Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Play

I was just having a peek at an LJ community I used to frequent with regularity (actually, I was once a mod. heh.) and found this. A young radical feminist who is anti-BDSM had this to say (don't bother with the non-bolded bits, really):

This essay will focus on violence in the forms of prostitution, pornography, and sadomasochism because I think that through an exploration of these, one can find the roots of violence against women. In arguing this, I’m not saying that violence against women is a recent phenomenon. I’m saying that prostitution and sadism have existed for millennia. For example, pornography is not a phenomenon of the twentieth century—for example, ancient Greece had “art” depicting gang rape of prostitutes, sexual abuse of boys, and so forth. This also raises a contentious question: what constitutes “violence against women?” As a radical feminist, I include the ejaculation industry , also known as the “sex industry”, as being part of it. This includes prostitution in all its forms, including pornography, stripping, escort services, and, in ways, women who are in relationships with men for economic security, as well as sadopatriarchy, generally known as BDSM (bondage, domination-submission, sadomasochism).

http://community.livejournal.com/feminist_sex/26672.html?thread=391728#t391728

If one is doing exactly what one’s oppressor does, for example gay male pornography that eroticizes gay bashing, child sexual abuse, battery, and rape, how does that change anything? How is self-hatred and/or hatred of others suddenly revolutionary when sexualized?

http://community.livejournal.com/feminist_sex/26672.html?thread=391984#t391984

[When asked by me why she's a member of a BDSM related community on LJ]

I want to be more assertive, but not aggressive. I'm not interesting in harming or humiliating my partner. I don't fantasize about it [BDSM] anymore (haven't for years--but have still had unequal fantasies a few times, about pedophilia).

http://community.livejournal.com/feminist_sex/26672.html?thread=407600#t407600
And I just wanted to say to this person (still may, actually) that... there's a difference between what we think and what we do, and a difference between what we do and what we mimic.

I think there's a lot of emphasis in anti-BDSM circles (or other circles that are "sex-critical" (in quotes because it's only one phrase I've heard to describe people, and some don't identify with it)) on what you think about. What fantasies go through your head, and how and why. It's all about whether what's in your head is "what the oppressor does."

And if you do play, or you do like the rough sex or the D/s, or whatever, there's no possibility of it being playful or mocking or subverting the actual violent experiences. (By "subverting" I'm not here arguing that doing scenes by itself is politically meaningful/destabilizing of norms. I'm meaning "change/remap the meaning of this particular experience. Mock it, be a send-up of it, etc.)

And that just strikes me as strange, because I think back to childhood, and... kids play all the time. Kids re-map, think about, toy with their experiences through play all the time. It's a part of what play does and is about for a child: practice for adult life, attempts to experience or at least mentally visualize experiences they've not had (whether that be being a parent, having a job, or being a fairy princess astronaut rockstar. ;)

And... kids' play is not always innocent. Kids who have experienced abuse will often try to work out what happened to them in play, copy behaviors they've seen, etc. Some kids also just like to play naughtily. I remember best friends of mine burning the ends of toothpicks with candles, then putting the charred picks in our mouths, pretending they were cigarettes. I don't think any of us went on to smoke, and I know I for one thought cigarettes were Very Bad News.

But it was fun to pretend to be bad. And we had lots of games in which we did: Bonnie and Clyde-style, criminals on the run, with glamorous lives. Did it mean we wanted to steal, fight, rape? No.

(the following may be triggering/upsetting)

Actually one thing my friend in that particular game often wanted -- which leads me to wonder now if anything did ever happen to her as a kid, but I have no idea -- was play rape. We didn't actually know what the word meant, as you'll see in a moment, but we were playing "bad people" -- and how would a Bad Guy and his moll have sex? It would be Bad People Sex, and Bad People raped.

We didn't really gather that rape meant nonconsensual, just that it meant Bad + Sex. So my friend would climb onto my parents' bed and writhe, crying out "Rape me, Jack! Rape me!" while I looked on dumbly, knowing too little about the mechanics of sex to even know how to ape it and feeling nervous and scared and like I shouldn't play at *rape*, whatever it was, because it was something horrible in the real world, though I didn't know what or why.

(end)

I don't know. Some play can definitely hurt too, whether it's kids playing darkly or adults doing edgy BDSM. But playing with difficult things is a part of life. Imagining yourself in unjust situations, wondering what you'd do, wanting to feel the power or the awe of another person. And surely there's no reason to curse people for what they think about rather than what they do. The whole idea of not having or not wanting fantasies any more is so odd to me. Who cares what you thought about today? Why do you?

And yes, I get that some anti-BDSM people think that doing BDSM at all counts as "doing" exactly what you're thinking of doing -- but I don't buy that. I don't see how doing something in a consciously playful context as an adult is any different than playing as a kid. I don't even see why it's assumed that adults shouldn't play -- clearly kids need more play as a developmental thing, but it's never seemed to me that we completely change as we move from one stage of our lives to another.

I mean, the "play" defense doesn't defend long-term D/s by itself because those power roles are real. But even there -- how is a consensual contract/dynamic that's constantly re-examined and re-negotiated (as it is in the case of anyone I know who has a successful relationship) the same as slavery, when the concept of one is a working intimate relationship and the concept of the other is an unpaid laborer (yes, even in the case of a sexual slave) with no rights?

People have a very odd definition of sameness.

25 comments:

Lindsay1984 said...

*sigh* And just as I had nearly forgotten that some folks like to define "feminism" as "she who barks the loudest gets to force her own sex life upon all others".

Oh, and "sadopatriarchy"? That is one hot-sounding new word. I believe the exact opposite of it would be something like "masochimatriarchy", which sounds an awful lot like what would happen if women were to cause themselves and others pain and distress. Like, say, when they decide to loudly judge each other's sexual practices.

Trinity said...

"I believe the exact opposite of it would be something like "masochimatriarchy", which sounds an awful lot like what would happen if women were to cause themselves and others pain and distress. Like, say, when they decide to loudly judge each other's sexual practices."

You win. Have a shiny new Internetz.

pepomint said...

I don't think any of this will be a surprise to you, Trinity, but a couple caveats I wanted to explicitly state are:

1) Despite the fact that I do this all the time, I think describing the power in BDSM encounters as "play" gives it short shrift. It's a very real kind of power, though still entirely different than the mainstream power dynamics it might imitate. The difference, of course, is that BDSM power is consensualized, carried out in relatively safe environments, etc. So while it may be tamed, that does not make it "play". I think our detractors tend to point out the realness of BDSM power as a rebuttal to the play defense.

2) This tamed BDSM power is put to non-playful uses sometimes, in addition to the usual (also potentially serious) "having erotic fun" and "expressing my sexuality" uses. For example, some people doing D/S approach effectively gain a mentorship relation out of it, whether or not that was their purpose going in. Given that mentorship is rare in modern culture, this is important.

Describing kink as "play", while it helps express the fact that these are tamed power dynamics, tends to erase some of the very serious positive effects that it can be used for.

To bring it back to your post, the kids who are "playing", are actually doing the very real work of figuring out the world and placing themselves in it. BDSM "play" is no different, just at an adult level.

EthylBenzene said...

"The difference, of course, is that BDSM power is consensualized, carried out in relatively safe environments, etc."

I'm sorry, what does "consensualized" mean in this context? Because it seems to have something of a connotation of "playing at consensual," or somehow "not really consensual." I think I might be misinterpreting, because the whole basis of BDSM as I understand it, what makes it different from abuse or actual slavery, is that consent is expressly given and can be revoked. Clarify?

As to fantasy != action, well, of course. It seems like the commenter you reference is existing in that weird radfem otherland, where people don't act like anyone I've ever met. People fantasize all the time about things they'd never want to do/have happen to them. I'm not just talking sex, either. How many people "fantasize" about their own funerals? How many people imagine what it would feel like to rescue a kid from a burning building, or get shot, or rob a bank? I wonder what this commenter would have to say about those "fantasies" -- wait, actually, scratch that, I really don't want to know after all :D

Daisy Bond said...

This reminds me of something I read in some blog thread once (maybe even here?)... Someone saying something like, BDSM is bad because people who've been abused are using scenes to process their abuse (don't know that that's true more than very, very occasionally). Which caused me to think, you know, how could finding a safe way to process trauma possibly be a bad thing?

Same deal here regarding play, both amongst kids and amongst adults. I played a lot of games as a kid that it would be easy to brand inappropriate or bad (along the lines of the rape game you described, sort of) in the same way that commenter brands BDSM, but I'm very glad no one interfered with them. I think they were a critical part of my developing understanding of sex, violence, power, and, actually patriarchy/sexism/feminism.

The thing I used to find very mysterious was that I'm quite sure I was never abused, and I don't think those particular friends ever were either. So we processing ideas that we must have encountered somehow, but I don't know how -- in our heads, I guess. In our own heads, before the age of six.

Trinity said...

"To bring it back to your post, the kids who are "playing", are actually doing the very real work of figuring out the world and placing themselves in it. BDSM "play" is no different, just at an adult level."

Yes exactly. Play is *really important*. I don't mean to say it's just silly, la la, da da dah, look, shiny. Make-believe is one huge way humans think about, imagine, understand their options.

But it's also not something we confuse with "reality" in the sense that, hey, if you're a kid playing an astronaut, this doesn't mean you're not sure if you are or aren't one. Or that you're reifying some sort of astronaut-norm.

You may be trying on a whole astronauty worldview in some ways, I guess, but you're not sitting there going "Now, I'm an astronaut. Or even 'Now I'm part astronaut. More astronaut-y.'"

And that I think is one of the things that often gets leveled at BDSM, the idea that even the very clearly campy roleplaying in scenes is a way of making yourself more like whatever it is you're pretending to be: the slavemaster, the psychopath, the abusive father, whatever.

I think there are two things going on:

1) roles as make-believe, as tools in play, as personae

and

2) roles as expression of some personal preference, identity, or need

and I think those are two things that get conflated a lot and need to be kept apart.

When I'm pretending to be part predatory animal, I'm not becoming more beastlike in general, I'm taking on a certain persona to express something about myself that's already there.

And *that* i think is what can deepen, what can lead to the growth experiences, etc. But that isn't something we learn through play, that's something we use play to see, process, and understand. We're not learning by rote, we're exploring who we are.

ellefromtheeast said...

"I'm sorry, what does "consensualized" mean in this context? Because it seems to have something of a connotation of "playing at consensual," or somehow "not really consensual.""

I don't mean to put words in pepomint's mouth, but I read "consensualized" as meaning "made consensual; is now consensual," in the same way that "randomized" means "is now truly random." I think, ethylbenzene, that's entirely consistent with your understanding.

thene said...

So...if sexual sadism is part of The Patriarchy, why is the (UK) Patriarchy so bothered by it that they're banning pictures of it?

also, what does being assertive about your sexual desires have to do with domming? Surely it takes a lot of assertion to be submissive - or even getting-what-you-want-out-of-it vanilla?

But playing with difficult things is a part of life. Imagining yourself in unjust situations, wondering what you'd do, wanting to feel the power or the awe of another person. And surely there's no reason to curse people for what they think about rather than what they do.

I'm reminded of a long-ago-time when my little brother (he was nine years old at the time, and I was his primary caregiver) told me that he and his friends had been playing at concentration camp in the schoolyard. They'd been learning about the Holocaust in class and their interest persevered into break-time - dividing into sides, giving the 'captives' backbreaking tasks like collecting autumn leaves or fetching lost footballs. I was totally horrified by this and felt like I had to set him straight on how the 'game' was different to reality, and on why it was oh-so-wrong and disrespectful to play about it. If, god forbid, I ever have children of my own I hope I'd be less uptight about that kind of play - not least because it isn't 'just' a game, it's part of learning, part of experiencing empathy.

pepomint said...

ethylbenzene: What Elle said.

My favorite example for this is punching. If you punch someone in the street, that's typically nonconsensual. If you punch someone in a BDSM dungeon, it is because they asked you to do so.

It is punching in both cases. But the purpose of the punching is different. And this shows up in how the punching happens. On the street in a violent encounter, people go for the face first. In a dungeon, you would almost certainly not aim for the front of the face.

So, we are really talking about two separate things here. Both serious perhaps, but one consensual and one not.

annalouise said...

Have you read "Violence and the Sacred"? It seems like a book you'd like. My brother was really into when he was doing his dissertation and I know you're doing yours and it's a very "i'm doing my dissertation" kind of book. (which means li'l ol' me only understands about half of it).

Anyway, The cliffs notes version of the argument the author makes is that violence is a natural part of human societies but it's terrifying because cycles of violence and revenge can so easily get out of control and tear a society apart. Therefore religion and sacrifice (yes, all religion ever. He's one of those kind of theorists) is a way to take impulses towards violence, revenge, destruction and the need to seize power and to ritualistically act them out in a safe, controled way. The reason religious rituals are so specific and religious tabboos are so serious is that everybody knows that "safe" and "controlled" are pretty tough concepts when it comes to such powerful and destructive forces, so gotta be real careful. He talks a lot about Oedipus and scapegoats and how the ritual has to be almost exactly like the violent act it's replacing or else it doesn't work.
I was thinking about that concept while reading this and then I followed someone's link of "here's how fucking irrational Merlissa Farley is..." where she says that bdsm can't possibly be okay because it looks too much like the thing it's playing at.

annalouise said...

Also, all that stuff is from the mouth of Miss I'm-not-penetrating-my-bf's-butt-his-butt-is-enveloping-me McVaginismus-isn't-real, the author of all sorts of nonsensical opinions.

EthylBenzene said...

Pepo and Elle --
Thanks for the clarification. I guess I read the wrong connotation into the word! Thanks :)

Trinity said...

"Also, all that stuff is from the mouth of Miss I'm-not-penetrating-my-bf's-butt-his-butt-is-enveloping-me McVaginismus-isn't-real, the author of all sorts of nonsensical opinions."

Vaginismus isn't real? How the.. when did she say this?

Golly gee whilickers, I must just be IMAGINING the pain then!

*throws things*

belledame222 said...

"ejaculation industry?!"

...oh. her. yeah...her. well...

belledame222 said...

people who've been abused are using scenes to process their abuse

yes, hi, it's also called "psychodrama" or "drama therapy," when it's done by someone with a license and without the y'know sexy part. works pretty good too.

ellefromtheeast said...

"I include the ejaculation industry , also known as the “sex industry”, as being part of it. This includes prostitution in all its forms, including pornography, stripping, escort services, and, in ways, women who are in relationships with men for economic security, as well as sadopatriarchy, generally known as BDSM"

One way in which what we do is "play"?

It's not part of any "industry", ejaculatory, sex, or otherwise.

Seriously, does she think every female submissive is either a pro or a housewife? WTF? How inaccuate can you get?

annalouise said...

Vaginismus isn't real? How the.. when did she say this?

I feel like I remember you being the one smacking her down for it. I wonder if I'm confused or if your mind has just blocked out such pain expressions of stupidity.

Trinity said...

"I feel like I remember you being the one smacking her down for it. I wonder if I'm confused or if your mind has just blocked out such pain expressions of stupidity."

you're probably right. I don't remember it but... yeah, someone said some stupid shit about it that I vaguely recall. Might well have been her.

thene said...

It's not part of any "industry", ejaculatory, sex, or otherwise. Seriously, does she think every female submissive is either a pro or a housewife? WTF? How inaccuate can you get?

To be fair, there is such a thing as the commercial BDSM/fetish scene, and plenty of people earn a living off it. Yet the same goes for the gay scene, yet radfems rarely regard homosexual behaviour as intrinsically part of an industry.

ellefromtheeast said...

thene, I understand there is a commercial BDSM scene, which is why I said "either a PRO or a housewife." But my understanding is that most people who do kink professionally are dommes, who are of course missing as usual from this kind of analysis.

verte said...

Play is *really important*. I don't mean to say it's just silly, la la, da da dah, look, shiny. Make-believe is one huge way humans think about, imagine, understand their options.

Yes, yes, yes. And, as you've said before, life isn't all shiny, sweet and lovely. When I think about my so-called 'innocent' childhood games, they were, on the whole, pretty fucking dark. That's the experience most people I know have had, to be honest, vanilla or not.

thene said...

Elle, sorry I was unclear - I wasn't referring to pros so much as the entire commercial scene, from equipment to art to porn to venues. I read 'ejaculation industry [...] as well as sadopatriarchy' as referring to all of that - as if women never spend money in pursuit of orgasm.

ellefromtheeast said...

thene, that's a good point about the associated businesses that don't directly involve sex - the good people who make our floggers and rope and canes and own the dungeons and such. I can't tell if the quoted author meant to include them or not; I think that's a really interesting question.

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