Mehammed Mack discusses his book, Sexagon: Muslims, France, and the Sexualization of National Culture, which examines the figure of the young, virile, hyper-masculine Muslim that looms large in contemporary France, particularly in the banlieues of Paris. So large, in fact, it often supersedes liberal secular society’s understanding of gender and sexuality altogether. Engaging the nexus of race, gender, nation, and sexuality, Sexagon studies the broad politicization of Franco-Arab identity in the context of French culture and its assumptions about appropriate modes of sexual and gender expression, both gay and straight.
Todd Shepard’s book, Sex, France, and Arab Men, 1962-1979 (2017) is a study of how “sexual Orientalism” re-emerged in post-decolonization French politics and discussions. Over the course of the 1960s and ‘70s, what he names “sex talk”—around questions such as far right politics, May ’68, prostitution, the “white slave trade,” gay rights, sexual libertinism, the act of sodomy, and rape—explicitly grappled with questions of empire, the Algerian war, colonial violence, and post-decolonization racism. The book shows that what made these discussions about sex in the 1970s distinctively “French,” rather than “Western” or “late modern,” were the central roles that invocations of “Arab men” and Algeria played in them.
Todd Shepard is Arthur O. Lovejoy Professor of French History at Johns Hopkins University. Mehammed Mack is Assistant Professor of French at Smith College. Madeleine Dobie is Professor of French at Columbia.