Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sex as Civil Resistance

In Togo this week, the women's faction of a civil rights coalition is encouraging women to stage a week-long sex strike in order to demand political reforms.  According to leadership of the group, Let's Save Togo, the strike, which began yesterday, will place pressure on Togolese men to demand the resignation of President Gnassingbe and put an end to a political system which allows unlimited electoral terms.

​This campaign leaves me somewhat conflicted.

On the one hand, in an era which glorifies electoral politics at the expense of the wide spectrum of political activity, this example of civil disobedience is truly exciting.  It is made more remarkable by the fact that women are organizing as a political force on the basis of their sex, following in a grand tradition which spans from the March on Versailles during the French Revolution to the Chilean March of the Empty Pots in 1971 to the reproductive-rights protests currently occurring outside the Republican National Convention in Florida.

On the other hand, the sex strike is problematic for several reasons:

First, it assumes that in order for their concerns to be heard, women must pressure their men to pressure the government-- women's voices, in and of themselves, hold no value.  And the only way for women to exert such pressure on the men-folk is through their bodies, as opposed to intellect, reason, moral suasion, etc.  Even as they engage in serious political activity, women are once again reduced to their sexual and biological functions.

Secondly, any type of coercion, including sexual coercion, dilutes the moral force of the issue, itself.  Using gimmicks and tricks to gain support is ineffective and generally weakens the cause in the long run.  

Finally, using sex as a weapon is damaging to all individuals in society.   Withholding sex to gain something, commodifies sex, itself.  It engages all participants in a type of prostitution.  Furthermore, this type of action reinforces the antedeluvian notion that sex is some "gift" that women exclusively hold--- perpetuating damaging myths about girls, virginity, purity, and the mother-whore dichotomy--rather than a mutually-enjoyable activity between two (or three or four) individuals.

​For once, I don't intend to resolve this ambivalence.  But I do wonder what the consequences of this kind of political activity are, and am left pondering that age-old question, "Do the ends justify the means?"

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