(Content warning: discussion of sexual assault)
In Marie Claire’s May 2017 issue, Janelle Monáe calls for a sex strike for women’s rights. In this very Lysistrata-like idea are several issues that need to be unpacked and, as a fan, it was disappointing to read such a superficial take on misogyny from another vocal feminist.
In the issue, Monáe said the following: “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.”
“People have to start respecting the vagina.”
Here’s the thing: people do respect vaginas. The issue is that they don’t respect the people who have them. Reducing us to our genitalia is counterproductive, because that’s what misogynists do every day: they see us as walking vulvas available for their consumption, instead of taking into account that we are not just bundles of sexuality for their own pleasure. This line also ignores how not all women have vaginas and that trans women, especially trans women of color, are subjected to transmisogyny and disproportionate rates of violence, abuse and murder.
“Until every man is fighting for our rights, we should consider stopping having sex.”
So here’s the thing: not all men are heterosexual, and not all women are heterosexual. Erasing LGBTQIA folks from the discussion of civil rights and centering solutions around heterosexual sex is counterproductive. Beyond that, relationships and gender equality goes beyond sexual intercourse. Calling for a strike of labor that is coded as feminine would probably be more effective when we take into account how much unpaid labor women and femmes are expected to do on a daily basis.
Not having sex with cishet men sort of implies that we view sex as a chore or additional labor. While some people might be in cishet relationships devoid of sexual pleasure, sex needs to be consensual and enjoyable for both parties. I personally enjoy sex, so a sex strike would make me miserable. However, a feminized labor strike is definitely appealing.
“I am not going to contribute anymore until you change it.”
Basing our efforts for civil rights around respecting vaginas and a sex-strike doesn’t make any sense, because our potential, our strength and our power isn’t rooted in our reproductive organs. Monáe’s call for a sex strike gives the impression that cishet women’s primary function is as bodies for cishet men to have sex with. She is limiting our contributions to this world to purely sexual ones.
Her stance also ignores victims or survivors of sexual assault. Millions of us have said “no” to sex — and yet, that hasn’t stopped us from being raped.
A sex strike is reductive. It also doesn’t stop racism, colorism, ableism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, transmisogyny, queerphobia, classism, poverty or any other form of oppression. I’m hoping that Monáe will see our critiques and absorb our words. She has taken a more activist-artist role in the past few years, so I’m hoping she’ll keep growing into that role in a way that is more accessible to non-cishet women.