Friday, April 28, 2006

Gender and frivolity

I am looking at a book from 1933, Idrott och lek (sports and play) by Johan Götlind. Reading is a fascinating reminder of how much time has passed. The games described are mainly men's games, unless they are what he calls "party games" - games designed to let men and women meet and even touch.

Although, thinking it would be obvious that this was oldfashioned and obsolete, I told about the book to a colleague. He looked at me very seriously and said: "I guess that's true, games are men's games. Women don't really play, do they?"

First I was stunned, and thinking about hitting him over the head with my Mug O'Hurt. But he continued. "Men can much easier disappear into what they are passionate about, ignore everything else for the sake of a passion, while women always hold back, are always the sensible, responsible. At least that's my experience."

I had to agree with him. Women are the sensible gender, the one who holds back - aren't we? It resonates with my own experience, and with the way people have always looked at me weirdly when I have gone off on my own playful tangents. Women are often both less understanding and less accepting of playful frivolity. So now I sit here with two big questions:

1) Do women generally play less than men? With this I mean play in the wide sense: engage in playful activities.

2) If the answer to 1 is yes - Why? Is it because of nature or nurture?

My immediate off the top of my head answer would be, yes, women play less, and it's because society does not accept women who head off to play around with their own things. But then I remember the 5 books on "how to drape curtains" which so surprised me when I first visited the bookstore in Volda, and later lead to a study of curtains all over the place... Do women play games and act frivolously in ways which appear to be serious and necessary?

Making cakes is great fun, for instance. I love doing it, and I particularly love making them surprising and stunning. Other women spend lots and lots of time endlessly redecorating their houses, a passionate reconstruction of the living space in order to achieve subtle effects - is that not playful? Shopping for the kids - Oh, I loved that when they were small. I still do when they consent to being my dress-up dolls and let me experiment with colours and materials on them. Only problem is that they want to have a say about what they wear now that they are both legal adults...

On the other hand, perhaps women need to make do with what we can have. So society will not reward women for ignoring their family to go surfing, but will reward them for having a wonderful, surprising and playful garden. And since play is about rewards and social acceptance as much about the acts themselves, women choose to do the socially acceptable things in a playful, frilly, silly and frivolous manner. Perhaps. Yes, this is going to bother me for a while.

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