In this op-ed, writer Stefanie Iris Weiss explains why Alyssa Milano's call for a sex strike is misguided.
It’s been an extremely chilling and challenging week for women, to put it mildly. The immoral, regressive, misogynist policies of fanatical anti-abortion men have reached a kind of apotheosis in several states, including Georgia and Alabama. The obscene abortion bans adopted there are similar to those adopted by Republican-controlled legislatures in Mississippi, Kentucky, Ohio, Iowa, and North Dakota. But Alyssa Milano’s call for a sex strike, Lysistrata-style, is not the fix we need — not even close.
The very premise that women should withhold sex from their male partners posits that we do not possess the instinct for desire, that we provide sex to men in some kind of transaction. Not only does this misguided approach assume that we’re all sleeping with cisgender heterosexual men, but it also assumes that they’re not already the kind of men who support our reproductive rights (and it erases trans and non-binary people entirely). How many abortion rights supporters are living with, married to, or casually sleeping with radical right-wing conservatives? In the cases that such a political divide exists within a relationship, I’d be hard-pressed to find a man who’d change his mind for the sake of sex. Men like that already hate us: Why would we want to be anywhere near them?
Telling women to withhold sex from men frames us as passive, desire-less objects rather than the subjects of our own lives. It’s antithetical to the heart of every wave of feminism. When Andi Zeisler, the founder of Bitch Media, took issue with the logic of the #SexStrike on Twitter, Milano snapped back defensively. She responded in more detail Monday night in a piece on CNN, but unfortunately didn’t engage with the substance of the criticism that feminists have laid out. Instead, she listed all the ways that abortion is under attack. And on that, we all agree!
Sure, Lysistrata-style protests have been effectively used in limited ways to end wars in developing countries. But there are no parallels between those cases and what we’re going through in the United States in 2019. The men we’d ostensibly withhold sex from are already on our side.
Milano is absolutely right that we do need to protest the radical, anti-woman policies coming out of certain states, and we need to do so forcefully, loudly, and in ways that get attention. Our reproductive rights are being erased. Republicans are not merely attempting to make constitutionally protected abortions illegal in individual states; women who miscarry could be investigated under those same abortion bans. Next thing you know, they’ll be testing women’s pee before we cross state lines.
While I agree completely that drastic measures need to be taken to stop these repressive states from ripping away women’s reproductive rights, a misguided #SexStrike is not the way to make our voices heard.
I get it. We’re all scared. President Trump, who once bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy,” has successfully installed two justices on the Supreme Court who could potentially overturn Roe v. Wade if given the chance. The horrifying abortion bans being passed in various states are part of a strategy to get a case in front of those justices in the hopes of reversing 40-plus years of baseline reproductive rights for American women. (Thanks for nothing, “pro-choice” Senator Susan Collins!)
But you can’t fight back against a Handmaid’s Tale-style takeover of government with self-defeating protests that strip women of their agency by denying them pleasure. We no longer live in a time of dowries, and women are not chattel being traded from their fathers to their husbands. The idea that women are less interested in sex than men, that our libidos pale in comparison to theirs, that we are fragile flowers who can only be wanted, but never want — we can never go back to that era.
The #SexStrike argument operates on the premise that most women don’t or can't enjoy sex, and that they do it for their partner’s sake. I can only speak for myself, but sex is something I believe I deserve, because I want it. It’s a form of self-care and connection and pleasure, and I can think of a thousand other ways to stand up against tyranny.
Here are some ways that we can protest these hateful laws:
- March. Do it in your own state. Do it in Washington D.C. A major pro-choice march rivaling the size of the first Women’s March should happen — and it only will if we clamor for it.
- Call your legislators. Tell them to speak out about this on the floor of Congress. Ask them to introduce bills to protect women from harmful anti-choice laws. RESISTBOT is an easy way to get started.
- Donate. Send your money to the National Network of Abortion Funds, Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU (Here’s a more comprehensive list).
- Be ready to support the underground railroad of abortion providers we’ll need to build if we can’t defeat these laws in the courts.
- Shout your abortion. Talk about your abortion(s). Have conversations in public and private. Continue to normalize it — because abortion is normal.
We can’t be freedom fighters for reproductive rights if we’re not seen as fully human — able to feel and express desire, to crave and ask for sex, and to simultaneously protect our reproductive rights. These go hand-in-hand, and the #SexStrike seeks to frame us as biologically predestined to offer sex as a favor. That’s precisely what the men who seek to take away our bodily autonomy are doing.
We must keep these laws off our bodies, to borrow an old protest chant from abortion rights rallies. And in order to do so, we must keep patriarchy out of our bedrooms. Women need to name, claim, and own our desire with as much passion as we fight for our rights.