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Michel Foucault and The History of Sexuality

Michel Foucault, in The History of Sexuality, can definitely be considered a feminist, if one sees feminism as a search for truth about human nature, relationships, and the role and function of power in defining one's identity (including one's sexuality). Foucault argues that since the eighteenth century Western civilization has increasingly become obsessed with talking and thinking about sex as a subject, rather than partaking of "bodies and pleasures" (157). Feminism certainly posits that a woman to be authentically alive must overcome alienation from her body, whether that alienation is imposed upon her by an individual male or by "power" as it is exercised by the entire structure of society. This generalized sense of power is what Foucault posits as the controlling force behind the history of sexuality and the accompanying increase in public discourse about sex. This "deployment of sexuality" (157), says Foucault, has hypnotized people, as a function of power, into believing that they were once repressed sexually but have now achieved a state of sexual liberation. Foucault's analysis of power (whether social, economic, political, or all three) relates that power to this "deployment of sexuality" and argues that "we must abandon the hypothesis that modern industrial societies ushered in an age of increased sexual repression" (49). Foucault asks why, if people are no longer repressed, the public discourse on sex continues to focus on this repression. His answer is that people are not liberated sexually at all, but have been alienated (by power) from their bodies and their pleasures by this obsession with talking and thinking about sex.

Except in a few brief instances, Foucault does not specifically address himself to feminist issues, or even to the impact on women of this obsessive discourse about sex. He is more concerned with the negative, dehumanizing, alienating impact of the "deployment of sex" on all members of Western ci...

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Michel Foucault and The History of Sexuality. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 16:09, April 13, 2024, from