Oh, grow up!

Pub date March 24, 2010 Blog

Dear Andrea:

My really sweet, nice new boyfriend is into S–M and I’m not sure I even understand the attraction. I can get behind the sensation aspect but I have some moral and feminist objections. He insists it’s just a way to play, but it doesn’t sound like play to me. From what I read, people seem to take it pretty seriously. Plus calling it play (“pain play” “play-dates,” “play partners”) doesn’t really convince me that it’s all in good fun. You’re going to think this is ridiculous, but honestly all the talk about “play” sounds immature to me. We are 30 and 33 years old! Do we really need to spend our free time “playing”? Convince me.


All Play And No Work …

Dear All:

Wow, I feel faintly reprimanded for ever calling anything “play” that wasn’t an organized sport or a dramatic presentation. Then again, I am kind of immature — it keeps us young, don’t you know — so what do I care?

In response to what I expect are your political and feminist objections, I think many nice, progressive, egalitarian types such as (I presume) yourself (and also myself) initially have this reaction when presented with S–M iconography and terminology. Isn’t it time to move beyond rigid hierarchies? Doesn’t all this black leather look a little SS-ish? Would we even have such a concept as “top” and “bottom,” let alone “master” and “slave,” if we didn’t have this wretched history of the strong subjugating the weak, century after century, culture after culture? Would people born on Planet Liberty and Justice for All ever come up with S–M? And if they wouldn’t, should we? And isn’t it unhealthy for both genders to have women kneeling at men’s feet, or recapitulating scenes that in real life would be examples of brute patriarchy at work (all those abused school girls, corrected parlor maids, and so on)? And I say unto you, what makes you think it’s always or even usually women doing the kneeling, or that all those parlor maids are female? In the absence of a Planet Liberty and Justice to use as a control, we have no idea if people would play power games or not.

As for your (implied) definition of maturity — taking responsibility for your actions, not whining, not blaming others for your own mistakes — there are many qualities I would ascribe to the mature human. But “doesn’t play” isn’t one of them. Humans are neotenic — hanging on to aspects of infancy long past physical maturity — and it’s entirely possible that our flexibility, creativity, and ability to learn and grow as adults is due to that built-in childishness. Mature adults play all the time — in sports, outdoor adventuring, Burning Man, and so on. None of these activities are necessary to our survival as grownups. We just do them for fun. And some of us do similarly with adults-only indoor sports.

If you don’t want to play, don’t. But if you do want to play, don’t sweat the semantics.



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