Playing with Categories
Day 8: Constructing the Category "Sex"

Jen's Notes on Foucault, History of Sexuality

From Anne: three touchstones for reading/interpreting/expanding Laqueur on sex as a cultural construction

deBeauvoir, The Second Sex: "a woman is not born, but made"
core insight of 1st wave feminism: sex=biological, gender=cultural

Laqueur, p. 10: difference and sameness are everywhere; but which ones count and for what ends is determined outside the bounds of empirical investigation
p. 21: any sign of difference is dependent on an underlying theory of deciding what counts and what does not count as evidence

Cf. Brown Bag Series on What Counts?
Ted Wong: Scientists go to nature and extract numbers; measurement mediates--that is, inserts a process and so stands between--nature and science. These techniques of measurement are not completely transparent, but have a structure and life of their own, which affect how we think. The translation of the world into numbers changes what we are describing.

Paul Grobstein:... numbers become necessary when people are separate enough from one another that they need to resort to approximations of what they value. The alternative to using numbers is to share an unconscious.

Laqueur, p. 13: Sexuality as a singular and all-important human attribute with a specific object--the opposite sex--is the product of the late eighteenth century . There is nothing natural about it. Rather...sexuality is "a sort of artwork. "

Cf. classic essay by Adrienne Rich on "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence" (1980; rpt. Blood, Bread and Poetry):
I am suggesting that heterosexuality, like mother-hood, needs to be recognized and studied as a political institution--even, or especially, by those individuals who feel they are, in their personal experience, the precursors of a new social relation between the sexes....

If women are the earliest sources of emotional caring and physical nurture for both female and male children, it would seem logical, from a feminist perspective at least, to pose the following questions: whether the search for love and tenderness in both sexes does not originally lead toward women; why in fact women would ever redirect that search; why species-survival, the means of impregnation, and emotional/erotic relationships should ever have become so rigidly identified with each other; and why such violent strictures should be found necessary to enforce women's total emotional, erotic loyalty and subservience to men. I doubt that enough feminist scholars and theorists have taken the pains to acknowledge the societal forces that wrench women's emotional and erotic energies away from themselves and other women and from woman-identified values. These forces, as I shall try to show, range from literal physical enslavement to the disguising and distorting of possible options.

Laqueur reading notes:
why opposite, not neighboring sexes?
18th c. shift from woman as "man inside out" to belief in fundamental/radical difference/dimorphism
physical real world prior to/independent of culture
pre-Enlightenment texts: gender was primary/real;
sex was conventional, sociological,
science in tune w/ demands of culture
2 developments resulted in new interpretations of the body:
one epistemological: not microcosm of large hierarchical analogy/order
one political: sex is situational, explicable w/in context of gender & power
p. 13: Foucault: sexuality is a way of fashioning the self "in the experience of the flesh, constituted around certain forms of behavior"
p. 16: particular Archimedean point is in space between body and its representations

theories of sexual difference influenced scientific progress
sex is contextual: private, enclosed, stable body is product of particular historical moments
instability of difference and sameness @ heart of biology
Comte on scientific fictions
Durkheim: vain hope of accumulated data; cannot know what it will require unless we have already formed some conception of it
anything one says is already informed by a theory of difference or sameness
humans impose their sense of opposition onto a world of continuous shades of difference and similarity
2 claims: negative-- no set of facts ever entrails any particular account of difference
and positive-- biology of sexual difference is embedded in other cultural programs
@ stake or not biological but cultural, political questions re nature of woman
women empty category
fundamental incoherence of stable, fixed categories of sexual dimorphism
18th c. conception of opposites arbitrary relationship between organ as sign and body that gives it currency
biology of hierarchy of one sex
biology of incommensurability between two sexes
claim of no publicly relevant sexual difference
there is no "correct" representation of women in relation to men
whole science of difference is misconceived
saddened by omission of sustained account of experience in the body:
new poignancy for attraction of what is LIKE

Anne's Foucault notes: why we think he's important;
some time parsing the "repressive hypothesis"

7: sex and preaching
11: what's at issue: way sex is put into discourse
17: 17th c. bourgeois repression: policing enunciation;
increasing scope of confession
21: compulsion to transform every desire into discourse;
the endless mill of speech
23: increasing vaolorization of discourse on sex:
incitement to talk: and managed:
24: sex regulated through discourse
27: silence is less the absolute limit of discourse than
element that functions alongside things said:
strategy that underlies discourse

34: last 3 centuries distinguished by regulated network of discourse
35: sex made into that which had to be confessed
36: endeavor to expel non-reproductive sex
age of multiplication: sexual heterogeneities
38: legitimate couple the norm; all other sex peripheral,
under scrutiny, condemned, set apart as "unnatural"
43: homosexuality transposed from practice to species
Foucault important/illuminating not just re:
discourse of sex, but discourse in general,
and way in which, once spoken, our words can be used;
lots of application for class of Foucault's theory:
no free sharing possible (no unified subjects)
talking circle supreme disciplinary action (panopticon);
freer in back of a lecture hall, where nothing is asked of you,
no work will be done on your offerings....

conscious desire to refrain from discussion,
as form of resistance to being silenced/policed

(Jennifer Gore: self-proclaimed emancipatory discourses
can have dominating effects: can function repressively)
where there is power, there is resistance:
more we structure it, more insistently resistance will be produced
cf. Susan Sontag on how speech closes off thought, silence keeps things open
Eleanor Duckworth: if you give students an answer, they will stop thinking
injunction to speak not unproblematic...
want to break down category of speaking/not speaking-just play w/ it....

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