Sexual discourse: power, knowledge, and the docile body

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McLeod, Janelle
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Human sexuality is a product of sociocultural and historical constructs. In modern, contemporary society, pornography has emerged as the dominant form of sexual discourse, transforming the human body as an object to be manipulated, shaped, and trained. In this thesis, I will argue that pornography is the vehicle for disciplinary practices that transforms human bodies into sexual bodies that are mere representations of itself. As Michel Foucault describes it in Discipline and Punish (1977), discourse does not function all by itself to produce effects of power, but, rather, the efficacy of discourse is tied to the systematic and calculated use of force by definite agents on definite human bodies. Modern pornographic sexual discourse is only part of a power-knowledge formation that includes subtle and often direct coercion over the body. Men acting as sexual partners extract from pornography a ‘knowledge’ of sexuality that they use to organize their personal domination over women, in order to turn women into docile bodies that learn to adopt various positions or gestures. Even though, if discipline is successful, coercion is minimized, economized, to generate the maximum effect of control through the minimum expenditure of force, a force that never disappears completely. When society is saturated with pornographic representations as a normative standard, which in turn operates as an ideal to which people ‘voluntarily’ aspire, it is only because of the operation of this efficient economy of force, which goes mostly unnoticed. Perceived as a natural, innate human characteristic, sexuality is instead a social construct, where all of the body’s movement, gestures, and attitudes are manipulated, and thus obedient to a pornographic ideal of sexual experience that is limited in its heteronormative expression.
Sexuality, Pornography, Foucault