Time for the Ultimate Boycott
You may recall Aristophanes’ classic Greek comedy, Lysistrata, in which Lysistrata and a critical mass of other women take action to end the seemingly endless Pelopponesian war. You probably didn’t read it in high school, because it’s pretty crude, but maybe in college. And if you have a high tolerance for bawdy caricature, you can go ahead and read the play for free, here.
But here’s the spoiler (because who has time?): In this play, the women stop having sex with the men until the men stop the war. After much hilarious wailing and many erection sight gags, the men capitulate, peace is restored, and everybody’s happy and sexy again.
Why bring up such an old, silly play? Because Lysistrata’s tactic has something to teach us. Though I cannot say whether there really is a “war on women,” it does seem that some men are fighting a kind of rear-guard action, trying to win back dominance over the territory of women’s bodies. Some men still think it’s cool to dominate, assault, harass, and rape approximately one in five women of all ages. And the other men… allow them do it.
In May of this year, Alyssa Milano called for a “sex strike’ to protest new incursions on reproductive freedom. Knee-jerk responses from twitterati all over the political spectrum seem to have quashed the idea, once again — which only proves to me even more forcefully that it is the one tactic that could actually work.
But it takes a minute to see it.
Let’s idly imagine: what would happen if women decided, one day, that we were tired of feeling on the defensive all the time. Let’s say we decided we would simply refuse to have sex with men until this war on women ends. “No peace, no play!” we could proclaim.
As a protest, it is perfect: it is simple, anyone can do it, you don’t have to dress up for it, and it would not cost a thing. I am only half-joking. Let’s see what happens if we turn the contested territory of the female body into, literally, a no-man’s land.
It would be a radical shift. Since the introduction of safe and legal birth control, women have enjoyed sexual freedom approaching that of men: sex without consequences, without commitment, without having to sell themselves to the highest bidder. And men enjoyed it too, of course. Let the liberation begin!
Unfortunately, this new “freedom” has had unintended consequences. The good news? You could be with anyone you want. The bad news? They would probably give you herpes. A lot of people got herpes. Oops.
Women in the workforce no longer have to trade sex for economic security. But in the backlash, alienated, indolent men no longer feel obligated to support their children. Men’s self-esteem measurably suffers if women outperform them in the workplace. And virtually everyone struggles at some level with their newly-defined roles.
And, for a small but noisy subset of men, the expectation of sex-for-free has become a toxic, perverse conviction that women owe them sex. Best example I ever saw of cultivating a mindset guaranteed to make you miserable.
First, we strike for basic family planning
Specifically, we insist that family planning and birth control be as available and affordable as Viagra, and insist that insurance policies cover this necessary part of health care for women.
Does this policy force men to “unwillingly” share in the cost of birth control for women? Sure does. Why? Because, as Gabrielle Blair recently pointed out, 100% of all unwanted pregnancies are caused by men. See? If anyone should pay for managing reproduction, it’s men.
And — bonus — a boycott is the ultimate barrier method of birth control.
Let’s say we’re a couple of months into the campaign, and the boycott appears to be working. Health care parity is in the works. But the women are on a roll, so they don’t end the strike just yet. They contribute to a strike pay fund for sex workers. Pornhub has been shut down, and the actresses are auditioning for summer stock. Men are getting tired of bowling alone, as it were, but women are enjoying the extra Me Time. Book clubs are springing up everywhere.
Next, we confront sexual violence
Violent men will probably not change right away. But how about holding them accountable by properly handling it when they are violent? When a woman quietly reports an assault, her chances of an appropriate investigation are slim to none. If she goes public, there is outrage — which often turns into weeping and wailing for the man “whose life is ruined.”
But if a woman’s (or a man’s) report of a sexual assault received an adequate response in the first place, she would not have to look to the public sphere for justice. Unlike the recent Kavanaugh travesty, where no meaningful investigation was performed, an accusation of sexual assault or harassment should result in a thorough, evenhanded investigation and due process for both accuser and accused.
Perhaps right now we need the harsh light of publicity on these abuses. But I hope the light illuminates a path toward establishing respectful, thorough, and fair procedures. We might need more people and resources for that. How about reassigning law enforcement officers who are currently busy entrapping sex workers for “solicitation”? It’s the perfect solution and the perfect irony.
Then, we demand more from our leaders
Once we start holding ordinary fellows accountable for their behavior, we could actually start holding our leaders to that same standard. We could refuse to support or elect those who don’t measure up. Any man clueless enough to continue his private war on women is too clueless to be in a leadership position. Employers — in this case the people — have a right to decline a candidate whose crude or violent behavior puts the company at risk.
Because what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas any more.
Corporations understand that if they knowingly hire someone with a history of violence or bad behavior, and do not take appropriate precautions, they can be held liable for that person’s future transgressions. Surely we can hold people at the highest level of leadership to the same standards we require of a hard-working, underpaid hospital orderly.
But what about the good guys?
Inevitably, someone will ask, “Well, what about the guys who aren’t predators or abusers or oppressors? Why should we punish them for the actions of a few?” A bedroom boycott will deny those good men some pleasure they have come to expect, and that’s too bad
All I can say is— sorry about that. I really don’t think they will sicken or die from sexual frustration. (I didn’t believe the high school boys who told me that, either.)
And maybe a boycott will light a fire under those good men. Maybe they’ll quit allowing perverse and predatory individuals to stink up the place for everyone else. Maybe they’ll insist that the violence be stopped. And perhaps those good man will realize they are suffering because someone else has decided they cannot do what they want with their own bodies. Sucks, doesn’t it?
And, if nothing else, maybe couples would talk more. You know — have conversations. It could happen.
Lessons learned the hard way
I wonder whether women really anticipated the cost of the liberation we sought. We wanted equality and cooperation in relationships as well as freedom to support ourselves and our choices. Perhaps we believed that if we eagerly took on more responsibility, more independence, and more work, men would respond by becoming more responsive, more cooperative, and more invested in their homes and families.
To be sure, some men have evolved in just that way, but many have not, as evidenced by a steady stream of articles telling women how to get their partners to clean the bathrooms. (We’re supposed to appeal to his ego. Nobody appeals to my ego to get me to clean the bathroom.)
And, finally: we double-tap
Withholding sex from men, by itself, might not turn the trick (so to speak). In the play, Lysistrata knows her tactic is dangerous, since the boycotting women are vulnerable to financial retaliation from the men. So the women simply take over the Akropolis, where all the money is. Problem solved.
Could women do that today? Well, yes, in a way. Despite the ongoing wage gap, women control more than half of the personal wealth in the United States. Women in the aggregate have financial power they don’t even realize.
I’m not saying you should stop helping with his car payments until he stops voting for regressive, sexist candidates or policies. I’m just saying you could.
What would it all be for?
So that’s my modest proposal. Women would stop having sex with men, secure their finances, and refuse to share either benefit until the following rights are finally ensured:
- Autonomy over their private health care decisions and freedom from discrimination in insurance coverage;
- Respectful and consistent procedures for investigation and resolution of reports of sexual assault and violence, codified into law;
- Passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, already.
- Also, a pony for everyone.
I know such a boycott is unlikely to happen. But it’s not because sweet little ladies just can’t live without your love, gentlemen. Let’s be honest. No one need really physically suffer.
Rather, we would all sense a power vacuum; we would wonder how to measure our worth and our wealth. Rulers, merchants, and religious leaders have manipulated, used, and abused human sexuality as a potent way to keep score for thousands of years, with the men usually coming out on top. (So to speak.)
Maybe we’re ready to evolve a little by now. Maybe we can see our culture as something other than a zero-sum game. Maybe we finally realize that when women’s status improves, the whole society benefits. To see those possibilities, the dynamics of this game have to stop.
To the good men whose feelings are hurt by the zero-tolerance climate of the #MeToo movement, I say: all you have to do to fix this is stop the other men from victimizing women. Then you can go on being a good man, and even a little bit of a hero.
To the many idealistic women who thought sexual liberation would bring sexual equality, who freed themselves from coercion but found themselves in the crosshairs, I say: what if we take the next step? What if we don’t play the game for a while? Would we be taken more seriously?
Dr. Shoma Morita, Japanese founder of an ecologically-based school of therapy, has been quoted as saying
“If it is raining, and you have an umbrella, use it.”
Let women protect themselves with the umbrella of dignity. Let women take control over their own bodies and demand they not be violated, either by the men we date, the men we elect to office, or the culture we share.
So as long as it’s raining, you must use your umbrella.
And he, ahem, must wear a raincoat.
Author’s note: This post was originally posted in February and updated in June following Alyssa Milano’s similar suggestion. I can’t say whether she is one of my Medium readers, but who knows?