouth College Case
- 2007 Trustee Election
- Dartmouth Constitution
- Sunday Morning Sinatra
- The Indian Wars
Subscribe by Email
This website reflects the personal opinions of its authors. Any e-mails received may be published along with the full name of the sender. If you wish otherwise, please say so.
All content appearing at Dartblog.com should be presumed copyright 2004-2018 its respective bylined author unless otherwise noted or unless linked to original source.