Foucault’s”Repressive Hypothesis”

In Repressive Hypothesis, Foucault talks about the repression of sexuality throughout history. He basically mentions that the main reason of this repression is the power which prohibited sex to be formed as a discourse.

This form of repressions parallels the rise of the bourgeosie in the seventeenth century because it was against their ethic and they didn’t want to ruin their families’ lineage. In that time, sex was restricted to be talked about at home in the bedroom and literature which included sex was described as”scandalous”. Not only did the capitalism form this censorship but the Church as a religious institution as well. Which means that discourse of sexuality was restricted only to marriage(a private place) and not to be talked about or thought of outside this area.

Afterwards in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, sex discourse was still controlled and was discussed in fields of medicine and psychiatry . Even sexual orientation and certain sexual practises as sodomy were controlled as well. Foucault sees that there’s no difference regarding this issue in modern industrial time.

Talking about gender and sexuality, I would like to say that I totally agree with Butler when she says that gender issue rises up when one is born and they decide either s/he is male or female because we are all human beings and should be looked at this way apart from our sex/sexuality. Thus, Foucault theory was influential on feminist and queer theory due to the oppression practiced on both women and homosexuals and putting them in the world of silence

On the other hand, I’d like to say that I agree with Foucault as well because power is a form of repression on sexual discourse. For example, in Egypt (where sex is still regarded as a taboo), the two main centres of power are: politics and religion(Islam and Christianity). Both of them ban sexual discourse in the name of religion in order to create a stable, conservative society, according to them. I think I’ll need hundreds on pages to give examples of sexual repressions, but I’ll talk about it briefly. Sex discourse is restricted to husband and wife who can’t kiss for example in public places and they can’t discuss it with their children until one of them gets married. What’s really frustrating that many people get married and they don’t even know what sex is. Can you believe it?

In schools, it is banned to teach sexology, even in biology when we were taught the lesson about reproduction, we weren’t allowed to ask about “shameful” details. Other form of sexual repression is discourse of homosexuality which is the biggest taboo ever. In military services, only straight men are allowed to join and then they check each person even they find out if one is gay(I don’t know how they know that), they stamp it on his file and then he’s deprived from all his rights even from working.

Last but least, as Mosques and Churches are the most powerful institutions in Arab societies, both encourage circumcision of children, a medieval act which is practiced until now. Here I upload alink for a video that shows how brutal it is. Besides, I was shocked when I found out it is even practiced here in Vancouver as seen in the picture.!/video/video.php?v=361232477920&oid=22049526756

To sum up, after mentioning the above examples, I agree with Foucault that even until now the repressive hypothesis takes place in different places. I’m quite sure it has other forms in Western societies as well. But why  all this obsession with our sexuality? Does it really say anything about us? I don’t think so.

Finally, I have a couple of questions:

-Foucault said that historically this form of repression started with the rise of bourgeosie, but I wonder how was sex viewed and discussed in previous centuries?

-With the explosion of pop culture which is all about sex, would it have satisfied Foucault? And did it really solve this issue?

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3 Responses to Foucault’s”Repressive Hypothesis”

  1. Monica P. says:

    From what I understood, repression of sex only made it more talked about and forced it to become discourse. So in a way it is censorship but in a way it isn’t. (I think?)

  2. Mélanie says:

    Doaa, your post is very interesting. Especially the part about being obsessed with sexuality. I think you are obsessed, but maybe not as much as me. It is a serious academic interest, OK!!!
    I feel contemporary French Canadian culture has less taboos regarding sexually (maybe not enough… if you talk to me…). That said, I had a few experiences while teaching in Catholic schools which were ridiculous and incorrect. I have had a lot frank discussions about sexuality with clergy and I have read Catholic literature, some dissident, some not, dealing with sexuality. There is a very specific teaching in Catholicism about sexuality but the reality is much more complex. For example, the laity might have a different view from the dogma. In a Catholic school, students are “free”; they do not have to live a lifestyle in accordance to Church dogma, although teachers are called to be models. When I arrived in Toronto for teacher training (the third time, before quitting yet again – I might vomit just remembering any of this), a teacher told us NOT to discuss sexuality with students because we were in Catholic schools and we were “not allowed.” This is an example of stupidity. It might feel “safer” not to talk about it but it was incorrect to say that we were not allowed. It is simple: you teach the dogma and you create a space to agree or disagree. This is what the religious education curriculum says. Students are never obliged to agree. They might feel pressured for a variety of reasons especially if idiotic teachers (sorry, these were my own colleagues, I am lacking solidarity) urge silence. Another student who identified as a lesbian was told not to admit this to anyone! Terrible! I mean, this might be practical for survival in a homophobic area but we were not in a homophobic area. No one cared, we had gay teachers and all the teachers co-habitated with their bfs or gfs and had kids outside wedlock. That is why had a Mark Hall in Ontario sue his school in 2002 or so (prior to my anecdotes) so that he could bring his boyfriend to prom. Some people continue to be worried “just in case”… and they are worried for themselves and their own careers and not for anyone else’s welfare.
    Now, regarding the actual dogma, that is another story of course…
    Your post is interesting Doaa, you made me think… (about sex…)… (…and theory…)…

  3. Jon says:

    “I’d like to say that I agree with Foucault as well because power is a form of repression on sexual discourse.”

    Except that, as Monica points out, Foucault thinks quite the opposite. The point of the piece is to argue *against* the “repressive hypothesis. As he himself puts it: “We must therefore abandon the hypothesis that modern industrial societies ushered in an age of increased sexual repression” (327). And far from there being censorship, there was in fact an “incitement to discourse.”

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