Once in a while it is only fair to acknowledge that the mainstream media sometimes hits the nail on the head – even the Murdoch press. A delicious article in The Times newspaper of 11 May is a case in point. This recounts an incident that took place a crowded lift at the International Students’ Association (whatever that is). Richard Lebow, a 76 year old Professor at King’s College London, asked someone to press the button for the ladies’ lingerie department. Unfortunately for him, the joke was overheard by two women (wimmin?) including Simona Sharoni, who rejoices in the title of Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Merrimack College, Massachusetts. Your immediate rhetorical question “Professor of what?” prompts a more fundamental question – are Gender Studies suitable for rigorous study, or do they belong in the same academic dustbin as Swansea University’s legendary degree in Surfing and Beach Management?
It would not have been that hard to turn the tables on Prof Lebow -something like “seventh floor – sex toys for the boys” would have done the trick. Maybe Professors of Women’s and Gender Studies are not known for quick-fire wit and repartee, or maybe it was an unmissable opportunity to strike a blow for the sisterhood and Take Offence. Prof Sharoni and her fellow traveller claimed to be too shocked for words, and lodged a complaint with the International Students Association. Prof Lebow fired back, saying that Prof Sharoni’s complaint was frivolous. Prof Sharoni replied: “I am so exhausted of confronting sexism in the academy and paying a high price that I am reluctant to attract more media attention.” Your heart bleeds for her, doesn’t it?
At least Prof Lebow gave Sharoni something to complain about. Forget the old joke about the Scotsman – there is no happier soul on earth than a feminist with a grievance. And of course grievances can be found everywhere. Emily Thornberry, the Labour Party’s absurd foreign affairs spokesman/woman/person has seriously claimed that Roger Hargreaves demeans women in his “Little Miss” books because they are little whereas the Mr Men aren’t. Believe it or not, the University of Lincoln has published a scholarly monograph on this very subject which was presented to the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference in Nottingham. The fact that time can be wasted on such nonsense proves that the Higher Education sector is in need of a drastic shake-out.
Children’s books and semihumorous microaggressions in the lift are not what women’s rights should be about. As well as the more obvious sources of exploitation – sex slaves, grooming gangs and FGM – there is a more pervasive form of cultural oppression which we see in certain Arab countries. The freedom to drive cars, vote in elections and wear whatever you want needs to be championed. Of course it would take some courage to break with the anti-Western, pro-Palestinian left wing/liberal/hippie college establishment and say one critical word about Islam.
Not so long ago, before the age of political correctness, British people approached “gender politics” in a mature and balanced way. They could distinguish between jokes and nasty innuendo, between flirtation and intimidation, and observed traditional courtesies (such as holding doors open for women). A pity if all this disappears just because a group of humourless sour pusses say it must. And whatever silly joke we might hear in the lift I can guarantee that we won’t get our knickers in a twist.