In the canon of classical Greek theater, there is a play written by Aristophanes entitled Lysistrata, in which the women of Athens band together and withhold sex from their male counterparts to end a war. Now, it seems like Hidden Figures star Janelle Monae is down to try that particular protest method out today. As she told Marie Claire for their May 2017 issue:
“People have to start respecting the vagina. Until every man is fighting for our rights, we should consider stopping having sex. I love men. But evil men? I will not tolerate that. You don’t deserve to be in my presence. If you’re going to own this world and this is how you’re going to rule this world, I am not going to contribute anymore until you change it. We have to realize our power and our magic. Because I am all about black-girl magic, even though I’m standing with all women. But this year? This year, I am so carefree black girl.”
Obviously, sex strikes are controversial for a number of reasons: what if we like having sex? What if we’re not dating men? How do we get everybody to participate when we can’t even get every woman in America to agree to a workers’ strike? What if we’re all replaced by scabs, which I guess in this example would be fleshlights and Real Dolls?
And then there’s the bigger, more serious concern of where the power in problematic sexual encounters actually lies; as Ta-Nehisi Coates noted in his article about Spike Lee’s Chi-raq, the idea of forgoing sex to bring about an end to violence, especially violence against women, places the onus of responsibility on the women experiencing that violence rather than on the men who perpetuate it. He also points out that usually the success of real-world Lysistrata movements can be linked to another action on the part of protesters, and the sex strike only serves as a publicity magnet (this is true even in the original play — while the young women of Athens are swearing their oath to withhold sex, the old women of Athens seize control of Athens’ treasury, thus cutting off funding for the war).
But heck, it’s a pretty good publicity magnet, huh? And it certainly makes for a good distraction for, oh, say, seizing the means of production while all the men are preoccupied. Just a thought.