Play [le jeu] rules the world. Play is everywhere, even where things seem to be most serious. The power that makes you hold your breath in a stadium, that inspires a crowd at a race track or poker players gathered all night around a card table, that’s the power we think of when we talk about the kind of fascination play exercises. But here I’m talking about extreme cases, stereotypical images that intensify and dramatize the thrill of the game. They make us forget that in a less obvious way, this pleasure is an indispensable part of everyday life. Naturally the more banal forms of play vary from country to country. I suppose hunting – on foot, with a rifle – isn’t as popular in the United States as it is here. In France hundreds of thousands of men await the opening of hunting season at the end of every summer, totally fixated on this dreamed-of moment, feverishly making a million and one preparations. Not to mention the political and athletic jousting that is ardently followed on television.
But the best playing field – and I think it’s the same in the United States as in all industrialized countries – is the professional workplace, because what is essential in order to succeed there is this gratuitous pleasure you take in overcoming obstacles, wrestling with the unknown, outplaying the adversary, even laughing with him. There is no discussion in business, however implacable, that does not partake of the tacit rules of the game, rules that confirm a kind of complicity among the players. As you know, without this no agreement can be reached.
There are many playing fields, including the arena of thought. And no one really talks about it, nor accords to this phenomenon the considerable importance it has in reality. To explain this lack of interest, we have to look at the difference between men and women. In the case of women, it is just as difficult to perceive its importance, but for the opposite reason; it’s that this phenomenon has not been experienced and acknowledged as such. You will say: but women play, and in all sorts of ways! Women can show themselves to be clever and able players, more than even their male partners! I agree with you completely on that point. But – there’s a big “but” – they play because of desires that for them count much more than the game itself: love, the need to possess I was speaking about earlier, eroticism, seduction. In short, women play games, but without being particularly concerned with what, for men, is the foundation of the game, namely, gratuitous pleasure. Don’t think that I’m telling you that men are better than women, that they’re more generous. Not at all: they’re no more angels than we are, they can be very partial when playing; in their endeavors, money and power play a considerable role, just as you say. But what you do not emphasize enough is that the power and the money are there as stakes of the game; they function as the bid or the winnings, increasing the pleasure of risk-taking, of going for broke. And a moment comes when even the most greedy of men, the biggest cheater of them all, starts to play for the sake of playing, forgetting about his own interests, accepting that finally everything, even the impossible, even failure, could be the outcome. Thus, it isn’t that players as individuals are disinterested, but rather that the pleasure of the game, which is far stronger than they are, makes them forget themselves.
When we see men playing together, we often regard them with a kind of amused compassion: they are children, we think to ourselves, their amusements aren’t really serious. And we don’t understand that this “not really serious” aspect of the game – its masculine dimension of gratuitous play – is the key, the very foundation of social power, from which women are excluded. Why? Because the game is not what interests women the most; because women are not “real” players; they lack that sense of free play that is, in essence, the spirit of the game.
Perhaps certain feminists have come up with the same analysis I am elaborating here. I would be interested in meeting them and finding out what practical conclusions they have drawn from their analysis, how it has helped them to determine what actions to take.
Now, to be realistic, we have to go even a bit further. We have to recognize the way in which women are excluded. Certain men – the really ferocious misogynists – exclude us deliberately. But the most common form of exclusion is the result of an anonymous yet organized collective. If we take seriously the idea that power is always instigated, articulated and distributed in a kind of playing field, then this collective must be conceived of accordingly. We should state the problem in the following way: it is the playing field itself that is excluding us, more than any particular man or men; men are really just the subjects, the pawns, of the game. The next step would be to specify exactly what this playing field consists of, taking the word “playing field” not simply as the designation of a circumscribed space, an area, but as the sphere specific to the masculine game itself. We’d have to try to comprehend its raison d’etre – something I won’t try to do here and now. The book I’m writing on masculine sexuality [L’Appareillage] begins with a discourse on play similar to the one I’ve just been giving you. This discourse begs for further elaboration, but rest assured, I’m not going to take it any further today!
Well, maybe just one more brief comment. This sphere can be thought of as an organism that possesses its own laws, organs, economy, and libido. Like a living body, it has its own system of expulsion. And we – women who aren’t “real” players – we are the foreign bodies ejected by this organism, we are like organs that are supposed to be grafted onto the organism, but that it can’t help but reject. That’s how we’re shut out – as if spontaneously, out of neither good nor bad will.
I believe that all the women who share a little bit of the power pie with men, those who are out on the playing field, and who thus work most effectively for the feminist cause, these women have sized up the game and the masculine pleasure that is part of it, and have discovered, whether consciously or unconsciously, how to come to terms with it. How? You’ll have to ask them.
- Michèle Montrelay
[This quote is from the book Shifting Scenes: Interviews on Women, Writing, and Politics in Post-68 France edited by By Alice A. Jardine and Anne M. Menke]