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There are many theories and arguments that have been discussed and discoursed throughout history about sexuality. Many names and topics have been argued, confirmed, and denied dealing with the norms of hetero/homo sexuality. Ideologies of Michele Foucault, Judith Butler, Alfred Kinsey, and Cornel West have major theories behind different types of sexuality, all in which either agree or disagree with each other, that all of their theories and thoughts of sexuality play a significant role in shaping our cultures of sexuality, today. That, mainly combined, is the struggle to maintain all sexualities in a society and to cure all the abnormal behaviors of sexuality, that there is a state of regulating sexuality in a culture full of diverse ideologies, fears, and sex through a hierarchal system of power and suppression.
Michele Foucault’s theory on the repressive hypothesis is a prime example as to why she believes that sexuality is being suppressed. She states, “through the carious discourses, legal sanctions against minor perversions were multiplied; sexual irregularity was annexed to mental illness…a norm of sexual development was defined and all the possible deviations were carefully described; pedagogical controls and medical treatments were organized; around the least fantasies, moralists, but especially doctors, brandished the whole emphatic vocabulary of abomination.” (page 36). Here, Foucault’s claim is that to regulate sexuality that would benefit humankind is to have it economically useful and politically conservative. Many other examples of suppression of sexuality that Foucault explained about were the constant regulating and surveillance was the beset rules of marital sex. This, of all sexual practices, was the most intense focus of constraints (page 37). This is an example that, even after marriage, there are still rules to which you must follow in order to express one’s sexuality towards, even, their life partner.
That suppression of sexuality even applies to the happily married and the group that is, in a sense, obligated to have sex. “Breaking the rules of marriage or seeking strange pleasures brought an equal measure of condemnation” (page 38). They also condemned homosexuality, infidelity, marriage without parental consent, and bestiality. These acts were mainly described as acts “against the law” meaning that the law regulates these sexual behaviors, suppression by the state. It was also to maintain the “nature” of sexuality. The law also stated that hermaphrodites were “criminals… since their anatomical disposition… confounded the law that distinguished the sexes and prescribes their union” (page 38). The suppression of “nature” as stated by the law is in a sense, going against nature as it is actually defined. There were also suppressions of sexuality in children, homosexuals, mad men and women, and criminals through confessions and condemning them. This all was made possible with the emergence of medicine.
Different behaviors were classified as incomplete sexuality, disturbances, or development. “Perhaps the point to consider is not the level of indulgence or the quantity of repression but the form of power that was exercised” (page 41). Educators and doctors combated children’s onanism like an epidemic that needed to be eradicated. The text stated many regulatory ideas to how this was possible such as laying down traps, forcing them into hiding, and inexhaustible and corrective discourses were to be enforced. This was Foucault’s idea of a barrier system (page 42). Up until the end of the nineteenth century, the household had regulators, surveillance through parents, other children, and sometimes servants, and mechanisms of intensifications. The family was more of a conjugal cell. Forms of hierarchy were displayed trying to govern sexuality and suppressing it. With the family maintaining different rules and regulations for sexuality, rooms were placed accordingly, girls and boys were to have different rooms, masturbation was deemed dangerous, importance of puberty, the attached fears and secrets of servants, made the family a complicated network of suppression (ideas from page 46). Foucault’s ideas are much different than the other authors of this topic.
One in contrast are the ideas of Alfred Kinsey. Alfred Kinsey believed that sexuality was being repressed in the United States much like that of Great Britain and wanted to challenge the ideologies behind the cultures that started there. Kinsey brought out the extremely constrictive repressive dimension of the ‘English-American’ tradition (page 213). One form of repression is that homosexuals and masturbators were penalized by the law in case of transgression. Kinsey defied these norms by doing extensive research into sexuality of heterosexuals, homosexuals, and children. Along with Foucault’s repressive hypothesis, Kinsey also believed that a hierarchy is the cause of this repression. The American legislations characterized all pre-marital, extra-marital or post-marital intercourse as abnormal and illicit… such names as rape, fornication, adultery… incest… or public indecency (page 213). Other acts like sexual contact with animals, homosexual acts, or anal sex by a married couple are deemed punishable. Masturbation was held in particular abhorrence. It was used as grounds for dismissal into the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1940.
All of these ideologies were enforced by the Church. That sex is only available when being used in marriage for procreation to ensure that no “precious” semen was ever lost. Any sexual contact outside of marriage and especially acts of homosexuality, bestiality, incest were impure and criminal. Young girls were told to keep their virginity and boys to shun from masturbation. Many of Kinsey’s research stated that many people have post-marital sex and an astounding number of males and females masturbated on a daily bases. The Era of Pleasure has been born, yet there is still a hierarchy that is trying to prevent this sexuality from continuing. This idea behind Kinsey’s work is considered one of the best sexual revolutions of all time. It defied the repressive nature of cultures and expressed all sorts of sexualities, like that of homosexuality.
But there are critics out there that believe his methods and research should not be recognized. These people follow this hierarchical repressive traits and believe that his research were fraud and dangerous to society. One person that we read about in class was Judith Reisman. She believed that his methods were unorthodox and put people, in particular, children in danger. She compared him to Nazis and Imperialists. She claims that he is abusing children and allowing criminals to act as his research team to sexual arouse children for the experiment. Whether these implications are true or not, these researches still broke through social norms and became the foundation for new research on sexuality to begin. This leads to another theory stated by Judith Butler, a feminist approach. Judith Butler’s theory explains the feministic ideas of sexuality that there are gender roles to understanding sexuality in women. The main focus was to obtain a language that full or adequately represented women has been necessary to foster the political visibility of women. This has seemed obviously important considering the pervasive cultural condition in which women’s lives were either misrepresented or not represented at all (page 2).
The understanding of women and the relationship they have has been challenged within feminine discourse. The subject of women is no longer understood. There is very little agreement after all on what it is that constitutes, or ought to constitute, the category of women (page 2). The argument for women’s sexuality representation is that the qualifications of being a subject must be met before representation can be extended. With Foucault’s claim that power produces the subjects, we come back to the hierarchical claim of suppressing sexuality. Power appears to regulate, as in limitations, prohibitions, and even protection of individuals through the retractable operation of choice. But the subjects that are regulated by these powers are more in accordance with the requirements acted upon them. In that case, formation of language and politics that represents women as “the subject” of feminism is itself a discursive formation effect of a given version of representational politics (page 3).
Therefore, women are subjugated to follow the rules of the hierarchy that are regulating their sexuality. In which, the hierarchy can produce gender roles as in more masculine subjects or domination, and therefore, an appeal to the emancipation of women will be self-defeating. Juridical power only produces what it claims merely to represent, hence politics must be concerned with this dual function of power, the juridical and the productive. That is unclear to how women will fully be represented in language and politics. Feminist critique ought also to understand how the category of “women”, the subject of feminism, is produced and restrained by the very structures of power through which emancipation is sought (page 4).
Power and hierarchy is the major issue that is still suppressing women’s sexuality and feminism. The term gender is confined to the definition of women. If one “is” a women, that is surely not all one is (page 4). The term fails to be exhaustive, not because a pregendered person transcends the specific paraphernalia of its gender, but because gender is not always constituted coherently or consistently in different historical contexts, and because gender intersects with racial, class, ethnic, sexual, and regional modalities of discursively constituted identities. Butler explains in clear detail why being a women is not necessarily being feminine.
Butler also explains that the goal for overcoming the hierarchy is being outdone by themselves. Ironic consequence that feminist goals risk failure by refusing to take account of the constitutive powers of their own representational claims (page 6). Another person that Butler used in her text as a reference was Simone de Beauvoir. She believes that one is not born a woman, but rather, become one. She believes that women’s bodies, in other words, their sexuality, be controlled by themselves, the women’s freedom. However, this is not the case. A woman, according to Beauvoir, contends that the female body is marked within masculinist discourse (page 17). Here, women are still being manipulated by a hierarchy, in this case, a masculine form. She also claims that women “is sex” than rather being the opposite of sex, but being a masculine’s form of sex. This was shown in another example that we read for class in the book, Season of Migration to the North, where a village along the Nile had many views about women. Women should be an object for men and should pleasure a man.
However, one example of a feminist approach in the book was an elderly woman by the name of Bint Majzhoub. She had the signs of masculinity but was as womanly as anyone else. She had eight husbands, like a man has many wives, she talked with men while consuming alcohol and smoking, an act that only men seem to do in the village, and she talked like one of the men as well. Bint Majzhoub was a great example of a feminist, growing up and becoming like a man, being taught with masculine sexuality but she regulates womanly qualities. Qualities like pleasuring a man, or being faithful, or having to marry a man if your father has agreed for you to. Bint Majzhoub is seemingly a man, in a woman’s body. Thus, the hierarchy of a masculine form is suppressing women’s sexuality. That brings us to racial issues in sexuality and the suppression that it endures. Cornel West presents this topic rather well.
Cornel West’s theory is on black sexuality and the many fears and obsessions that western civilizations/ society have towards black sexuality. This fear is driven by many things as Cornel West stated in his first paragraph; the obsession has to do with a search for stimulation and meaning in a fast-paced, market-driven culture; the fear is rooted in visceral feelings about black bodies and fueled by sexual myths of black men and women (page 119). There are two ways you can describe this obsession or fear, one being that black men and women are sexual deviants, meaning they are threatening creatures who have potential for sexual power over whites, or being harmless, meaning they are seen as de-sexed underlings of white culture, being submissive and controlled (page 119).
The second option, being harmless, is an example of the suppression that the western civilization/ white culture has over black sexuality, making it submit to white norms and views about primitive behaviors. Cornel West states that there are three different types of people in the black sexuality for each gender, male and female. For the women there is Jezebel – a seductive temptress, Sapphire – the evil, manipulative bitch, and Aunt Jemima – the sexless nurturer. Out of the three, you still get a showing for the suppressed sexuality of black women as being Aunt Jemima, the sexless nurturer. For the men there is Bigger Thomas – the mad and mean predatory craver of white women, Jack Johnson – the super performer, and Uncle Tom – the sexless side-kick of whites. You can see again that there is a suppression of sexuality for black men as well in Uncle Tom being sexless and the helper to whites. Cornel states it pretty clearly why black sexuality is being suppressed or feared by whites.
The myths offer distorted, dehumanized creatures whose bodies… are already distinguished from the white norm of beauty and whose fearful sexual activities are deemed disgusting, dirty, or funky and considered less acceptable (page 120). The interesting about this topic is that while it is being virtually talked about as taboo in public spaces, it is rather interesting and more sought after behind closed doors. With many Americans suppressing black sexuality by viewing the idea with disgust, they are also seeing their own sexuality with disgust, therefore, suppressing their own sexuality as well. With black bodies being more on equal basis with white bodies, the demythologizing of black sexuality is still not met. Cornel West continues on stating that black Americans view their body with disgust just as much as white Americans but with different reasons.
The ideology of white supremacists believe that in order to suppress black sexuality and the black body, they must demoralize it and control it, another hierarchy example of suppression of sexuality but this time, in black sexuality. They did so by lynching, segregation, and second-class citizenship which all left a permanent scar on black sexuality. Foundations such as sororities, fraternities, churches, families, etc. helped rebuild the black culture but one fundamental subject was never honed, black sexuality. In fact, as Cornel West said it, “they ran from it like a plague” (page 124). Black cultures are now suppressing black sexuality just as the whites had intended because you must accommodate with and acceptance of white America. This hierarchal idea of white sexual dominance over black sexuality is indeed great. In fact, the biggest fear for black sexuality is the American principle of having little control over black power. There is indeed a double standard to this subject on black sexuality. There are two stories to this sexuality of blacks. Blacks can either lean towards the “golden” side or the “brazen” side. The “golden” side is to become the myths and fears that whites have.
Show that there is this power that whites cannot control. Then there is the “brazen” side, a side that seems more submissive and more controlled by whites. This side refers to the denial of these myths of black bodies and acting a certain way that seems appealing to the whites. This side is more “respectable” as Cornel West suggests to white Americans, and is less feared. This role is more submissive and is entirely controlled by the whites, a hierarchal system. Then there are the issues of black gay men who are even lower in the hierarchal system. They are even more submissive in the sense that they are there mainly for white entertainment, acting the role of Uncle Tom. They are marginalized by white America and penalized in black America (page 129).
There is a great example of this visceral idea of a primitive form of human, such as the “other” or a black male in William Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest. They described Caliban as this primitive, ugly, filthy, deformed, being that has no other freedom but to be treated as a slave. He is being controlled by this white man, Prospero, showing his hierarchal powers over Caliban. Then there is another black being in the play, Ariel. Ariel is the most submissive in the play, doing everything that Prospero asks of him. By following orders, Ariel wishes to be set free but is being controlled and being sexually suppressed just like Caliban. Caliban plays the “golden” side, while Arial plays the “brazen” side.
The theory behind black sexuality by Cornel West is well understood and easily interpreted. After stating all four theories on the different types of sexuality can one understand the difficulties to understand sexuality as a whole. You can see that many of these theories show a distinct attempt of a higher power that is trying to suppress these sexualities of heterosexuals, homosexuals, blacks, whites, and both genders. These powers can vary from the Church wanting to suppress pre-marital, post-marital, and marital sex that is not for the use of procreation, to whites suppressing black sexuality out of fear and obsessions, to men suppressing female sexuality and feminism to their liking, and suppression from a higher government for the discoveries of sexuality by Alfred Kinsey. Through this entire course, we have learned one main thing about sexuality, that power is dominant over anything. If you have power and you are able to make one submit, there is a hierarchy displayed and one is always the aggressive and one is always the submissive.
In every one of these theories, there is always a submissive role being played. This submissive role include black sexuality, female sexuality, and both homo and heterosexuality and this higher power is not necessarily invisible but it is surely noticeable being either white America or the Church. These ideas and thoughts about our sexuality has been theoretically implanted into our minds as children. As a child, you live under a roof with a family that teaches you the rights and wrongs, the wrongs being no masturbation and no sexual acts. This is passed on from generation to generation as an act to suppress one’s sexuality. In a sense, the Church and state are enforcing this upon the parents to relay it to their children and so on. This is an astounding display of hierarchy in our culture. A child has no chance to learn about sexuality until it is too late. The myths and statements about disease, perversions, and disorders were implanted into our minds at very young ages and has been enforced to be punishable.
The hierarchy of suppression acts upon us each and every day. I believe that these sexualities are being suppressed and that it all exists. The fears and obsessions of sexuality has not gone unnoticed. With all of these readings that have been given us throughout this course has enlightened me to further learn about sexuality in various cultures. One must learn about sexuality before one can help it. There is this ideology that sexuality should be suppressed and that sex is only to be used for procreation. The studies by Alfred Kinsey show that there is great pleasure in sex for men and women. The discovery of female pleasure has defied the idea that sex is only for the use of procreation. Why should one feel pleasure if one cannot even use it. With all of these theories interpreted and analyzed, sexuality is a bigger issue than it was before.
The suppression of sexuality must be broken. Sexuality is becoming a bigger and more media-based topic in our society today with different television shows and movies that are highly sex oriented. Sexuality is making a big break in today’s day and age. One can only hope for equal sexual basis with one another one day with black sexuality, homosexuality, heterosexuality, female sexuality, male sexuality, etc. so that we can all live with no fears, obsessions, bias, or hate towards one another. It has been a pleasure learning from this course and reading about all of these different sexualities and cultures.
Work Cited Page
Michele Foucault. “The History of Sexuality.” New York: Vintage Books Robert Muchembled. “Orgasm and the West.”
Judith Resiman. “Kinsey and the Homosexual Revolution.”
Judith Butler. “Gender Trouble.” New York. Routledge Classics Cornel West. “Black Sexuality.”