Against the Lysistrata approach

via Amanda Hess, I see that Rock the Vote is running a campaign asking young people to pledge that they will “hold out for health care”:

“We pledge ourselves to the health and liberty of young Americans and to government for the people … and to never fucking you if you are against us,” the video announces. “We will vote against you, work against you, and once again, just in case you forgot, never ever, never ever, never ever, never ever fuck you.”

At its core, this is basically the Lysistrata approach — a reference to the Greek comedy in which women withhold sex until men negotiate peace. As Jaclyn Friedman wrote this week in a similar vein,

It’s time for drastic action. And considering we won’t have the chance to vote these fools out of office for nearly a year, we’re going to have to get creative. Possibly, a little Greek. And so I humbly submit to you the question: WWLD? What Would Lysistrata Do?

The thing is, I like sex too much to suggest a full-on sex strike. And honestly, I don’t want to perpetuate the idea that sex denial hurts men more than it hurts women, because I don’t believe that’s true. But it’s half-past time for drastic action, so here’s what I propose:

Stop having sex with partners who think your reproductive health is negotiable.

This is obiviously not a new concept. Jill at Feministe made a similar argument a few years ago. Kenyan women went on a sex strike earlier this year. And some of the presidential campaign messaging suggested women not sleep with dudes who weren’t voting for Obama.

With varying degrees of seriousness, I admit I have advised friends not to have sex with people who don’t believe they should have reproductive rights. But honestly, I think that’s a better personal strategy than a political one. As Renee wrote in response to the “Girls say YES to boys who say OBAMA” posters,

The idea that women’s bodies can and should be offered as a reward for good behaviour has been with us for centuries. It’s appearance as a campaign slogan only proves how far we need to progress as women.

Which is why, despite having some pretty strong personal beliefs about the required political views of my sexual partners, I can’t get behind any effort (tongue-in-cheek or not) to use sex as a means of widespread political leverage. Especially when it comes with bonus pro-abstinence and anti-trans messaging like the Rock the Vote campaign.

Join the Conversation

  • Mighty Ponygirl

    The commodification aspect of the Lysistrata gambit is incredibly anti-feminist (“Girls say yes to boys who say no” took all sexual agency away from women by implying that all you needed for a hot chick to sleep with you was to spout the right politics).
    But at its core, I think the theory is sound, particularly as it pertains to reproductive rights.
    Women should not be fucking men who do not have the most basic respects for their bodily autonomy. Indeed, the very act of choosing to fuck someone is an expression of bodily autonomy, and men who would allow a woman the ability to express some bodily autonomy (by fucking them) but not others (like reproductive rights) don’t understand this and are undeserving of being fucked.
    We may end up not sleeping with someone we really want to sleep with, but I tend to take a pretty long view of this shit: the short-term pleasure of having an orgasm with a dude you really dig is not worth the long-term consequences losing your bodily autonomy.
    Most men just dismiss reproductive freedom issues as “not their problem” because they will never need abortions. Lysistrata is a pretty good way to make it their problem so that they can be bothered to care.
    While the theory is sound, of course, the problem with Lysistrata is that in order for it to work, you need 100% buy-in. And in practice, getting 100% of women (even 100% of feminists) to Stick To The Plan is about as easy as herding cats.

  • sapien

    If I’m not mistaken, the Rock the Vote Campaign’s message centered a lot around young men denying sex to older, attractive women. So, were they saying that young women can’t want to have sex? I’m not sure. But, that’s another reason to not get behind this. Also, I’m not sure how serious their ad actually was. So, maybe we’re not supposed to take it seriously.

  • southern students for choice

    Er, possible pro-abstinence and anti-trans transgressions aside, could SOMEONE with clout ask Rock the Vote to go on the record what their position is on including coverage (or not making it more difficult to get coverage) for elective abortion and contraception in health insurance, as it relates to national health reform?
    And if they say their position on the issue is “prone”, ask them again. Stokely Carmichael made that joke back in the 60s and it would be as likely misunderstood today as it was back then.

  • hellotwin

    Totally agree with what Renee said about the Obama posters and I think that statement applies to this as well. Doesn’t do much for us to use our bodies as they have been used by everyone else for the past…longest time ever. I’d relate it to the use of sexual ads featuring women selling non-sexual products…You know, drink this beer and the sexy women will love you…don’t see much of a difference. We’re still trying to ‘sell’ something – thought this time it’s an idea, not a product. Plus, I’d much rather have someone authentically believing in reproductive freedom than just pretending to get laid…

  • aleks

    The result of course would be that men involved with hard core pro-choice women would suffer and men involved with pro-life, disinterested or moderately pro-choice women wouldn’t. Brilliant strategerizing by Ms. Friedman.

  • Comrade Kevin

    I just hate the idea of anyone’s sexuality being used as a bargaining chip, whether for reasons with which I disagree and for reasons that are supposedly designed to advocate for the views that I do not.
    I feel the same way when adults use children to advance their own purposes (for example, holding signs at a rally) and in so doing going for a cheap emotional appeal, whether it be for causes I support or suppose.

  • Ann

    What part of “I can’t get behind any effort (tongue-in-cheek or not) to use sex as a means of widespread political leverage” don’t you understand?

  • paperispatient

    Women should not be fucking men who do not have the most basic respects for their bodily autonomy. Indeed, the very act of choosing to fuck someone is an expression of bodily autonomy, and men who would allow a woman the ability to express some bodily autonomy (by fucking them) but not others (like reproductive rights) don’t understand this and are undeserving of being fucked.
    This. You articulated my thoughts better than I could think them.

  • Alex Catgirl

    The 18-22 year old crowd, which is who the campaign targets as older people are just not into rocking-the-vote.
    We are not eligible to run for high office, the overwhelming majority of us don’t run anything, and a good percentage of us are still dependant on our families for support and influence. In short, we are adults in name only.
    But we have 2 natural advantages
    1.) Sex appeal
    2.) Physical strength and agility
    Girls have more of 1, guys more of 2, and given I just don’t see us laying siege on Washington DC, and then proceeding to beat the stuffing out of middle aged teabaggers that leaves us with point 1.
    We fight with what we have, not what we wish we had or trying to win hearts and minds, an approach which guarantees failure

  • Comrade Kevin

    or do not support.

  • paperispatient

    How can you really quantify sex appeal, though? What is your support for young women having more of it?

  • aleks

    Who on earth said anything about you? What part of “Ms. Friedman” (the woman you cited advocating the position) don’t you understand?

  • GalFawkes

    I can’t put my finger on why your comment rubs me the wrong way, but it does. Maybe someone else can articulate it.

  • Lisa

    Wonderfully said. I think it would benefit women to rephrase the idea not as a political tactic but as an important part of respecting oneself and one’s rights.

  • aleks

    Ah, I didn’t know your name was also Friedman, I was obviously referring to the Friedman (Jaclyn Friedman) quoted in the article, who took the position I referenced.

  • DoGooderLawyer

    I disagree completely. I have long advocated for a ban on sleeping with anyone who identifies as a Republican, in this day and age (say, 30% of the population at this point). Those people do not have acceptable politics, and if all of us good people, and those we talk to and influence were to say, “we will not date you, make out with you, or be sexual with you until you reevaluate your politics”, I actually do think that slowly but surely, in concert with many other efforts, maybe some of those Republicans might begin to reevaluate.
    but I don’t think this effort needs to be focused on women, it’s everyone who shouldn’t sleep with Republicans.

  • Kactus

    Yes! I could never ever have sex with anyone that didn’t support my bodily autonomy. I’ve had the “would you support me having an abortion if by some accident you got me pregnant” with all of the sexual partners I’ve had to date, and if a potential partner ever answered no (or if I thought they were lying) there would be no sex.
    So while I don’t generally support witholding sex as a weapon, that isn’t the same as what is being suggested.

  • nobody

    This is rather misandric. I don’t think that being male makes one have poor beliefs on the health care debate, have so little intelligence as to be unfit to use reason against, or be base enough to justify an attempt at force against.

  • FW

    Well, clearly the solution is for women to charge for sexual activity.
    Put that cash in the “Stupak Account” for any future abortions.
    you’re welcome society.

  • Em

    This is great, Ann.
    Lysistrata’s thousand-year-old stubbornness is easy to appreciate when any mention of female sexuality feels so rare; and here it is in this thousand-year-old text. But electing her as poster woman for female empowerment might be as misguided as our adoration for the Rosie the Riveter propaganda; we’re so starved for role models we’ll nearly take whatever we can get.
    Aristophanes knew this comedy would achieve notoriety not because it elevated the status of Greek women or made their lives more gracious, but because it exposed the foolishness of the Peloponnesian war. If creatures as foolish as women had to tell the men what to do, it followed that the conflict itself was a foolish endeavor.

  • nobody

    Implying that the sexual desires of heterosexual males and homosexual females are worth more than homosexual males and heterosexual females? Implying the absence of female strength? Reducing women to sex objects and males to brutes?

  • paperispatient

    I’m conflicted about how effective I think that would be. When I consider some of the most conservative/Republican guys I know, I can’t imagine any of them wanting to have sex with feminist, super-liberal me any more than I’d want to have sex with them. I guess I don’t see me refusing to fuck them as hurting them or compelling them to rethink their politics. (I’d refuse to fuck them because I can’t stand the idea of sharing my body with someone who doesn’t respect my bodily integrity and is anti-choice.)

  • Gopher

    ” Rock the Vote Campaign’s message centered a lot around young men denying sex to older, attractive women”
    What? I’ve never heard that and that simply doesnt make sense.

  • Gopher

    Totally agree! To me I dont have sex with anyone (female or male) thats anti-choice/backwards (ie, overtly misogynistic, homophobic). I think its a stupid idea and a bit outdated. It seems to reinforce all the old and outdated gender steretypes about men, women and sex. It also makes no mention of lesbians or gay men. Why the oversite?

  • Gopher

    Exactly. When they focus it only on women and heterosexuals it reinforces sexist gender stereotypes concerning women, men, and sex and myopically claims that the only ‘sex’ there is only happens between a man and a woman. Overall I think its a very stupid idea and absolutely backwards. Anyways, why would a pro-choice woman have sex with a anti-choice dude? I dont have any sexual relations with anyone who I know to be anti-choice or discriminiatory. To me its not some grand sociological scheme but simply self-respect. And doesnt that overlook the importance of pro-choice anyways? I dont care if HE thinks he has control over my body-he doesnt. Lastly they will simply have sex with themselves, ie anti-choice female with anti-choice male.

  • Diaspor Lys

    DoGooderLawyer said:
    …it’s everyone who shouldn’t sleep with Republicans

    Wouldn’t Republicans just end up sleeping with other Republicans?

  • Caitlin A

    That post makes *me* feel uncomfortable because of how it resorts to gender generalizations and makes any young desire for political action seem futile.

  • Caitlin A

    I think the problem with encouraging the use of this type of “political leverage” is it again emphasizes that the woman’s body is her greatest asset. It seems to me that “Girls That Say Yes” posters target the political potential of the young generation otherwise ignored by mainstream society, but only within the context of her sexuality. Quite the departure from Rosie the Riveter’s “We Can Do It” campaign!

  • rhowan

    For me it’s the broad assumptions that
    a) People who are 18-22 have more sex appeal than people who are older (by who’s standard?)
    b) Women (specifically young women) have more sex appeal than men.
    These statements seem to betray a very youth-biased heterosexual male dominated worldview.
    I would imagine most straight women (and homosexual men) would consider men to have more “sex appeal” to them than women (even 18-22 year old women). And then there’s the age bias, as if people over 22 are automatically less appealing (to everyone)… And don’t get me started on the weird idea that young people are restricted by circumstance to fighting for their politics with their bodies (through sex or strength) rather than with their minds. Yeah, that about sums up the things I have issues with.

  • aleks

    No ’cause they’re pure and chaste.

  • nikki#2

    I’m a big fan of respect, and an important part of respecting a woman is supporting her reproductive rights. If I discover a man I am seeing does not respect me then I don’t want to have anything to do with him.

  • Brianna G

    As a pro-choice woman, refusing to sleep with someone who doesn’t support reproductive rights was just practical. The last thing I want is to get in a situation where I want an abortion and my boyfriend freaks out and tries to stop me. I actually tell ALL my female friends to absolutely make sure they are on the same page with their SOs well before they hit the sheets– and yeah, for the ones who would keep the child, that includes having a SO who would not want her to abort. I’ve heard too many horror stories of broken hearts and vicious backlash.
    But I agree, it needs to be personal. To use sex as a tool to control a male partner– EVER– is to say that women don’t want sex, really, or at least not as much as men. It says, we don’t actually want to have sex, it’s not for us. We do it to get what we want from you. I feel the same way about this as I do about those asinine sitcom plots where the woman is withholding sex in order to get her partner to paint the fence or visit her mother. Excluding the obvious exceptions of prostitution and pornography, sex is not a bargaining chip and it’s not a commodity, and we’re hurting ourselves when we pretend it is.

  • Brittany

    I understand your ban, and respect it, because it’s your body and I realize people have to be comfortable with who they’re sleeping with.
    I am personally a Republican (A gay rights supporting one), and I refuse to sleep with liberals because their politics are not acceptable to me.

  • paperispatient

    I would imagine most straight women (and homosexual men) would consider men to have more “sex appeal” to them than women (even 18-22 year old women).
    This is exactly what I was thinking. As someone primarily sexually attracted to men, if you showed me pictures of a bunch of people I’d likely rate a good amount of the men higher on the sex appeal scale than the women. And the idea of sex appeal is just so subjective anyway – I’ve always thought Adrien Brody was just gorgeous but most of my straight female friends adamantly disagree with me.