For me, the most important concept addressed in this class was something we encountered early on, and I found to actually be applicable to most of the issues we talked about. This concept was Foucault’s philosophy that the groups in power – that is, the group which holds dominant social power – dictates the language used within society.
I found this concept especially relevant to different marginalized groups we discussed, including transgendered individuals, asexual individuals, and the LGBTQI community as a whole. In a different way, I also saw this concept at play when discussion sexism. In all of these situations, the group in the minority or with less social power is at the mercy of those in power to define their place in society.
For example, individuals who identify as gay have been demonized throughout our history as a country, being denied jobs, access to public and health services, and to this day, marriage. As it stands currently, 27 states hold the law that businesses have the right to fire individuals who identify as gay, for no other reason than their sexual orientation.
As we seek to shed the stereotypes thrown upon us by dominant groups, it is difficult not to question every assumption we make about certain groups or identities as a whole. Seeing Foucault’s concept applied within communities of refracted identities demonstrated to me the responsibility of those in a majority to have respect for those in the minority. In “Down Low” culture, black men are stigmatized by society in general as possessing certain traits simply because of the color of their skin. Within their communities, however, there lies an additional power structure wherein those of heterosexual identities can create a culture where those of other sexual orientations are shamed into not fully experiencing their own identity.
Foucault’s description of the relationship between power and discourse was especially powerful to me, especially in the context of what I would refer to as the ‘mainstream media.’ Often I find tv-based shows ignoring things I would personally consider important in favor of hyped-up and ‘safe’ stories which exhibit strong viewer reactions toward the subject matter. By doing this, the media avoids scrutiny because the viewer’s emotions are aimed towards the subject discussed, not, for example, the way it was reported or the shortcomings of the reporting style. The subject matter of this type of media I find to be an accurate representation of the social structures in our world, because they often appeal to dominant groups. This is to say that I was able to notice almost immediately the accuracy of Foucault’s description of power structures and its interplay within our society in something as simple as what stories CNN chooses to show every day.
For me, the concept of power structures and how they relate to different groups within our society is imperative for my understanding of the world. Being of privilege – being white, cis-gendered, heterosexual-passing, going to a top 25 university, etc. – I find myself wanting to understand more and more the responsibilities inherent to ones privilege and how that needs to manifest itself within the world and within myself.