by Mary Harrington
Thursday, 1
April 2021
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Foucault’s attitude to sex is alive and well in intersectional feminism

The bid to de-stigmatise all norms would have made the philosopher proud
by Mary Harrington
Trying to cancel a thinker whose influence is as broad as Foucault’s mainly serves internet point-scoring.

When revelations broke on Sunday about Michel Foucault sexually abusing young boys in Tunisia, the massed opponents of ‘woke’ were delighted at the opportunity to smear one of the intellectual colossi of the worldview they so loathe. But those currently demanding that the woke cancel Foucault for kiddy-fiddling or be outed as hypocrites are looking in the wrong direction.

Trying to cancel a thinker whose influence is as broad as Foucault’s mainly serves internet point-scoring. Meanwhile, the Foucauldian analysis of sexuality is alive and well in international policy-making, under the guise of ‘intersectional feminism’, and seeks to normalise exactly those interactions for which the anti-woke are demanding Foucault be cancelled.

Baked into Foucault’s work is the idea that power is inevitable and its operations are inescapable. And implicit in this argument is also the idea that power could operate otherwise. That is, there’s no such thing as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, only the operations of power.

Foucault’s own History of Sexuality (1976) describes one such operation of power: the punishment of a “simple-minded” farm labourer who sexually abused a young village girl. This wasn’t objectively abusive, though, in Foucault’s analysis, but an “everyday occurrence in the life of village sexuality”. His concern is the way power was used to construct it as wicked and deserving of punishment. There is a note almost of affront in his account of the way contemporary systems of power and sexual control turned “these inconsequential bucolic pleasures”, into “the object not only of a collective intolerance but of a judicial action”.

If inheritors of the post-Foucauldian ‘critical theory’ worldview see existing systems of power as inherently oppressive and evil, then dismantling them can only be good. It’s then incumbent on adherents of this worldview to be open-minded about the attendant dismantling of all norms associated with those systems of power.

A detailed programme for this ongoing project of dismantling was published recently by a ‘Women’s Rights Caucus’ of over 200 intersectional feminist groups, LGBT+ campaigns and trade unions around the world. As flagged by the Women’s Human Rights Campaign, of particular note is a line about how the campaign should encourage governments to eliminate ‘laws limiting legal capacity of adolescents, […] to provide consent to sex or sexual and reproductive health services’.

When we recall that the WHO defines as ‘adolescent’ everyone in the 10-19 age bracket, it becomes clear that this inserts into an ostensibly ‘intersectional feminist’ policy declaration, as mainstream consensus feminist aims, the goal of abolishing the age of consent for everyone over the age of 10.

That this has been waved through by over 200 international NGOs and self-styled feminist campaigns speaks volumes about how widespread and entrenched the commitment is to de-stigmatising all those ‘bourgeois’ sexual norms whose existence so inconvenienced Foucault. So perhaps (despite his posthumous quasi-cancellation) Foucault had the last laugh after all: thanks in part to his analysis of sexuality, ‘sexual autonomy for 10-year-olds’ is now well within the international progressive Overton window.

None of this, though, is an argument for cancelling Foucauldian analysis, as if such a thing were even possible. Rather, it’s an argument for employing it. If Foucault was right, power is inescapable and we all exist within it. I’d wager the majority of us still think it wholly legitimate and proper to use state power to stop adults sexually abusing children. For this majority, then, it’s an argument for mobilising political, social and cultural power and working methodically to remove from positions of influence every single group that has signed this declaration.

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Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
1 year ago

What is it with post-modernists and cultural-Marxists that they invariably turn out to be trying to achieve precisely the opposite of their stated goals? Those who claim to want equality bring only division. Those claiming to be anti-fascists behave like actual fascists.
As is so often the case, those who are the most vociferous in their condemnation of others, can be relied on to fail to live up to their own preachings. The more strident their criticism, the greater the hypocrisy.
The late Christopher Hitchens noted this tendency – though, as was his custom, he put it rather more colourfully
“Whenever I hear some bigmouth in Washington or the Christian heartland banging on about the evils of sodomy or whatever, I mentally enter his name in my notebook and contentedly set my watch. Sooner rather than later, he will be discovered down on his weary and well-worn old knees in some dreary motel or latrine, with an expired Visa card, having tried to pay well over the odds to be peed upon by some Apache transvestite.”

siharrismon
siharrismon
1 year ago

So he justified raping young boys as society’s fault and we have to believe that is true because academia has built on it for a long time? Houses built on weak foundations should fall.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago

 I’d wager the majority of us still think it wholly legitimate and proper to use state power to stop adults sexually abusing children.
What a sorry state of affairs when A) this must be said and B) it is couched as “the majority of us,” implying there will be those who disagree.

Rob C
Rob C
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Well, from reading the article there is a significant percentage (5?, 10%) who DO disagree.

David Morley
David Morley
1 year ago

First I’d heard about this, but it’s scarcely a surprise.
Foucault is part of a tradition which is alive and well and involves mistaking ones own illness for health – and then diagnosing every one else as ill.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

There’s no end to it, is there? Can’t somebody just make it all go away? Say what you like about the Chinese, they won’t tolerate any of it, and for some time I have thought that perhaps we are better off with them in charge.

Jonathan Weil
Jonathan Weil
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

The age of consent in China is 14.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  Jonathan Weil

Well that’s four years older than in Postmodern Progressive land.

leslianneng
leslianneng
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Funny that you mention China. I’ve thought the same thing about various criminals, not just pedophiles. I wish the West would acquire more of the zero-tolerance philosophy.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

So a police state of universal monitoring is your choice?

George Glashan
George Glashan
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

when the alternative is a “progressive” sexual buffet of 10 year olds, then ill take the universal monitoring police state every time. But im sure the progressives would happily combine the two.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

It’s not my choice, butt we are moving towards it anyway. At least the Chinese will punish criminality and will remove some corrupt and/or incompetent officials from time to time.

Last edited 1 year ago by Fraser Bailey
Peter Kriens
Peter Kriens
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

That is a scary point of view.

Derek M
Derek M
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

The alternatives are not either mass child rape or murderous dictatorship. If they were I think I’d kill myself now. Also I’d suggest that the Chinese dictatorship has engaged in sexual abuse of minorities and dissenters

Hilary Arundale
Hilary Arundale
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Do you realise what you’re saying?

Rob C
Rob C
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

The people of the West are being ruled as if they are a conquered enemy.

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
1 year ago

I suppose the excuse Foucault is constructing for the sexual abuse of a village girl amounts to: simple-minded farm labourers will be simple-minded farm labourers, so there’s no need to be concerned about the village girl.

David Parsons
David Parsons
1 year ago
Reply to  Alan Hawkes

Yes, it’s the intellectual descendant of Rousseau’s ‘man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains’ … that if only we could free ourselves from these annoying unnatural guardrails of law and societal norms, we could again become the noble savages in paradise that we rightly are. Utter rubbish, of course, wholly unsupported by anthropology and history, but swallowed whole by romantic fools for the past three centuries.

Last edited 1 year ago by David Parsons
David Stanley
David Stanley
1 year ago
Reply to  David Parsons

I totally understand how people can think link this when they are teenagers and young adults. I did so myself at that point in my life and it makes perfect sense at the time. You want to break free from the constraints of your familial environment and find the whole process very restrictive. As a result, you latch onto that confirms your belief that all power structures are bad. Whether that be Rousseau, Marx or The Matrix.
What I can’t understand is how people can still continue to think like this once they enter full adulthood. Sure we can all see that power structures are unavoidable and essential? Apparently not.
I think part of this delusional worldview is just wishful thinking, part of it is bitterness on the part of people who have failed at life and want to tear everything down as an act of revenge. Also, I think a lot of people just reason that it’s too much effort to climb a power structure so it would be easier if it was all levelled out so that they would have to put in the hard work required to succeed.

David Morley
David Morley
1 year ago
Reply to  David Stanley

What I can’t understand is how people can still continue to think like this once they enter full adulthood.

it’s because they don’t enter full adulthood

David Morley
David Morley
1 year ago
Reply to  David Parsons

the noble savages in paradise that we rightly are.

or ignoble savages in bathhouses in Foucault’s case.

Steve Hall
Steve Hall
1 year ago

Absolutely spot-on. Foucault’s critique of ‘biopower’ was focused heavily on the state and its legal system, because it is of course the only broad institutional power capable of dealing with child abusers.

M Spahn
M Spahn
1 year ago

I doubt this is very representative. Most of the intersectional feminism I’m seeing is devoted to the idea that ever-older and wider groups of women are in fact incapable of consenting to sex.

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
1 year ago

Is ‘removing laws limiting legal capacity of adolescents, […] to provide consent to sex or sexual and reproductive health services’ the same as removing laws limiting legal capacity of adolescents to provide consent to sexual intercourse?

George Glashan
George Glashan
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Gwynne

Don’t worry , these feminists are also for autonomous abortions so any knocked up 13 year olds will be able to abort at will. Now that’s what i call progress!

strobiam
strobiam
1 year ago
Reply to  George Glashan

They thought at everything related girls bodies: their bodies can endure sex without consent from the article 14a and from the other article they are allowed to abort the child. All for the daily pleasures of the abusers. In this time these girls are like containers, no trace of psychological damage, they ca go and play, laugh with their families and friends, prepare for university studies, while are raped as a usual house or street behavior – like we are taking an ice-cream and laugh around it.

Michael L
Michael L
1 year ago

The only person who wants to use hierarchies of power the one who speaks about it. On top of that, you can put the petition this ‘morally bankrupt’ signed calling for the abrogation of several articles of the age of consent law and the decriminalization of all consensual relations between adults and minors below the age of fifteen. Now I want to see how our ‘adorable academy’, which is preaching to poor students ‘Foucauldian nonsense’ for years, will cancel this abhorrent individual.

Last edited 1 year ago by Michael L
strobiam
strobiam
1 year ago

Hi everyone,
ILGA is the organization who takes the rights of lgbtq+ under its umbrella for years. Like every wide organization there must be a board and various agendas. Also ILGA was accused many times of promoting pedophilia (https://ilga.org/ilga-ecosoc-status-controversy).
Regarding the response of the Womens Rights Caucus (WRC) to the UN Commission on the Status of Women mentioned by this article posted on the ILGA website (https://ilga.org/CSW64-Womens-Rights-Caucus-feminist-declaration-Beijing25), most of the things are uncertain and the sources are largely not provided. For ex, on the ILGA website we have a link to the document resulted after the meeting of this waved Womens Rights Caucus. There is no page, no link pointing to this meeting, to this organization, at least to the event.
Moreover, suddenly, after the behavior of Foucault was revealed these days, we have a You Tube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlhJY3rv8OU ) posted 2 days ago as an online meeting with some (not 200) organizations parts of WRC. Shannon Kowalski from the International Womens Health Coalition says in this video that WRC exists since 2013 but I couldnt find any trace on them on the internet. Moreover, the video is named “WRC Press Conference at the 65th UN Commission”, the video being far away from a press conference. In fact, we don`t know when it was filmed. Normally when a document is signed by a number of organizations we have to find the organizations name at the end of the document or in an article or somewhere. This is the way organizations assume their acts and agreements.
These organizations seem to be very good at hiding under a bigger organization (WRC) which is hiding after another big organization that we can finally trace. ILGA, as they say in the title of the article, joins the 200 organizations and signed and agreed the entire document and also the article 14a which promotes pedophilia and sex with people with disabilities/other groups without their consent.
We have a nicer and nicer world. Organizations who were supposed to have strong margins in their understanding of where an abuse begins and where it ends have on their agendas exactly the opposite.

Last edited 1 year ago by strobiam
Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
1 year ago

The author has got into a muddle through the use of ‘de-stigmatising’ so that she says the opposite of what she is trying to say (I think)….

Ian Burns
Ian Burns
1 year ago

I want to know how this piece of analysis, which I completely agree with, contradicts Pluckrose and Lindsey’s thesis on the pomo lineage of ‘Intersectional CT, which you seem to have disavowed in at least one of your recent interviews, claiming instead that this iteration of ‘social justice’ represents the ‘last stand of High Modernism’?

Evan Hadkins
Evan Hadkins
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Burns

Intersectionality came from someone miffed that because there were policies against racial discrimination and gender discrimination in a corporate they couldn’t sue them for having no black women on their board. I forget her name, she is still around.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
1 year ago

It would be a help to understand what “power” is in terms of critical social justice and critical theory. In this respect “… power is not to be thought of in the sense of the way one individual might attempt to control another individual, or even in the sense of politics, so much as it is a complicated set of social forces generated and transmitted by all of us at once that controls how people think, vote, believe, act, identify, and so on. The main purpose of power, according to Critical Social Justice, is for the powerful to “impose their ideas and interests on everyone.”” [newdiscourses.com]
But as far as I can discern, “power”, in the critical social justice sense, is a default assumption – a “complicated set of social forces” that are intrinsically, negatively valenced in moral tone and outcome, and are an assumed omnipresent constituent of the fabric of social reality – it is “systemic”.
Thus the critical social justice activists that comprise the various political-moral ideologies view social reality through that a priori default assumption, and hence look at any behaviour to locate its interactions that automatically generate unjust systemic power – that is, they are “problematised” and hence can be dismantled etc.
But there is no evidence for “systemic power” for it is the default assumption, through which all interpretations of social interactions originate. Thus, any ‘problematising’ involves assuming the conclusion it is attempting to assert.

Evan Hadkins
Evan Hadkins
1 year ago

The evidence is that particular situations benefit some and not others. That these situations are shaped not through direct violence and threats but through institutions.

Rob C
Rob C
1 year ago
Reply to  Evan Hadkins

The evidence is disparate outcomes. Most people strongly support that when they understand what it is and they wouldn’t call it systemic anything.

Helen Wood
Helen Wood
1 year ago

Foucaults predominance in theories of power knowledge state apparatus of repression and surveillance is entrenched and I dont think his personal sexual vices detract from his compelling intellectual contribution to the field of cultural studies.
But the idea that intersectional feminists or any other group can seek to legitimize or sanction actual rape, perverse behaviour and abuse on 10-14 year old boys/children is morally repugnant. Im not clear why these feminists have this position- or are they just saying child abuse is situated as another instance of oppression?
Thats not the same as moral acceptance surely?

Evan Hadkins
Evan Hadkins
1 year ago
Reply to  Helen Wood

I think you’re confusing Foucault and the feminists.

Karen Jemmett
Karen Jemmett
1 year ago

Phew, I don’t think I got round to quoting Foucault in my final dissertation. How come I’ve only heard this here, btw?

strobiam
strobiam
1 year ago
Reply to  Karen Jemmett

And Simone de Beauvoir passing under-aged girls in the bed of the Nobel Prized Sartre after herself used them in her bed. We are obliged to cite monsters in our paperwork. Who knows how many are they? Nice to be a teacher and use your power always in the same direction: sex.

Evan Hadkins
Evan Hadkins
1 year ago

Foucauld was in the process of revising some of his thought when he died (more willing than his followers are). Though I doubt he would have ever questioned that power is inherent in relationships.
But I do. I think in friendships and even in romance there are times where we live as equals.
As to the Womens Rights Caucus. It gets tricky. Having parents control the reproductive health of young women isn’t always in the interests of young women. Just as letting a 10 year old make up their own mind isn’t.

Andrew McGee
Andrew McGee
1 year ago

I am not generally a fan of Foucault; but he was right about repressive sexual morality. I had not noticed the declaration mentioned above. Very interesrting.

Rob C
Rob C
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew McGee

Isn’t any morality repressive?