Michael Foucault (1926 – 1984)

Foucault was a French philosopher, historian and social theorist. He posited the ideas promulgated by Freud and Reich, that were based on sexual repression, were inaccurate. Instead, he argued that sexuality was shaped and constructed by social discourses, that sexuality was in fact socially constructed.

In 1976 he published ‘The History of Sexuality’ attacking the sexual repressive hypotheses of his predecessors, arguing instead for the need to consider the processes inherent in culture, discourse and social interaction that shape our understanding of sexuality. This new understanding opened up new ways of thinking about sexuality and contributed to the success of the sexual revolution because sexuality became amenable to the differing actions of individuals and social groups in differing social contexts.

Foucault was a proponent of post-modernist thinking that asserts that objective human nature does not exist. In the case of gender, this means that it is merely a role that can be constructed and adopted. If concepts are constructed then they can equally be deconstructed and people are able to create their own narratives and thus create their own selves and gender.

Post modernism claims that we cannot know objective reality and that all we can know is the narratives and discourses prevalent in society; these discourses are imbued with power and people can take up differing positions accordingly. The construct of gender is thus seen as fluid and can be chosen as a means of exercising power.