Oxford don in sexism row

Oxford Classics fellow Robin Lane Fox has sparked controversy for writing in a newspaper column that “a woman’s evening dress should look like an apparently stormable fortress.”

The comment was made in a gardening column reviewing an exhibition on the interplay between fashion and the floral for the Financial Times weekend supplement. Lane Fox’s choice of words has lead to condemnation by some students.

Lucy Delaney, WomCam Chair, said, “I feel that these comments are misogynistic and reflective of the view that it is acceptable for men to govern the way women dress for the sole purpose of their own sexual gratification. His negative reaction to the Valentino dress on the grounds that it seemed impenetrable or not ‘stormable’ is aggressive and unacceptable.”

When asked to clarify the meaning of his statement, Lane Fox claimed to have been misquoted. “I was echoing someone else’s remark… a famous designer. It should have read ‘apparently impregnable’, in actual fact,” he told Cherwell. In response to Cherwell’s inquiries, he added, “Your criteria for casual misogny are rather broad?”

Lane Fox is Emeritus Fellow of New College, Garden Master and Extraordinary Lecturer of both New and Exeter Colleges, and Reader in Ancient History for the University of Oxford. He has published major works on topics ranging from Alexander the Great to paganism, early Christianity and Islam under the Roman Empire, as well as writing and presenting documentaries for the BBC.
Other students defended Lane Fox’s remarks. “Taken in context, it’s not as bad as it sounds,” commented a female historian. “There are definitely a lot of professors here with antiquated views though – this kind of vocabulary doesn’t surprise me.”

Lane’s “apparently stormable fortress” remark refers to a dress made of fabric and wire by designer Valentino Garavani, about which he also commented, “It looks as though I would need secateurs… I hope she is wearing bunches of violets on her underwear, the flowers that keen gardeners best like to discover on the final layer.”

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Helen Thomas, a member of WomCam, told Cherwell, “It is what keeps women underrepresented and subordinate… it’s lazy and cheap, and extremely damaging. The best way to fight sexism is to stand up to these unwitty utterances,” she said.

One Classics undergraduate remarked, “What a charmer. Although I understand the point he’s trying to get across, it’s phrased in too violating a way, such that it’s throwing out a whole load of connotations about male sexual dominance.”

The Financial Times editorial staff could not be reached for comment about the content of Lane Fox’s column.