Thursday, February 26, 2009

Foucault and Ang/Hermes questions

1. With regards to the repressive hypothesis discussed on page 10, Foucault disagrees with the arguments because he sees society as being more tolerant than repressive, which is true with regards to French society. Can the same be said about American culture though? No. How then has American censorship changed from the 17th/18th century compared to today?

For one, the role the church plays has taken on a secondary or even tertiary position as we have become a society governed by the state rather than by the church. Despite the role religion has played recently in the discourse, it has not been forgotten as people still use the teachings of their religion as a way to keep others “pure” until marriage. Secondly, the presence of censoring sex through public discourses has changed in that coitus is not seen as something should only be done based on biological (it being a woman’s “duty” to bear children) or economical (having as many children possible to work the land) rationale. Today, not only are women prolonging the age at which they have children, they are also choosing not to have any at all. As the cost of living has risen tremendously since the 18th century, people have chosen not to have a big family, or any children, because of the economic drain it would impose on the family.
The discourse of sexuality pertaining to children has in my eyes changed on a smaller scale compared to the change in the church and adults. There is a great unease with people when it comes to thinking and or talking about infantile/pre-adolescent/adolescent/young adult sexuality, especially when it comes to the infantile/pre-adolescent age groups. Despite known knowledge about sexuality beginning in the womb, people choose to turn a blind eye to this issue. Perhaps because it removes the “innocence” people have when thinking about children or maybe they just don’t know how to broach the subject. When it comes to the adolescent/young adult cohorts, more discussion is being had publicly because of the rising pre/teen sti/pregnancy/abortion rates. Thus, sexuality among pre/teens is still talked about in a preventative manner rather than an honest, informational manner. So, while sex, according to Foucault (1976) was “driven out of hiding and constrained to lead a discursive existence,” the discourse still talks about sex as something that is ignored in infants/small children, shunned and viewed negatively amongst pre/teens and preferred to be engaged in only by those adults who are in a committed relationship, preferably married (p. 33).

2. What sort of devices of surveillance and corrective discourses were used to combat the assumed guilt non/adults were seen as having with regards to their sexuality?

In the colonial era, it was perfectly acceptable for neighbors to literally peek into their neighbors’ windows to see what was going on in the house. Thus, the concept of “policing you neighborhood” became a literal translation especially when it came to sexual practices. It was every person’s duty to make sure that no transgressions against God were being committed in the bedroom. This meant those married couples engaging in any “non-vanilla sexual activity” and for those who were, they were brought forth in front of their community and made to repent against their sin(s) with the promise never to commit that same “crime” again. Unlike in today’s society, people in the 18th and 19th century did not carry their crime’s stigma with them for the rest of their lives, as long as they were sorry and never caught doing the same criminal act again, the notion of forgive and forget was very true.
When it came to sexuality and all non-adults, the approach to safeguard them from sexual temptation was combated in numerous ways, two of which I will discuss now. The first was a device designed specifically for adolescent boys whose bodies were maturing. This specific device can be thought of as an anti-erection invention in that the boy would put it on sort of like a pair of underwear and the phallus was positioned in a way within the device so that if he should become erect while sleeping, a spiked metal ball would come in contact with the tip of his phallus. The purpose of this device then was to get a boy’s body to associate pain with his erection so that his phallus will not want to become erect. Another method used for adolescents was if an arrangement had been made between a girl’s family and a boy’s family with regards to marriage, the soon-to-be husband was allowed to spend the night at the girl’s family’s home, but could not be trusted to control his sexual urges during the night while everyone else was sleeping. To prevent any sort of hanky-panky that could go on when no one was watching, the covers of the bed the boy was sleeping in would be sewn to the mattress so that he could not get out of the bed at night.
There was this obsessive compulsion with sexuality then during these times, and while discussions were being had about sexuality, the nature of those conversations were not to education people on sexuality but rather to keep people from resisting to give in to the devil’s temptations. For both adults and their children, they were led to believe that since they must always be on the lookout for any moment of weakness they might encounter with their body or someone else’s, they were denied the right to eat certain foods. It was once believed that spicy foods had a direct correlation to a person’s sexual appetite. As a result, spicy foods were banned from the diet of everyone. In addition, it was thought that whole grains kept people’s sexuality in check, which led to the General-Mills company to capitalize on this need for healthy foods.

3. Looking back on the history of sexuality in America and how it has changed since the first colonists arrived, was Foucault right in saying that we do not live in a sexually repressed society?
The answer to this question is not as clear-cut as one might expect it to be for there are multiple levels that come into play when trying to answer this question. For instance, I could argue that society is still repressed sexually, if not more than before with regard to the “nervous” woman. During the 20th and 21st centuries, woman who were diagnosed with certain medical afflictions pertaining to their physiological and mental state were treated with masturbatory therapy. Two specific types of therapy were to either have a doctor or nurse use a dildo on a woman to get her to climax, as it was reported afterward that the woman’s physical and mental state appeared to have gotten much better, or to prescribe that a woman sit in a hot spring to get the woman to climax from the jets of water hitting certain parts of a woman’s body. This practice was so common during those times that advertisements could be found in any regular household magazine opposite the page for clothing or household items. No longer are these practices in use medically because of the idea that women are asexual and because of the increase in knowledge about the human body that has allowed for physicians to better recognize what is ailing a person’s mind or body.
Interestingly though, sex education films produced in the early 20th century were made for teenage males to warn them about the “dangers” of sex. While the act of coitus was never fully explained, the focus of those films was to scare them into holding off on having sex until marriage. The roles of women in those films were always the giver of a sti rather than a recipient of one which presents a contradictory image of women. On the one hand, women were not to be trusted sexually because they would give an unsuspecting guy a sti, but on the other hand, women were socialized to be pure and innocent when it came to their sexuality. Another interesting point to make about these early sex education films is that the if a reason was given for how a woman became infected with a sti, it was usually because she felt lonely and or neglected by her husband and sought refuge in the arms/bed of another man who consequently had an infectious disease. Even though the woman in this scenario was infected by another man, you are not made to feel sympathetic for her, but rather for her “innocent” husband who now has to go to the doctor to see if he too has been infected. Thus, that was just one more way to represent the “fallen woman” and Madonna/whore persona within cinematic media. So, even though sexuality was discussed and sexual medical practices were used, it was done more so in a repressive or medicinal manner rather than an expressive approach.

4. In the Ang and Hermes piece, their focus was to examine the role gender plays in media consumption as opposed to only looking at how gender is represented in various media outlets. While the difference between the two approaches might seem subtle, they are very different in the type of questions that can be asked. For instance, the authors raise a question of interest to me pertaining to couples who like to watch porn together. What unspoken messages are being sent by women who watch pornography?
To quote Wendy McElroy (1995), “…I am a woman so who is so psychologically damaged by patriarchy that I have fallen in love with my own oppression” (p. vi). Are women who watch pornographic media or make pornographic media reinforcing their own subordination in a patriarchic society? Does the type of pornographic media a woman watches or makes effect how she is resisting or accepting her subordinate status in society? For instance, if a woman engages in watching or making mainstream pornography, that which is made by white men and aimed at heterosexual white men, as opposed to watching or making non-mainstream porn, specifically, that which is made by white women for heterosexual white female viewers, make one genre better or worse than the other? Mainstream porn has been under attack in the U.S. for centuries because of the assumed lack of morals, violent themes and treatment/presentation of women and after centuries of trying to censor and eradicate porn from American society; women’s response was to make porn geared towards women. Now, what sets the two types of porn apart from one another are often believed to have to do with the presentation of sex in each category. Mainstream porn has also been accused of lacking loving/affectionate themes, so to fill that void women began producing porn that involved loving and or affectionate themes for their female viewers. By making those types of films, does that not also oppress women because those types of films imply that women by nature are only interested in those media that involve loving and/or affectionate themes. Like the romance novels, that type of pornography is used as an outlet to tap into another world with which to escape to. Do women really like that sort of porn though? Granted there are some women who do, can it be said that the majority of women find that type of porn entertaining?

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