Political correctness is part of American culture because American culture is so diverse. When people do not consider others, they can wind up offending them with something crude or downright rude. But in our modern era, political correctness has been taken too far. People flinch at the tiniest things and sometimes make a big deal out of an issue that really isn’t a problem.
While some degree of sensitivity to other people’s feelings is part of a civilized society, it becomes impossible for any person to know exactly how their words and actions are going to affect other people, especially those whose culture is different or foreign. Nevertheless, racist and xenophobic comments are offensive. But many things that toe the line are pointed to as offensive when they are innocent.
In the United Kingdom, there was a television program on BBC set in a London department store. At the start of each episode, an elevator attendant would chant, “Ground floor, perfumery, stationery and leather goods. Going up!”
But when a London professor of International Political Theory was in San Francisco for the annual meeting of the International Studies Association, he made a joke that thrust him into hot water with the crowd of other educators and theorists at the event.
When Professor Richard Ned Lebow got on the elevator packed with other adults, someone asked, “What floors would you like, people at the back?”
As a joke, he shouted, “Ladies’ lingerie!”
People chuckled in the elevator. But his “punishment” had only just begun.
Four hours later a professor of women’s and gender studies from a small New England collect submitted a formal, legal complaint against the senior citizen.
Professor Simona Sharoni accused Professor Lebow of lewd behavior that offended her because she is “a survivor of sexual harassment in the academy” and was left “quite shaken by this incident.”
Professor Lebow wanted to shout when he heard the complaint. And then he read that it was a lie.
He writes for the Daily Mail: “The voice that asked ‘people at the back’ for floor requests was a man’s. But Sharoni had claimed she made the announcement, and my response had been aimed directly at her.”
Sharoni wrote in the complaint, “All his buddies laughed. I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that we froze and didn’t confront him.”
Lebow wrote an email assuring Sharoni that “I certainly had no desire to insult women or to make you feel uncomfortable.”
She doubled down claiming his comment was “offensive and inappropriate,” and she demanded an “unequivocal apology.”
He refuses to apologize. During his fifty years as an educator, he claims to have written papers with female colleagues and to “have been fighting to break down sexist barriers.”
He concludes his Daily Mail piece with “Now, though, I am involved in a new fight — one we must win. For if we allow such people as Professor Sharoni to dictate what can and cannot be said, and to intimidate us with their cries of ‘sexist!’ and ‘misogynist!’, we will lose our cherished freedom of speech. We will be forced to muzzle ourselves and self-censorship will reign.”