Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Female Sexuality and the Christian Nation

So, for those of you who are interested and who have asked before, my novel is about the early 20th century labor movement and about the incredibly busy intersection of sexuality and politics. It's one of the reasons that I constantly turn to these issues in this blog. It's why all of these revivals of restrictions on sexual behaviour are eerily familiar and give me the creeps.

Because I'm at work and I'm awaiting word from the Dean as to whether I can proceed on some publicity for an upcoming event in which the F-bomb is dropped in the publicity (guess what his answer is going to be), I'm cooling my heels and blogging. And I was looking through one of my favourite theoretical books about race, sexuality, and religion. The book, Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault's History of Sexualityand the Colonial Order of Things, by Ann Laura Stoler, is brilliant. I was looking through to see the passages that I had marked when I was reading it for my diss. This passage sums up some of the things I've been thinking about lately:

from pp. 41-42
"Rabinow and Dreyfus note that Foucault linked individual sexualities and the security of the social body as nineteenth-century inventions when 'appeals to the very fate of the race and the nation seemed to turn in large part on its sexual practices.' But the 'fate of the race and the nation' were also tied in colonial discourses to individual sexual practices in Africa, Asia, and the Americas at an earlier date. Maryland legislators had already made such connections in 1664 when they focused on the sexual inclinations of white women who bedded with 'non-white' men as targets of concern, accusing them, as in the Indies, of causing a 'disgrace not only to the English but also of many other Christian nations.' Male sexual anxiety focused on more than suitable Christian marriage partners for European women and on the transmission of property, but on the unmanaged desires of women themselves. Thus, the Maryland law of 1681 regulating interracial unions justified its injunctions by the fact that white women were giving in to their 'lascivious and lustful desires' whith 'negroes and slaves.' In both the Dutch and British accounts, the sexual choices of white women were at issue; they are desired objects, but unruly desiring subjects as well. While the notion of 'Christian nation' in the seventeenth century and the bourgeois nation of the nineteenth century were clearly not the same, in both contexts unmanaged sexuality was considered a threat to these different social bodies. The pointed control over women's sexuality, as well as over the 'natural inclinations' of men, was a shared effect."

In other words, male sexual anxiety about female sexual behaviour (and, I would argue, the notion of "feminized" sexual behaviour projected on to homosexuals) leads to attempts to regulate desire. Women can't be trusted--they're out fucking around and a man doesn't know who his children are. Female sexuality, with its endless capacity for orgasm, is a threat to the state.

America is turning into a phallocracy. Our government wants to deny women access to birth control, sex toys, domestic violence protection for unmarried women. It would be easy to write this off to some prudery. But it's far, far more sinister.


FunkyB said...

I'm so glad you took the time to post this! I will be chewing on it for days.

Excellent observation about female sexuality/homosexuality.

d press productions said...

i'm sure i'm not telling you something you don't already know, but just in case...anyone interested in the early 20th century labor movement (one of my favorite movements) really ought to look into Eugene V. Debs, leader of the socialist party in the U.S. as far as i'm concerned, he's one of the most important people of the early 20th century. but you probably already knew that.


lorraine said...

Yes. I certainly know Debs, although I am focusing more on the anarchists. I'm looking specifically at the Uprising of the 20,000, a strike of women workers in 1909 that shut down the NY garment industry. Thanks.

And yes, these concerns about Christian women having sex with men outside the group are also cited in the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, which decreed that Jews should wear identifying marks on their clothes in order to prevent Jews from having sex with Christians. No kidding.