Assignment # 1

THE HISTORY OF SEXUALITY

Michel Foucault

In this article Foucault writes about the sexuality and the discourse of sex. He argues that we study the history of sexuality from 18th century when sex was treated as a private matter and it was not even talked about. Whereas, in 17th century it was not same, there was an openness attached to it.

Foucault relates the sexual discourse with the repression of sexual desire which is called the “repressive hypothesis”. This states that sex for pleasure is not thought to be proper. This hypothesis leads to sex being private matter and exercised between husband and wife only.  Any kind of sexual relation outside this constructed definition was prohibited and repressed.

According to the repressive hypothesis we are so bound to the idea of sex being private and not to talk about that we simply cannot free ourselves. Despite of so many discussions the sexual discourse is only discussed in psychiatry and academia.

Foucault questions about the repressive hypothesis:

(1) Is repression a historical fact?

(2) Is this repression is the exercise of power?

(3) Is our modern- day discourse on sexuality really a break with this older history of repression, or is it part of the same history?

By these questions Foucault is trying to explain the relation of this knowledge and pleasure with power. In the modern age we have self imposed that repression. Foucault says that the confined language is a by-product of repression to minimize the discussion on sexuality and sex. Not only the minimal discussion but also how to say what to say makes the difference. It makes more obvious that the repression is more of exercising the power and control. The whole discourse of the power is linked to the discourse of sexuality.

In questioning the repressive hypothesis, Foucault is not primarily interested in contradicting it, and he certainly does not want to deny the fact that, for instance, sex has been a taboo subject in Western culture. His interest is primarily the “discursive fact” of sexuality: he wants to know how and why sexuality is made an object of discussion. Ultimately, his interest is not in sexuality itself, but in our drive for a certain kind of knowledge, a certain perspective, and the kind of power we find in that knowledge.

The repression of sexuality and not being talked about is reflected in our cultures too. As we watch cinema constructing identities for the society and portraying the societies in which they dwell we come across many such examples.

“Highway” (movie), which portrays society like ours where talking about sex is prohibited and taboo. The girl (leading character) faced child abuse in her childhood but was forced to not to talk about that incident. Raising voice could have objectified the girl and as well as her uncle who was the culprit. In order to secure the so called respect and status her mother always reinforced her to stay quiet. That girl suffered psychologically during her childhood but neither could stop that harassment and abuse from happening nor she ever had that threshold confidence of speaking up against that.

The climax of the movie questioned society’s norm of not educating children and their protection at home. As she felt she was not secure in her own home. Besides this she speaks up boldly in front of her family that it was a dilemma that she was forcefully kept quiet on this matter labeling it as sensitive.

Even we as a culture and society system are told to remain silent and not to talk about sex. We don’t have the liberty to discuss sex as it is not only taboo but also not “proper” and encouraged as a matter for discussion. That faucauldian repression still operates in our systems as we don’t have a proper system for sex education even. Sexual pleasure is not repressed alone it is also defined in binary opposition. The dilemma not limits here we have it roots in gender discrimination too. The females have more restrictions than males and the masculine gender enjoys the power.

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