The Place of Michel Foucault’s Theories of Sexuality in Recent Trends

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Human sexuality and its fluidity have proven to be elusive subjects to human understanding since time immemorial. Increasingly, humans have expressed a deserved desire to understand the underlying elements of their sexuality, the factors that affect said sexuality and other dynamics which may significantly weigh in. Scholars and commentators on the subject have been keen to foster various arguments in an attempt at demystifying this concept. With scholars from virtually all spheres of academia, trying to give their respective perspective on this issue. What is uncontested however is the fact that human sexuality often has us in a swamp, one that we may need the aid of erstwhile opinion shapers to get out of (Mutcherson, 159).

The issue of sexuality has been handled differently in different states, with some being notably laxer than others. This has culminated in a faction of the human rights movement, with a keen eye on the rights of perceived sexual deviants. These are to wit persons with an inclination towards the LGBT society. However, it is noteworthy that there exist a plethora of states sometimes dubbed ‘conservatives,’ who have expressed unmatched adamancy in embracing the permissive wave and reflecting the same in legislation. A majority of these countries are spread throughout the African and Asian continents; although perhaps one of the most recent departures from this school of thought has been witnessed in India; whose Supreme Court recently decriminalised same-gender sexual relations.

The country acclaimed for some of the most prominent jurisprudence in the commonwealth was known for its relatively outdated penal code; one which is still rife with traces of the British imperial rule of the former colonial masters. Of the prescribed offences in the said code, one of the most contentious was the provisions of its Section 377 which outlawed any carnal knowledge between persons of the same gender, consent notwithstanding (Horton et al. 1063). This phenomenon had been initially termed an offence against the order of nature, much like bestiality and the sexual assault of a minor, a rendition which the Supreme Court redefined. The decriminalisation was dealt the controversy it deserved with many of the conservative opinion makers in apparent consternation. On the other hand, die-hard supporters and pro-LGBT activists openly expressed their pleasure with the ruling.

Another important Asian country which has witnessed a recent upsurge on matters LBGT is the very cradle of Christian spirituality, Israel. This country has seen a gradual shift in ideology and generally increased tolerance from the conservatives, albeit grudgingly. Its capital, Jerusalem, is home to a robust gay community, one which religiously holds an infamous Jerusalem Pride parade. Here, members and supporters of the gay community march along the streets in a declaration of ‘pride.’ The current turmoil in Israel vis vis homosexuality may have had its advent in one such parade turned chaotic (Hartal, 1201.). This culminated in the stabbing to death of Shira Banki and the wounding of five others by an assailant known to be a conservative extremist.

The fatal attack was attributed to an oversight on the part of the police, under the command of Moshe Edri, who it is alleged had intelligence beforehand of possible attacks to the crowd. In an uncanny twist of events, Moshe Edri has since been appointed the Israeli Police Commissioner, much to the chagrin of the gay fraternity. Opponents to this appointment have argued that his failure to secure the 2015 march is in stark contrast to what is expected of an officer in his position, and only serves as proof of his incompetence. These opponents have expressed an intent to seek legal recourse from this nomination. However, in what appears to be a show of unity in contempt of gay rights, a myriad of Israeli leaders have congratulated the embattled and controversial nominee in unison (David et al. 13).

In understanding the stances which a government may take towards the issue of gay rights, one must offer the subject a multifaceted approach. This is primarily owing to the complexity of the matter. Thus any individual who approaches the issue with a fixed mind is bound to draw misinformed inferences, and this is an inevitable slippery slope. In what is commonly described as modernist literature, some scholars have attempted to demystify the relationship that exists between a state’s machination of power or control and its subjects’ sexual freedoms and preference (Clark, 57). Perhaps one of the most notable opinion makers in this discipline was French philosopher extraordinaire, Michel Foucault. He is credited with authoring an extensive collection of volumes, which aimed at demystifying the relationship mentioned above. His iconic treatise L’Histoire De La Sexualité, which translates to The History of Sexuality, was published first in 1976 and through to 2018 posthumously.

Here, Foucault attempts to offer an informative history of the present status quo of attitudes toward sexuality. His rendition goes back to the Victorian and post-chivalry era when the English were keen on affirming a culture of their own, away from the underlying French influences brought to their shores by the Norman conquest of the nation. With an increased notion that sexual permissiveness was a foreign concept, the English aimed at cultivating a more restricted approach to sexuality, creating an invisible perimeter around what was considered acceptable sexually.

Foucault remarks that this was centred on seemingly diplomatic sexual relations between married persons only. Any digression from this norm was treated with hostility and general inertia from the concerned authorities. He averred that this inclination and desire of the ruling elite to suppress sexual deviants was motivated by and has fostered a stable relationship between sexual freedoms, power, and knowledge in present-day. This author is critical of Freudian theories and their misrepresentation as the initial attempt at sexual freedom. He argues that Freudian theories were an uncredited extension to the already existing methods and as such did little to deviate from the norm

Further, they do not offer the subject of sexuality a psychosocial approach; one that would acknowledge the connection between the knowledge of a people, how this would shape their opinions (including sexuality) and how the rulers would react to this informed stance. Foucault opined that the grip held by the rulers on the existing norms of sexuality could only be eliminated through a string of revolutionary initiatives. These are to wit; the revelation of truth, an overhaul of the global legal regime, a commitment to new beginnings and an intent to ensure relative comfort for all persons alike.

Some commentators on the subject have argued that perhaps Michel Foucault’s musings were ahead of their time. This is especially in light of the recent developments in the two nations of Israel and India. From a comparative analysis of the situation in the two countries, the attitudes expressed towards sexuality are founded on traditional English opinions, and Foucault’s theories advise some of the responses (El Feki, 42).

The situation in Israel is indeed the classic cliché described by Foucault in his treatise. The conservative stance adopted and ideology is apparent from various twists in the Israeli plot. There is keen intent to ensure that the status quo is maintained and any deviations from this are greeted with hostility. Quite conspicuously, the unprecedented harmony exhibited by leaders both in the government and opposition is quite telling of inertia. The disapproval here is expressed through the responses of the government which have been characterised by blatantly gratuitous violence and lack of enthusiasm to prosecute persons accused of offences against perceived sexual deviants (Huber et al. 137.). It is apparent that much like Foucault opined, a government seems to view dissidents as threats even where the motivation is personal; such as is the case with sexual orientation. The Israeli’s paranoia may have culminated in the nomination of a police commissioner who is believed to express bias against gay persons. This may have a pacifying effect and consequentially afford the state a maintained status quo.

On the other hand, the situation in India is a quintessential example of a state which has the intention of remedying its oppressive past and in essence, afford its people their rights and freedoms (Rao et al. 1). It was indeed Foucault’s holding that the oppressive status quo maintained by a state over its people may be upheld through various mechanisms, chief of which is legislation. Therefore, it is an imperative step in the right direction for any state to begin its reform process through legislative changes; as has been the case in India. The Indian Supreme Court’s decision is perhaps a quintessential expression of Foucault’s vision; where the relationship between power, knowledge and sexual freedoms have struck a reasonable balance.

This equilibrium has been reached upon, as a result of pressure from an informed populace which is ready to assert its rights (Crampton et al. 21). The knowledge has caused the government and those in power to cave in and compromise by allowing for such a different character on the part of its citizenry. The compromise by those in power and the state, in general, has further been cemented by the ruling of an arm of the government, in favour of persons initially labelled as deviants. This new normal results in an all-inclusive nation are going forward, just as was envisioned by Foucault (Lemke, 22).

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The Place of Michel Foucault’s Theories of Sexuality in Recent Trends. (2021, Jul 20). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-place-of-michel-foucaults-theories-of-sexuality-in-recent-trends/

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