Archive for October, 2009|Monthly archive page

Thoughts on “Play”

Here, then, we have the first main characteristic of play: that it is free, is in fact freedom. A second characteristic is closely connected with this, namely, that play is not “ordinary” or “real” life. It is rather a stepping out of “real” life into a temporary sphere of activity with a disposition all of its own . . . . Nevertheless . . . the consciousness of play being “only a pretend” does not by any means prevent it from proceeding with the utmost seriousness, with an absorption, a devotion that passes into rapture and, temporarily at least, completely abolishes that troublesome “only” feeling. Any game can at any time wholly run away with the players. The contrast between play and seriousness is always fluid. The inferiority of play is continually being offset by the corresponding superiority of its seriousness. Play turns to seriousness and seriousness to play. Play may rise to heights of beauty and sublimity that leave seriousness far beneath.

—Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture

October 29: Playing with Power: Anarchist Approaches to BDSM

Folks in the Bay Area: I’m facilitating a workshop next Thursday (10/29) on anarchism and BDSM. It’s in Berkeley, it’s free, and there will be cupcakes.

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This month, we’ll have a facilitated discussion of what it means to practice BDSM as an anarchist. On the one hand, we have anti-BDSM arguments proclaiming that any type of BDSM play gives legitimacy to domination and submission as models for human relationships, and on the other, we have BDSM players who assert that anything they do and say is absolved by the fact that it turns them on. Some celebrate BDSM as a way to play with power, turning it on its head and perverting it for our own pleasure; other kinky folk are staunchly opposed to the idea of BDSM as merely “play,” and see “dominance” or “submission” as deep, constant aspects of their personality. If we are anti-hierarchical, can we also engage in (or support) relationships that are rooted in hierarchical models? Where do we draw the lines, if there are any to be drawn? We’ll look at a bit of BDSM and leather history, touch on the second-wave feminist backlash against BDSM in the 1980s, and identify specifically anarchist arguments against BDSM as a practice and as a subculture—and we’ll round it out with a discussion of concepts like “consent” and “play,” to see how these elements might help us make sense of What It Is That We Do.

Thursday, October 29
8-10pm
at the Long Haul Infoshop
3124 Shattuck Avenue / Woolsey in Berkeley (2 blocks from Ashby BART)
The space is wheelchair accessible and there is an accessible, gender-neutral bathroom.

Why I’m No Longer Outraged by Sexism

I’ve been trying and failing to write something on this for weeks, now. I guess I’m just tired of pointing my finger and yelling “sexism!” every time I see it. There’s just so much of it around me, every day, that I can’t bring myself to get pissed off any more. I keep thinking of that self-righteous bumper sticker, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention!” But I’ve been “paying attention” to this shit since I was, oh, ten years old, and I find it harder and harder to become outraged by it — not because I’ve come to accept things as they are but because once you realize how institutionalized sexism is and how deeply fucked up our entire civilization is, nothing really shocks you anymore.

To get to the point, the issue at hand is an episode of “This Week in Kink”, a podcast put on by the folks that run FetLife. On this episode, which aired over two months ago, one of the guests invited on the show said the following:

I firmly and strongly believe that it is a woman’s role to be submissive to a man. . . . I think that women in the past couple of hundred years have gotten entirely too high on their own power and eventually need to be slapped in the fucking head and put in their place.

A couple of years ago, I would have crusaded against this man and against the people who run the podcast. (How dare they allow such a thing to be broadcast.) I’d have demanded an apology and a retraction. Today, my reaction is a sigh and a shake of the head. What an asshole. I browse the comments on their page and leave one of my own. And I’m done. Next.

I did a bit of link-hopping and read Maymay’s take on the issue, in a post called “Don’t You Fret, Sexism Is Alive and Well in BDSM.” His post addressed a lot of stuff I’ve also written about — basically, making the point that while anti-BDSM feminists are wrong in their assessment of “BDSM = patriarchy,” we should acknowledge that there is a lot of sexism in BDSM as a culture and in how a lot of people practice it.

He linked to a blogger named Delilah, who writes that what troubles her the most about this is not that it was said — there will always be bigoted, ignorant jerks in the world — but that “in the BDSM world, where we’re meant to be playing with power, subverting some traditional norms and amplifying others to erotic effect, there are people who still truly believe this kind of outright nonsense. Even worse, that someone with such opinions is such a strong voice in the community.”

To me, what this says is not that there is a troubling streak of misogyny or at least sexism in the BDSM scene, but that (as I’ve written before) the values of the BDSM scene are fairly mainstream. Rob may be more outspoken and brash about his sexism, and it comes coated with d/s-specific language, but I strongly sense that the root of what he’s saying here is actually what the majority of men and women think — that there are biological differences between men and women, that these differences create “natural” inequalities between the sexes in some ways, and that the feminist demand for equality goes against woman’s natural role in the world.

Of course, none of this means that I’m throwing up my hands and saying, “Well, if the rest of the world thinks I should be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, I guess I’ll start taking off my shoes.” I’m still angry. I still argue. But I’m not outraged; I don’t feel like I should expect the world to not be sexist, and that this individual person has just violated that unspoken agreement. I go out into the world expecting that most people I meet will have, on some level, an understanding of gender and gender roles that I do not share and that I feel is harmful to me in some way. I expect exactly the same thing when I encounter people in the BDSM scene. (The unfortunate difference, of course, is that within the world of BDSM, “this is my kink” can be used to justify stereotypes and prejudice, and thus people like Rob can speak a little louder than they would, perhaps, on the street.)

Perhaps I’m just having a very cynical day. But perhaps not.