Why did the chicken cross the road? To fight the Patriarchy!
What do you get when you make a stupid, harmless joke to a professor of gender's studies in an elevator? A lesson in humor.
Last month in San Francisco, at the annual conference for the International Studies Association, Richard Lebow, a political science professor at King's College in London, made a silly joke in a crowded elevator. Simona Sharoni, professor of gender studies at Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts, had elected herself button pushed, and asked what floor everyone needed. The voice of the 76-year-old, New York-born Richard Lebow, said, "Ladies' lingerie." A few people laughed, maybe a few rolled their eyes, and all but one got off the elevator and went on with their lives.
If explaining a joke is a quick way to ruin it, then explaining a bad joke is even worse.
The brief exchange has ignited the academic version of a forest fire. At the same time, the sheer hysteria involved has turned the incident into a modern take on a knock-knock joke, where a Campus Feminist professor finds a way to make every interaction about gender.
Ruth Marcus wrote about the incident last week in the Washington Post. "It was a lame, outmoded joke, the sort of thing you say in a crowded elevator to alleviate the discomfort of being jammed among strangers, an artifact of the days of fancy department stores with operators announcing the floor stops. The days of women feeling compelled to stay silent in the face of sexist remarks or conduct are thankfully on the way out, hear something, say something, by all means, but not every stray statement by a 76-year-old man warrants a resort to disciplinary procedures. For goodness sake, let's maintain some sense of proportion and civility as we figure out how to pick our way through the minefield of modern gender relations."
If explaining a joke is a quick way to ruin it, then explaining a bad joke is even worse. Worse still is becoming outraged by a bad joke then turning it into a cause for activism.
Comedy is quite often offensive, by nature. Its offensiveness is often a mechanism for exposing an ugly truth, in other words (big surprise) people say something they don't actually believe in order to make a point or get a laugh. We call it a "sense of humor" because it is often as crucial to our humanity as the sense of smell, taste, touch, and sight.
Without that sense, the world becomes predatory and bleak, full of dangerous words and violent assumptions. A sense of humor reminds you that words, while powerful and infinite, do not in fact contain actual violence, and, when peppered with a bit of comedy, they can actually be quite moralizing.