Nothing short of revolution, suggests Michel Foucault, will extricate “We other Victorians” from the polymorphous mechanisms of power which have conditioned us over millennia. The exercise of power has undergone a transformation from the feudal spectacle of the scaffold to the age of repression which marks the bourgeois order, and with this the unproductive passions of humanity have been subjected to the triple edict of modern puritanism; taboo, non-existence, and silence. It is interesting that Foucault elects to examine the development of social attitudes towards sex and sexuality as he unravels the bond of repression which he reminds us links sex with both knowledge and power. It is interesting because Marx touches on this in his own version of the evolution of Capitalism:
The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.
– The Communist Manifesto
Sentiment here is the great crime against the bourgeois order, and it is so because, rooted as it is in hitherto unexploitable emotion, it cannot be reduced to a tradable cash value. The sentimentality of family life and the sensuality of sex – other than their reproductive function – are counterproductive to the Capitalist project of boiling down human beings to units of labour. It is against this canvas that one must consider the discourse of sexuality a protest against the prevailing order; be that women’s liberation or any other challenge to sexual and gender norms. Power concedes nothing without a demand (Frederick Douglass); women’s suffrage, for example, was granted only when women had been proven useful to power.
Our present openness in the West to matters sexual would perhaps contradict this assessment, had it not be for the fact that sex is only less taboo, less non-existence, and less silence insofar is it can be packaged and sold or employed to add value to other commodities. Less economically productive sex still very much remains out in the cold and subject to the power of repression, and the same is true also of all human creativity that will not or cannot bend to the will of the Capitalist economy. Power is the relationship of control between the powerful and the powerless that employed repression as a tool to protect and further strengthen itself.