November 13, 2002 11:42 AM

Something on Caveat Lector started me thinking about feminist perspectives on aggression, particularly on boy-play as aggression.

Says she:
Another part of it, though, strikes me as plain old ordinary aggression using ěplayî as a shield. This is a classic kindergarten trick. ěI was just playing! I didnít mean nothiní!î

I've personally come to feel very strongly that play needs to be a shield. Not just for men, but for women.

This is not always accepted in the feminist community, and rarely accepted by new feminists [I think of the women blogger community as nascent feminists; whether they define themselves thus or not, they follow many similar paths of thought.]. Play is a means of processing. Children (and adults, to a slightly lesser extent) need to be able to play at aggression and violence, psychic or physical, in order to process life. People need play, whether they have leisure time for it or not.

There are certain camps that would disagree. That would argue that aggression is inherently bad, be it play or not. Or that women are inherently less aggressive.

Boys and girls tend to play differently after a certain age. This is fairly obvious. But why is it so? Why do boys and girls initially have similar preferences for dolls and guns, but split later? I personally think it's a matter of socialization - and that we're gradually steering both boys and girls away from all play at physical aggression. I don't think this is a good thing.

Nor do I think that women play less, that we are more concerned with things serious. I do suspect that women's play is more centered on the self and the immediate social group than men's play - which is often other-centered. I suspect that has a lot to do with the things men and women are expected to value differently.

Also, the way we socialize boys and girls (and the relatively recent quashing of violence and aggression in kids) tends to make us more sensitive to, and more focused on, things that can hurt our feelings. Is it because we don't get to beat up on things/people like we used to? Eh, I don't know. I do know from my personal experience that things like violent video games, rude humor and angry protests can provide a comfortable - and valuable - buffer between me and the things that anger me.

So, why don't these things come across in my blog? Perhaps simply because those aren't things I need to puzzle over - they're simply functions in my life. And that does relate, I think, to a significant difference among people who publish online - some of us are driven by a degree of exhibition or camaraderie, others by a need to puzzle things out. That also explains quite a bit about my taste in [largely female] bloggers - I like the ones who are figuring things out.

As always, I have a handful of books to recommend on the subject (getting back to the aggression/play topic:

Killing Monsters is a nice examination of our fear of play violence and power, mostly generalized for boys and girls.

Odd Girl Out deals specifically with girl bullying and girls' higher-stakes play at psychic aggression. Doesn't go far in examining the source of girl aggression, but worth reading.

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your wicked thoughts

An intriguing perspective. Reading this, I feel less guilty about my own rather bloodthirsty taste in video games. ;)

these are the thoughts of revolution9 on November 14, 2002 04:38 PM

Link update:

apparently without the "www" it doesn't show my newer entries on my browser. Just want to make sure people to read them... :)

these are the thoughts of Prue on November 15, 2002 05:07 AM

No one could have been more astonished than I when we discovered our daughter's penchant for frilly, lacy pink things and for playing with baby dolls. Not that there is anything wrong with them as playthings; it's just that we'd never encouraged those things over any of the other carefully-selected non-gender-specific toys we'd bought for her. I was equally stunned when her playmate (who's been nannied by my wife since birth) refused (and continues to refuse) to play with the same toys. It's really not done wonders for my opinions about the socialization of gender roles.

these are the thoughts of Matt on November 15, 2002 12:10 PM

there is a use of play as play, and there's a use of play as a facade for aggression. (i'm using it in the bad sense, not 'all aggression'.)

a lot of them are context dependent. i don't find 'bitch' particularly agressive, and i think it's (among friends and acquaintances and some colleagues) just play. i have a few friends who *hate* that word. with them it would be play-as-aggression, i think.

a (physical) fight could be either, really.

it's really context sensitive -- you can't say all aggressive play is just a way to work things out through play, but neither can you say that none of it is.

if two people are fighting, one might see it as play, the other as aggression. i tend to think that for something to be play both have to think it's play -- but when you're 8, it might be too difficult, sometimes, to figure out what the other thinks.

these are the thoughts of whatish on November 15, 2002 03:23 PM

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