What is a Sex-Strike & Why it's so controversial?
Last week, actress and activist Alyssa Milano’s tweet urging women to take part in a sex strike to protest a new abortion law in the state of Georgia took social media by a storm. The new law bans abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected, which usually happens when one is six weeks into pregnancy. Morning sickness and other symptoms that don’t start before the ninth week, cause many women to not know about their pregnancies until then. This explains how the new law could force women to go through an unwanted pregnancy.
“Our reproductive rights are being erased. Until women have legal control over our own bodies we just cannot risk pregnancy. JOIN ME by not having sex until we get bodily autonomy back. I’m calling for a #SexStrike”, she tweeted.
Milano’s tweet received a lot of support, but it was also ridiculed by many. The criticism came not only from those who back the law, but also from people who identify that though Milano’s intent is noble, it is rooted in a sexist idea that women only have sex to please men.
To defend her stance, Milano cited a Quartz article that talks about all the times a sex strike has been an effective strategy for political change. It starts right at the beginning, talking about how the idea came into being. It was the ancient Greek play Lysistrata, where sex strike was used to end the Peloponnesian War. The article then tells us how in 1600, Iroquois women too resorted to this strategy to stop unregulated warfare. In fact, the tactic was so effective that they ended up gaining veto power vis-à-vis all future wars.
In recent times, sex strikes have been used almost exclusively for political ends. In 2003, we saw Leymah Gbowee organize such a strike to end the civil war in Liberia. Gbowee won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts. In 2006, in Colombia’s Pereira, female partners of gang members withheld sex demanding civilian disarmament. Three years later, women of Kenya carried this out to end the political infighting. In all these three instances, the women were successful in getting their demands met, which makes us question, if it is so effective, then why are many people condemning it?
The Guardian writes that when Aristophanes created Lysistrata, he was testing a notion about gender politics in a male-dominated world. More than 2,000 years on, a call for a sex strike shows that we have not progressed all that much. In a medium article, Lysistrata is Bullshit, the writer Mia Brett writes, “Yes, there is a history of women engaging in sex strikes successfully to stop warfare but the women in these cases weren’t advocating for their own rights but instead were trying to get peace for the society. If we are fighting for women’s rights, we need to prioritize doing so in a way that actually advances our rights and emphasizes our political personhood.”
Even though the basis of a sex strike is collective action, it points out to a power dynamic that is skewed, one that suggests women have little else to deny apart from their bodies while it is the men who get the “real work” done. Take, for example, this answer from Gbowee, when asked about the effectiveness of sex strikes. She says, “Every man is interested in the act of sex. We withheld sex from our spouses to get attention, and our husbands obviously noticed what we were doing. We said, “we need you to take a stand.” And they did.” It also adheres to the archaic belief that only men desire sex.
@emrazz rightly tweets that sex strikes run on the notion that women are providers of sex while it is the men who consume it. She further says, “Bribing men for equal rights with access to our bodies is not how feminism works.”
In 2019, women should have more meaningful ways to fight instead of blackmailing men into granting us some rights. Some ways include making donations to independent clinics and local abortion funds, volunteering at these clinics as a clinic escort, and making our votes count by electing pro-choice candidates.
Speak up and speak out against such injustices. Keep yourself aware and advocate for the people the law could actually impact like immigrants and people of color. As NAPAWF executive editor Sung Yeon Choimorrow puts it, “Abortion bans and other attacks on the agency of pregnant people are inextricably linked and cannot be separated from the effort to jail pregnant immigrants at the border, or raid the workplaces of communities of color … This is not the first ban of this type, and it will not be the last attempt.”
While today Alyssa claimed to CNN that "My purpose for sending out that tweet was simply, I felt like these bills were being ignored and sending out that tweet, look at me now, I'm on your show and we're talking about women's rights and how they're being rolled back," we feel that maybe it’s high time we let the sex strikes go and come up with more logical and political ways of sparking a debate and demanding action.