Firstly, this essay introduces us with a generic definition and outline of the term “Sexuality”, which adds clarity to the following discourse and transmits context to the reader before introducing other, more complex ideas. Following this, there is a focus on theorist Michel Foucault, who took an interest in analysing whether or not “sexuality” is subject for open dialogue or conversation in today’s modern era and past and expresses his beliefs on individual sexuality. These features are discussed and explored in his book, “The history of sexuality”, and in addition to this, other issues and ideas that are raised throughout, are considered. In my opinion, bringing in theorists such as Foucault who provides greater background and details of human sexuality, allows us to juxtapose or connect different points of views to the main question.
Upcoming to this, it is discussed how the media alongside other communication platforms, have been conditioning us to trust certain beliefs on sexuality, sex and gender. And, as a result, culture seems to further reinforce these views on people. Through the term “sexuality”, we are referring to someone’s sexual orientation. There are various types of sexuality, the two main ones being; “heterosexual”, which is when people are attracted to the opposite sex. In contrast, there’s “homosexuality” which is when people of the same sex feel attracted to one another. In the past, homosexuality was frowned upon and strongly disapproved. Only recently, and in some areas in the world, has “homosexuality” finally been acknowledged and validated by members in our society.
Interestingly, Foucault dealt with issues relating to homosexuality as well. He wanted to examine the way homosexuality was being alienated and help overcome that repression created. Nevertheless, movements for gays or lesbians’ rights, only creates more distinction between homosexuals and heterosexuals. With reference to whether or not we are born sexual, it seems like in this context, politics is at odds with human nature. If we discuss the history of sexuality, we can identify how for decades’ people have been searching for answers about their sexuality. Specifically, homosexuals. Even in todays era, homosexuals are controlled by the public. Through media platforms such as TV, we regulate the way homosexuals should behave, act or even look like by creating “stereotypes”.
Sexuality has been a problematic subject throughout history. In the past, during the Victorian age, sexuality was silenced. Women were considered “appropriate” if they refrained from sexual acts. The act of women having sex for pleasure was unimaginable back in the time. During this time, many women were diagnosed with “hysteria”, which is known as sexual frustration in today’s era. Women would complain about symptoms such as irritability, anxiety or insomnia which was directly related to their sexual frustration. In the first place, it is important to note that theorist Michel Foucault rejects and disputes “the repressive hypothesis”.
In which it is stated that since the rise of capitalism, and the bourgeoisie, (members of the middle class who owned most of society’s wealth and therefore held control over the public), society has since repressed any form of discussion on sexuality. Hence, sex for instance, became a topic of criticism. Interestingly, to this day, people still seem to struggle with sexual repression in the sense that, we still choose to refrain from talking about sex or sexuality openly. It could therefore be argued that we “learn to be sexual beings” through the knowledge others impose on us. When talking about discourses of sexuality, it is important to note that discourse helps generate our knowledge on the subject. The repressive language moulds our perception of what sexuality is. Theorist Steven Seidman asserted that “we are not born sexual, but learn to be sexual beings”. Similarly, Foucault also questioned the notion that sex was a biological matter or behaviour.
With regard to heteronormativity, (which is the belief that heterosexuality is the normal sexual orientation), society has, in a way, imposed and reinforced certain cultural beliefs on people. Interestingly, we have normalised the belief that heterosexuality is the “normal” sexual orientation. Nevertheless, this statement can be supported to an extent by the fact that most people fall into this sexual category. Cultural practices such as “marriage” seem to reinforce and produce a specific set of ideas about how sexuality, idealistically, should be like. By displaying to an engaged audience a saturation of “perfect” images and videos of white weddings, and displaying them on media platforms, we are unconsciously signalling to them what “conventional” marriage should look like.
Through the ongoing repetition of these, “representations” of sexuality are being hammered into people’s mind, ultimately conveying more validation and approval on heterosexual marriages rather than others. Moreover, by providing images or videos of famous celebrities, for instance, the audience strives for repetition and duplication of these events. Because of this, it could be argued again, that we “learn to be sexual”. For instance, the norm in television or films when representing families is to display on the screen a family of heterosexuals. Thus, this “representation” of family structure subconsciously influences people watching it into thinking that’s what we need to follow. In addition, other factors such as children’s books make the idea of heterosexual marriage, romance and weddings appealing and even fascinating to young children.
As a consequence, these ideologies shape their view on sex. Critic Laura Anne Ingraham, supports this idea and claims that “weddings are one of heterosexuality’s key organising rituals that work to naturalize the regulation of sexuality of marriage”. Weddings display that the “couple is normal, moral, productive, family-centred, upstanding and appropriately gendered”. Unfortunately, this assertion leads to the emergence of social issues. Civilization places narrow expectations and beliefs on gender to the population, which might not match or correlate with some people’s feelings or attitudes. For instance, society expects women to act “girly or feminine”, and men “manly”. Much like, how we seem to encourage certain sexual orientations and discourage others.
Through the discussion of heteronormativity, the term “gender binary” makes an appearance because it promotes heterosexuality and classifies gender into two diverse identities; female and male. Socially, this has caused some disruption amongst certain individuals. Recently, there have been discussions about a non-binary gender, which is what people who do not identify as either male or female classify themselves as. Following this, critic Judith Butler states that “sex and gender are socially constructed” and therefore argues against critics such as Sigmund Freud for example, who believed that human’s basic instinct pivoted around pleasure and sex. He claimed that human beings were born with sexual energy that developed alongside one’s psychological development.
These stages were; the oral, the anal, the phallic, the latent, and the genital. Hence, Butler raises social issues about gender identity, because, in a way, she addresses the concern posed by people who do not feel like they fit into the two genders; female and male. This controversy can lead people into feeling like they’re out of place. Looking at gender binary from a feminist perspective can help us underpin sexist stereotypes. For example, sayings like “men don’t cry” or “women are weak” fortifies the idea that men and women are different which can bring about sexist issues. Furthermore, it brings about social issues because they denote negative connotations.
Additionally, it gives weight and legitimacy to gender labels through the way both, women and men are categorised. For instance, women are made to feel like they’re weaker than men or more helpless, or that they should always act in a feminine manner. On the other hand, men are influenced and persuaded to act “manly” or tough and avoid acts such as expressing ones’ feelings for instance. If we analyse this closely, we can see to what extent “discourse” holds power over the way we envision or talk about sexuality. This view can be cited back to one of Foucault’s main ideas, in which he stated: “Power is everywhere, diffused and embodied in discourse and knowledge”. To conclude, sexuality seems to be repeatedly constructed and shaped through social, cultural and even political beliefs. Therefore, it could be argued that “we learn to be sexual beings” through social conditioning.
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