Moderator note: A follow-on question about how to avoid the behavior described here has been posted.
In recent news, two academics are at odds over this incident full article here:
The fuss started when [Prof. X] and [Prof. Y] ended up in the same crowded elevator during a conference at a Hilton in San Francisco last month. [Prof. Y] said she offered to press the floor buttons for people in the elevator, whom she described as mostly conference attendees and all, except one other woman, white middle-aged men. Instead of saying a floor, [Prof. X] smiled and asked for the women’s lingerie department "and all his buddies laughed," [Prof. Y] wrote in a complaint, the details of which he disputed, to the association later that day.
This incident has escalated to the point that the academic organization that organized the conference has decided to sanction Prof. X.
I don't understand why the joke was funny, but that's not really important. I would like to understand why it was offensive. Specifically, I'm wondering
- In what way was this comment offensive?
The bullets above are not rhetorical or sarcastic; I am completely sincere. I am worried because I don't understand precisely what was offensive, so I fear that I might do something similar. I have wondered whether the remark was offensive because:
- It referred to underwear
- It referred to women (in any way) and was cause for laughter
- There is some unstated assumption about his reason for supposedly going to a lingerie department
But I really have no idea, and I want to understand. I could not find an answer in any of the news pieces on this incident.
I realize that this question might get closed as off-topic. However, I think it is wrong to assume that no part of this is specific to academic culture (if that's the case, that's part of the answer). Certainly it occurred in a uniquely academic environment, and is a dispute between academics and an academic society, that seems to jeopardize at least one academic career.
Please refrain from using this as a place to express your opinion on who is right in this dispute. That's not what I'm asking.