Sexual Politics and Popular Culture

Sexual Politics and Popular Culture

Sexual Politics and Popular Culture

Sexual Politics and Popular Culture


Feminists have long maintained that "the personal is the political," that is, that the domain of personal relationships is inescapably charged politically. Thus, for feminist theory, any view which bifurcates these two worlds is a priori suspect and flawed.

In an atypical understatement, Kate Millett wrote in Sexual Politics that "coitus can scarcely be said to take place in a vacuum." Though at the time she wrote Sexual Politics in 1969, sex's "political aspect" may have been neglected, today one can scarcely avoid—in scholarly work or popular media—attending to sexual politics.

Our bodies are capable of a range of sexual practices and sexual pleasures, none of which are "natural" or "essential." Sexuality is both public and private. It includes but is certainly not limited to "sex."

[A]lthough of itself [sex] appears a biological, and physical activity, it is set so deeply within the larger context of human affairs that it serves as a charged microcosm of the variety of attitudes and values to which culture subscribes. (Millett 23)

Sex is indeed "charged." And we need not limit ourselves to "coitus" or even sexual practices in general to be addressing issues of sexuality and sexual politics. If one defines politics as more than a system of elected officials and formal proceedings and instead thinks of politics as including all those strategies designed to maintain a system, then "sexual politics" must include questions of gender roles and socialization, questions about what is 'natural,' violence, the family and its alternatives, pornography and censorship, the nature of desire, homosexuality, and mothering. In this sense, sexual politics—like politics in general—is concerned with power.

As Foucault has noted, our discussions of "sex" are concerned "less with a discourse on sex than with a multiplicity of discourses produced by a whole series of mechanisms operating in different institutions." (33) Thus, our discourses on sex are all "highly articulated around a cluster of power relations." One need not ascribe any crude intentionality or even posit some unitary driving force in order to accept this analysis.

One assumption that all the contributors to this volume share is that there is no essential "sex" or "sexuality" to which such discourses refer. What is generally called 'sex' is a highly mediated cultural phenomenon, directly experienced only by immediate participants, not usually directly available to witness by others. Our desire for knowledge about sexual practices, then, is not satisfied primarily by immediate access to the behaviors . . .

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