Holy Stream of Consciousness, Foucault!

Written a year and a half ago – just some food for your thoughts.

A while back, I had an extremely interesting and thought-provoking conversation with a friend of mine. He was taking a class on Foucault, and brought up his redefining of historical terms, primarily discussing the issue that sex and sexual identity were modern phenomena. It’s the idea that sexual identities, where we define sexual relations between individuals, are a product of modernity as opposed to anything natural. Foucault claims that prior to the 19th and 20th centuries, relations we now deem in a particular fashion were common and had nothing to do with personal identification. This then brought the conversation over to the subject of paedophilia. Foucault, and those who followed him and extrapolated upon his works, believed that paedophilia was one of those relations which was not only categorized in the early 20th century, but problematized and stigmatized through its association with homosexuality (another relationship which was brought to the forefront in the modern period, according to Foucault).

While undoubtedly a fascinating take on sex and sexual identity, I find myself extremely uncomfortable with it in the modern context. I find that the discourse on paedophilia, first of all, often only focuses on the man/boy relationship, as opposed to the man/girl relationship. Paedophiles are generally considered to be adults who sexually molest or abuse young children, with this molestation and abuse taking several different forms, with or without consent. For Foucault and his enthusiasts, the relationship between a man and a boy is as natural as the relationship between a man and man, a woman and a man, a woman and a woman, a woman and a young girl; sexual relations are not naturally definable. Personal beliefs on gender-sexual relations aside, I find that while on paper this seems to make sense on a superfluous level – in reality, the case is much different.

With no uncertainty we have seen that throughout different civilizations, throughout different cultures and eras (including today), the acceptance of relationships we in modernity consider ‘abnormal’ or ‘unnatural.’ However, at the same time we see discourse and outcry against these relationships in those same civilizations, cultures, and eras. While a paedophilic relationship may have only come into stigmatic-definitional existence in the 20th century, we know it has existed for centuries. And we still deem it ‘abnormal’ and ‘wrong.’ The problem with that is we look at the past through modern eyes. We judge with our mores, values and practices in mind, without taking into consideration the mores, values, and practices of the past. We often forget that society was structured far differently in the different cultures and eras we see in sexual discourse.

Young men and women were, from a very young age, forced to mature to levels unimaginable to us today. Today, we prolong childhood with adolescence. Adolescence itself is a modern conception, not a historical norm or word. For us in this society, a child is a child until the age of eighteen. When one actually dwells upon that idea, it is actually absurd. Years do not make one all the more wiser or mature, experience does – and one does not need many years to gain experience. And many, I know, will respond with “do we not see the immaturity of children in our society?” Well, of course we do. Why would we not see the immaturity of a fifteen year old female when she is born into a culture which has already decided when she will reach different levels of maturity before becoming an “adult.” When you have been conditioned in a certain way, you will most likely follow that way.

Of course there are exceptions; I am definitely not denying that, but I am saying that we need to understand our own idea of childhood and maturity. So it is to this extent, and in this context, that I agree with Foucault’s general idea. However, in the modern context I find the case to be much different. There is a reason, which is not based on sexuality alone, that we have seen such an emergence of paedophilia (as something negative) in this society, specifically amongst males towards young boys. I want to make clear that I’m not discussing homosexuality, nor do I plan to, instead I’m interested in the psychological and social reasons for the various acts we see emerging within the Catholic Church, teaching institutions, father-child relationships, and so forth. What concerns me is that Foucault’s ideas about sexuality justify these actions which definitely have other motivations; motivations reflective of our social conditions.If we are to take the Foucaultian view on sexuality, then what we see happening in the Church, for instance, is just a natural practice which has been given a stigmatic label. I may be generalizing greatly, but that is how I have come to understand Foucault on this issue.

I, personally, am against the idea of life-long chastity and living without sexual and emotional companionship, as I do find it to be restraining some of the most basic and carnal of human desires. The Church, in my opinion, has propagated the idea that devotion to God can only be complete when it is complete, when the individual is completely devoid of anything materialistic and anything primal – basically, anything that would make an individual pay attention to anything else other than God. While it sounds beautifully spiritual, in theory and practice there are problems. Aside from the sheer hypocrisy of promoting marriage on the one hand, and a life of celibacy and single-hood on the other—both for religious reasons—complete denial of natural desires is dangerous.

As a Muslim, I have my own views in terms of the media through which these desires can/should be expressed and to what extent – but there is no denial of these most primal of desires, in my views. I just believe in their expression differently; I believe in restraint, moderation, and context. The situation with the Church, in my opinion, touches upon every motivation of modern day paedophilia. First of all, you have a religious institution using the most intimate of feelings (faith) to justify denial of something almost every human being desires – sex and partnership (basically something physical and emotional, not just spiritual). This is being imposed upon generations of males who have been told what is expected from them and their masculinity. There are certain things a man must obtain and hold in order to be a ‘man.’ It is naïve to think that an individual who has been conditioned in such a way will so easily drop those thoughts and effects in pursuit of something completely polar. These Priests that we hear about in the papers, what are they a product of? They’re a product of the dichotomous lives they have been told to lead. These are men who were told their whole lives that power equalled masculinity. However within the context of religion and the Church, power only belongs to God and these men are merely their servants. There’s a reason why paedophilia is so prevalent amongst Priests than Nuns. Nuns, as women, were not conditioned in this society to believe that they are the power holders.

Paedophilia is ultimately about power (see also: rape). But, at the same time, it is reflective of our standards of beauty. Oestrogen plays a strong role in defining feminine beauty (See: The Royal Society) as we understand it. This means, softer, clearer features, the width between your eyebrows, the size of your nose and lips is determined by the levels of oestrogen one has. Children have high levels of oestrogen, thus they tend to have more adult-feminine features.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Children, boys or girls, provide modern-day paedophiles with the perfect solution to the problems of masculinity they face: they are powerless and resemble what these men (I don’t know enough about adult-female paedophilia to really comment on it, but from my own knowledge it is extremely rare, almost non-existent) desire (I realize this seems like a denial of homosexuality’s role in the issue, but it is not. Even the beauty of men is feminized). Paedophilia, again, is ultimately a power relationship. I once came across a web log of an American man, who was a part of NAMBLA, who was now living abroad with a young boy he had saved. The web log described the man’s most intimate of feelings and even shared the thoughts and feelings of the young boy, who the man claimed was also in “love.” What I ended up taking away from that man’s online journal, and other similar ones I later discovered, was that these relationships revolved around young children looking for guardianship and protection, and older men looking for something to protect, something they could love and something that would love them back.

There was not a lack of recognition of the position of either individual in these relationships—the positions (the protector vs. the helpless) were well known by both. The only difference was in their perception of these positions. I think children who tend to sexually latch onto older men or women do so out of a lack of guardianship and control. They see these older individuals as filling the absences in their lives. As for the men involved (again, I do not know much about adult-female paedophilia), their perception is that of a helpless creature needing their protection, and loving them for its supply.

Many men feel the need to obtain the power that achieves their masculinity; power and masculinity as defined by our society. While, I would argue, most men feel the need to obtain this gender-specific power, they do so unconsciously or at least semi-unconsciously, and in healthier ways.

And stream of consciousness is gone.

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