What does sex have to do with politics?
The 1960s and 1970s have taught us that “the sexual is political.” When we talk about those decades’ sexual revolution or liberation, we refer not only to the sexual freedom afforded to many women and men in the West by the invention of oral contraception and the emergence of the new social movements (counterculture and youth movements, women’s movement, gay and lesbian liberation): we refer to the making of sex into a political, not just a personal, question. To be sure, it was not the first time in history that some could enjoy sex with partners of either sex, explore a variety of sexual practices, disconnect sex from reproduction as well as from love or monogamy. But it was certainly the first time that people did so en masse, that they organized social and political movements around sexual identities, and that there was a political and philosophical discourse available for them to use in order to counter the stigmatization their predecessors had been subjected to: the 1960s and 1970s sexual libertines were no longer sinners or perverts, they were indulging in revolutionary, radical, or at least resistant practices.
For many of them, indeed, there was more to sexual revolution or liberation than just an increased and unparalleled sexual freedom. That “the sexual is political” meant that they saw an intrinsic link between sex and politics.
This class is designed to understand and interrogate that link. We will focus on Anglo-Saxon and continental feminist, gay and lesbian, and radical works, on the philosophical and sexological works upon which they drew, and on various art works, literary and cinematographic, in order to analyze the multiples ways in which this link was made, and try to understand in what sense the sexual can indeed be political.
- How can a sexual practice lead to revolutionary change?
- What does it even mean to say that some sexual practices are radical or revolutionary? Does it imply that others are reactionary or even counter-revolutionary?
- What does promiscuous sex have to do with revolution? What does sexual dissidence have to do with the struggle against capitalism? What does homosexuality have to do with anti-racism?
- How does the revolution change one's sexual life? How does sex impact the revolution?
Readings for this class will include Dennis Altman, Alice Echols, Jeffrey Escoffier, Michel Foucault, Paul Goodman, Erica Jong, Anne Koedt, Herbert Marcuse, Wilhelm Reich, Adrienne Rich, Gayle Rubin, Martha Shelley, Charley Shively, Monique Wittig.
In this writing-intensive course, we will use a variety of sources in order to improve everybody’s writing skills. Assignments include two argumentative essays as well as one freewheeling one, dedicated to understanding of the link between sex and politics, the usage we can make of it in our own lives, as well as its limitations. In addition, there will be one research paper, as well as various short assignments throughout the academic term. Students will also read their peers’ work and give them feedback and suggestions for improvements. Participation in class discussions and careful readings of the texts assigned will account for a significant portion of final grade.
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