Social censorship and repression

The introduction of Michel Foucault’s book The History of Sexuality suggests there may be a connection between legislative repression of sexual behavior and increased criminal behavior. Foucault, who’s writing in the 1980s, is reflecting on the repression of sexual expression that was normalized before the movement for sexual liberation in the 1960s. He argues that there was a time when people were unapologetically open in their discussions about sex, so open that it was normal for children to be present during these conversations (Foucault, 4). Once social liberty was suppressed, and discussions about sex became taboo, people needed a place to go to full express themselves. This was when brothels and prostitution became cultural staples. Foucault says this is because repressing sex is like repressing a language (6). When a person is told that the way they express themselves is against the law, it’s not surprising that those people will seek illegal avenues for expression.

It is easy to see how this argument could be applied to current discussion on censorship and social issues. In depth surveillance of personal information and legislation restricting people of certain sexual orientations are two contemporary issues that come to mind. The difference here is that most people marginalized in these cases aren’t seeking illegal avenues comparable to the use of brothels or participation in prostitution. However, people are still going to live their lives and express themselves the way they wish regardless of the illegality of their actions.

Foucault brings up the issue that, in both the 16th century and the present, the practices of repression are so ingrained into our society that they become hard to undo. This is the issue we face now. Old arguments that weren’t justified to begin with have been repeated for so many years that they start to make sense (or at least cause doubt) for a demographic that didn’t previously agree. Hope is not lost, however, because just as some people reverted to old, misguided ways of thinking, others have broadened their world view and accepted new ways of thinking – something I’m not sure Foucault truly believed would be a reality.

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