Possibly True. Necessarily Entertaining.

Sexuality, reported actions, and the body: A refutation

with 28 comments

[The following is a guest post by Clinton McGruff, written in response to recent events.]

What do you call a man who exposes himself to women for pleasure? A philosophy professor, of course. Why does this joke work? Because sexual harassment is so common in academic philosophy. But also because of the tension between the image of the lewd “flasher” (a certain type of harasser) and that of the staid professor. When you think about it, most times that you are naked it’s not even about sex: when you bathe, dress, or are examined by the doctor, for example. The ancient Greeks used to wrestle naked and artists still use naked models. Indeed, without the body human culture would not exist. So really the body is very respectable and vital to human flourishing. We are a corporeal species.

I have in fact written a whole book about the body, Pretension, in which its ubiquity is noted and celebrated. I even have a cult centering on the body, described in this blog. I have given a semester-long seminar discussing the body and displays related to it. I now tend to use nudity in the wide-ranging manner just outlined, sometimes with humorous intent.

Suppose now a professor P, well conversant in the above points, slyly exposes himself to his graduate student, who is also thus conversant. The astute student, suitably primed, responds after a moment by saying: “Um… you’re not trying to proposition me, right?” Professor P replies: “You are clearly a clever student—I can’t trick you. That is exactly the response I was looking for!” They then laugh nervously together. Academics like mind games.

But suppose a naïve onlooker, seeing this witty display, jumps to the conclusion that the nudity is indicative of something sexual. He then reports the act of Professor P as follows: “Professor P propositioned his student.” He has failed to see the joke and has no knowledge of the intellectual background of the display he is trying so ineptly to report. He clearly misreports what Professor P did, missing both the content and the humor. We might accurately describe P’s action as follows: P exposed himself to his student. Completely innocent.

These reflections take care of certain false allegations that have been made about me recently (graduate students are not what they used to be). One has a duty to take all aspects of the situation into account and not indulge in rash descriptions. And one should also not underestimate the sophistication of the flasher.


Written by fauxphilnews

June 6, 2013 at 10:34 pm

28 Responses

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  1. the McGinn style is perfect, (btw fauxphilnews is good, I have no clue as to who does it but it is done by someone who manipulate the right “theoris” if some such exists in the case of McGinn…

    adriano paolo shaul gershom palma

    June 6, 2013 at 11:38 pm

  2. For those who don’t already know:

    Click to access strohmingermcginn.pdf


    June 7, 2013 at 12:32 am

  3. […] Go read it. Right now. […]

    • This comment got caught in the spam filter initially, hence the duplicate below.


      June 7, 2013 at 10:51 pm

  4. Thank you!

    Emma B.

    June 7, 2013 at 5:43 am

  5. This is perfect. Thank you!

    Mary G.

    June 7, 2013 at 6:14 am

  6. Nailed it!


    June 7, 2013 at 6:17 am

  7. Ben, this is simply brilliant – I am still chuckling. Thank you!


    June 7, 2013 at 6:42 am

  8. The only part missing is “Lesson: reported speech is a bitch (a female dog—be careful how you paraphrase me!).” But then, how could anyone ever parody that? It stands alone.


    June 7, 2013 at 7:56 am

    • Here’s my best attempt as someone who excels in pretentiousness:
      Lesson: the bitch can speak (a highly trained poodle — be careful what you report me saying to clarify the right antecedent!)


      June 10, 2013 at 2:04 am

  9. Thanks for the comments, everyone! As I recently said to John over at NewAPPS, I wasn’t sure this would hit the mark, so the reaction is very nice to see.

    And yes, Susan, I wasn’t quite sure how to parody that!


    June 7, 2013 at 8:58 am

  10. Beautifully done.


    June 7, 2013 at 10:09 am

  11. Hilarious! I love it!


    June 7, 2013 at 10:30 am

  12. […] for more humor related to the situation, this bit from Faux Philosophy News and this faux Twitter account (rather hard to distinguish from the real deal) are quite […]

  13. I don’t know enough about the case to know what all McGinn might be guilty of, and I agree that the supercilious tone of his explanation was virtually begging to be mocked. But it does seem to me that your parody was an unfair representation of his argument. A fairer analogy would be a professor who opened his trenchcoat to reveal a nude-colored body stocking underneath. This might lead his student down the garden path of initially thinking that he was being way too revealing, before she concluded that, no, he really was just attempting to be funny in a way that wasn’t actually as revealing as it initially seemed. At any rate that’s how I read McGinn’s explanation of the “I had a handjob” line, in the context where he reasonably expected her to quickly veer back from the garden path to the intended “I had a manicure” interpretation. In my eyes, even the nude-stocking stunt would be somewhat questionable, but not nearly so questionable as fully exposing himself to his student. Similarly, I take saying “I had a handjob [i.e., a manicure]” to be somewhat questionable, but not nearly so questionable as saying “I masturbated”. I recognize that it’s truly important for us to support the many victims of sexual harassment, but I also think it’s important not to try anyone in the court of public opinion, especially on the basis of limited evidence and misleading parodies.


    June 7, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    • I don’t think the parody is misleading, for the following reason. The phrase “I had a handjob” has a sexual connotation that is inappropriate in a student-professor relationship, regardless of what it is meant or taken to denote. Similarly, displaying your naked body has a sexual association that is inappropriate in a student-professor relationship, regardless of the intention it is meant or taken to express.

      The body-stocking version also seems an apt parody, just one that is toned down a bit. I don’t see how the point made by that toned-down parody would be any different. The body stocking in your parody is less revealing than it initially seems, but so is the nudity in my parody. The nudity seems to reveal sexual intentions, but does not actually reveal sexual intentions.


      June 7, 2013 at 10:48 pm

      • Call me old fashioned, but I have a really hard time imagining a scenario in which a professor’s pointedly exposing himself to an unwilling student could even be minimally defensible. In contrast, I can quite easily imagine scenarios in which making juvenile handjob/manicure jokes wouldn’t be all that bad, and scenarios in which flashing a nude-colored body stocking wouldn’t be all that bad. That’s why I thought the latter two made for a much closer analogy.

        (I should emphasize that I’m not equating “not all that bad” with “perfectly okay”, and also that I have no idea whether the scenario they were in was even one where such juvenalia wouldn’t be all that bad. I think we have ample evidence that he’s at least a pompous jerk with an underdeveloped sense of humour, but we haven’t yet seen any evidence that he did anything in the same ballpark as exposing himself to a student.)


        June 7, 2013 at 11:30 pm

        • Of course we haven’t seen evidence that he did something as bad as exposing himself to a student. That’s why this blog post is a parody.


          June 7, 2013 at 11:54 pm

  14. I love this so much, and that Strohminger review is amazing.

  15. This is the philosophical equivalent of a Weird Al Jankovic recording — Jankovic’s parodies show that popular music can be given funnier lyrics than those it actually offers — the parody here shows that a philosopher’s defense of his behavior can sound silly when offered for more serious offenses than those he actually did — OK, so what? Or, put another way, what this parody shows about the merits of the philosopher’s original defense escapes me, as does the artistic worth of Weird Al’s parodies.

    I seem to be in the minority among repliers here about this parody’s merits. Maybe one has to start from the view that any female student who feels she has been sexually harassed by a male professor, has been sexually harassed — or suppose that any language/behavior that involves something sexual and is not morally impeccable (please pardon the redundancy), warrants our severest condemnations and any punishments we wish to inflict. For the record, my last remarks are not intended as a parody of anyone’s views.


    June 8, 2013 at 8:34 am

    • Hardly. I have no information about the particular case that triggered McGinn’s resignation, although I’m not encouraged by the fact that he resigned in exchange for a gag order and the investigation being dropped. However, the posts that he has written on his blog may as well be titled “Inside the Mind of a Sexual Predator.” Quite frankly, it reminded me of this New Yorker piece on the Horace Mann sexual abuse scandals. He blurs the distinction between the personal and the professional, linking the promise of achieving greatness (“the Genius Project”) with playing along with his sexual innuendos. And in addition to the carrot, we also have the stick, which is that someone who does not play along is clearly mentally inferior, unworthy, second-rate, basically a stupid “bitch” (they don’t make grad students like they used to, you know).

      This is classic grooming behavior, and I’m drawing this from his own freely written words.


      June 8, 2013 at 9:10 am

    • Most people can see how ridiculous McGinn’s thinking is just by reading his own words. For those people, the parody lays bare the folly in McGinn’s reasoning in an exaggerated and humorous manner. For those who can’t see what’s wrong with McGinn’s reasoning, it’s no surprise that the parody won’t change their minds. Similarly, I doubt that The Colbert Report has converted many conservatives.


      June 8, 2013 at 9:22 am

  16. Wonderful, as always.


    June 8, 2013 at 5:22 pm

  17. The last three paragraphs are the best.


    June 25, 2013 at 3:52 pm

  18. […] been bringing exposure (so to talk) to the issue–to not point out offering an terrible lot of intentional and unintentional […]

    The Tiniest Offenses | Posts

    November 10, 2014 at 5:30 am

  19. Good article!

    Katherin Pagliari

    September 16, 2016 at 2:43 am

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