Saturday’s Big Idea
The Repressive Hypothesis
In his great work, The History of Sexuality, the French theorist Michael Foucault debunked the idea that western society suppressed sexuality from the 17th to the mid-20th century. Discourse on sexuality, however, was not in fact confined to marriage.
Psychiatry, for instance, itself became an outlet that freed people from the confines of conventional morality. However, Foucault pointed out the paradox of all of this: why do we proclaim so loudly that we are repressed, why do we talk so much about how we can't talk about sex? Instead of liberating ourselves in the way we would like to think, psychology ended up creating a prison of its own, a prison of discourse that is itself a form of preaching. Everything comes back to sex, and our identity becomes inextricably tied to it.
In today's lesson, the sociologist Eva Illouz shows how so much of what we think about failures in our romantic life are bound up in cultural biases that are derived from this discourse on sexuality.