In Foucault's "Age of the Critical Analysis of Repression", the realist is king: <br>

This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page

Sex and Gender

2005 Second Web Papers

On Serendip

In Foucault's "Age of the Critical Analysis of Repression", the realist is king:

Flora Shepherd

Flora Shepherd
Seminar on Gender and Sexuality
Fall 2005

In Foucault's "Age of the Critical Analysis of Repression", the realist is king:
Why we need rules to play with gender.

My earliest memory: a shaft of sun on my face. I am in the kitchen at the old house. Mom is showing me how to grate the zest off an orange. The sharp scent bites my nostrils. I am giddy, grinding fruit against metal. But I grate my hand! My palm is bleeding, the citrus burning the wound. I was having fun. How did this happen? Sobbing, I jump off the stool and run to my room. My bedroom door looms in front of me (white boxy molding) and the memory is over.

Seventh grade: retreating from the soccer field sun, I join the girls in the middle school courtyard. We throw tennis balls against the wall and try to catch them. Whoever misses has to run across the wall and without getting hit by a ball. But it is boring to throw and catch. Everyone throws harder at the girls running across the wall. Screaming and giggling, I do not mind when a ball pelts me in the thigh. I run back out and throw the ball as hard as I can. It hits Amanda's head; her glasses break; her face is bleeding. Coach blows her whistle and wallball is over.

And now I am listening to the discussion in my college Gender and Sexuality Class. I try to flesh out my ideas, play with categories. Barrie Thorne wrote that, "... children's collective activities should weigh more fully in our overall understanding of gender and social life. One of my goals is to help bring children from the margins and into the center of sociological and feminist thought"(4). I will take up her challenge. I recall my childhood experiences: my bleeding hand, Amanda's face and other memories. How do these lessons apply to my understanding of the gender and sexuality studies discipline?

Childhood games are closely connected with the body. One can see and feel the consequences of these games. But while discussing gender, we play with invisible ideas. No one can see casts over broken ideologies, braces for twisted perspectives or the bandages wrapped around the gash where faith was torn away. Since ideological and emotional wounds can be just as real and painful as physical ailments, it is important to find a way to draw the line between discomfort and pain, between useful and destructive discussion. How can we prevent the severe damage that can come from discussing categories? Thorne offers guidance on children's play in the following passage, but the content is just as applicable to discussions of feminist and gender studies.
The 'play' frame, like the related frame of 'humor,' brackets an encounter, setting it apart from ongoing, more "serious" life. Situations of play and humor have a loosened relationship to consequences; if pressed to take responsibility for their actions, participants can say, "we're only playing" or "this is just a joke." Thorne, 79
If the words spoken in the "bracketed" discussion are protected by virtue of their being uttered in a setting "apart from", how can we regulate discussions at all? I am not satisfied by this explanation. Social responsibility for another does not go away in a classroom setting. If anything, emotions and ideas are magnified. This discussion bracket is an explanation of a certain phenomena, not a solution.

It is especially difficult to create rules for human gender and sexuality discussions because we are discussing more than just ideas. By definition, we are discussing ourselves. Thorne explains that "...children, like adults, live in present, concretely historical, and open-ended time...Children's interactions are not preparations for life, they are life itself" (3). Since students and "... children act, resist, rework and create..." it is difficult to separate abstract theory from concrete experience (3). If theory is shaped by experience and experience is tied to identity, then it may be impossible to discuss theory without encroaching on identity. And since identities are so diverse, safety rules may have to be abandoned in favor of trust in the other members of the discussion: trust that everyone acts in pursuit of the goal of the game. But what is that?

Rules are necessary as more than just a safety measure. In all sports, especially nonphysical ones, rules shape the game and define the goal. The exact goal of gender and sexuality is unique for each scholar. But I would venture to assume Barrie Thorne describes the general goal best:
As adults, we can help kids, as well as ourselves, imagine and realize different futures, alter institutions, craft new life stories. A more complex understanding of the dynamics of gender, of tensions and contradictions, and of the hopeful moments that lie within present arrangements, can help broaden our sense of the possible. 173
And how can one "broaden our sense of the possible?"

Foucault and Laquer argue that the most important rule in gender and sexuality studies is not to take any facts for granted. Foucault primarily discusses the history of discourse on sexuality. Not only is the discipline itself complex, he argues, but our relation to it is extremely complex also.
...for decades now, we have found it difficult to speak on the subject without striking a different pose: we are conscious of defying established power, our town of voice shows that we know we are being subversive, and we ardently conjure away the present and appeal to the future, whose day will be hastened by the contribution we believe we are making. 6-7
The question I would like to pose is not Why are we repressed? But rather Why do we say, with so much passion so much resentment...that we are repressed?"8-9
This passage suggests to me that the study of gender and sexuality and the study of the study of gender and sexuality could each be its own discipline, each more complex than the other. How can we focus on the subject without acknowledging the subjectivity we have when studying it? What's more, Foucault writes that "The statement of the oppression and the form of the sermon refer back to one another; they are mutually reinforcing" (8). How does he propose to elude this catch-22? Are we destined to discuss sex without gaining any ground on our understanding or broadening our sense of the possible? I think his solution lies here, "All these negative elements,--defense, censorship, denial...are doubtless only component parts that have a local and tactical role to play in a transformation into discourse, a technology of repression ..." (12). The key rule then, is to remain aware of the presence of this "technology." We must acknowledge that our thoughts may not be revolutionary or useful. By remaining aware of this continual, obtrusive presence of societal technology in our thought processes and society, we will ask more relevant questions and, hopefully, obtain a better understanding of gender and sexuality.

One find Foucault's "technology" even in the writings of Thomas Laquer He critiques those who rely heavily on modern science and biology to explain gender and sexuality. According to biology, relying on modern science alone to understand sexuality and gender will not give anyone a broader understanding of the subject, "there is no "correct" representation of women in relation to men and that the whole science of difference is thus misconceived..." (21). However, if one studies the history and context of modern moedicine, more knowledge may be gained. He notes that "In terms of the millennial traditions of western medicine, genitals came to matter as the marks of sexual opposition only last week.. .(22) So, what can one trust in science? Laquer states that "The record on which I have relied bears witness to the fundamental incoherence of stable, fixed categories of sexual dimorphism, or male and an/or female."(22) The one thing that science can teach us, unequiviacobly, is that the study of gender and sexuality can sometimes be incoherent. The situation is not as simple as it may appear.

Foucault explains that is not enough to base inquiry solely on our own personal experiences and Laquer says not to rely on instantaneous science alone. So? What can we rely on? What rules are we left with for this game? Both emphasize the importance of context. I've only been able to find three rules.
1. Gender is hard to study.
2. Remain aware of your bias, "the technology of repression" inside of you as much as possible. It pervades theory, science and your discussions.
3. Trust that your colleagues want to help despite how much their experiences or thoughts may hurt or disagree with your own.
Now let's play!

Works Cited

Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. 1966;
rpt. and trans. New York: Vintage, 1973.
Laqueur, Thomas. "Of Language and the Flesh." Making Sex: Body and Gender from the
Greeks to Freud. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1990.
Thorne, Barrie. Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School. New Brunswick, Rutgers
University Press, 1994.

| Course Home | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:51:41 CDT