Based on her CV alone, Janelle Monáe – actor in Oscar-nominated films, creator of Grammy-nominated music, fashion icon, record label executive, Prince collaborator, etc., etc. – is a difficult woman not to admire. But beyond her (many) career achievements, the 31-year-old’s most impressive attribute is her readiness to speak out on topics she cares about. Whether she’s highlighting the achievements of women of colour on her Instagram feed, asking the crowd to recite the names of black Americans killed by police during her live shows or hitting back at period shamers on Twitter, Monáe has never been afraid to get political.
Now, in a new interview, the star of Hidden Figures and Moonlight has suggested a novel way for women to fight the patriarchy: a sex strike.
Women should consider refusing to sleep with men until they start taking feminism seriously, says Monáe.
“People have to start respecting the vagina,” she tells Marie Claire. “Until every man is fighting for our rights, we should consider stopping having sex.”
Monáe has always been enigmatic about her sexuality, saying in 2011 that she “only dates androids” and that she wants both men and women to be attracted to her. Today, she insists that she “[loves] men” – but that men who treat women badly are persona non grata.
“Evil men? I will not tolerate that,” says Monáe. “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,” she continues.
“We [women] have to realise our power and our magic.”
Monáe, who spoke at the Women’s March on Washington and has been a committed and prominent activist within the Black Lives Matter movement, adds that she wants black women in particular to appreciate how important they are.
“I am all about black girl magic, even though I’m standing with all women,” she says, adding: “This year, I am so carefree black girl.”
While going on sex strike might seem like an extreme method in the battle for gender equality, Monáe is far from the first woman to suggest using – and refusing – sex to achieve political aims. Igbo women in pre-colonial Nigeria periodically organised themselves into a Women’s Council, and were known to go on general strike if men harassed or abused them. According to anthropologist Ifi Amadiume, Igbo women would refuse all “domestic, sexual and maternal services” in the face of men behaving badly, and leave town en masse taking only breastfeeding babies with them.
There have also been several modern occurrences of women using sex strikes as a way of trying to achieve peace in their communities. In 2006, dozens of wives and girlfriends of gang members from Pereira, Colombia started a sex strike called La huelga de las piernas cruzadas – “the strike of the crossed legs” – in the hope of persuading men to turn in their weapons.
They argued that if men believed that violent crime wasn’t attractive to women, they might be less inclined to take part in gang warfare. (Within a few years, the city’s murder rate had seen the steepest decline in Colombia.)
In South Sudan in 2014, meanwhile, politician Pricilla Nanyang coordinated a meeting with female peace activists in which they called women “to deny their husband conjugal rights until they ensure that peace returns”.
Sex strikes have also long provided inspiration for works of fiction. The Greek playwright Aristophanes’ comic work Lysistrata, first performed in Athens in 411 BCE, tells the story of women who refuse to have sex with their warring husbands unless they end the Peloponnesian War.
In more recent times, Spike Lee’s 2015 satirical film Chi-Raq (which was, in turn, partially based on Lysistrata) explored what would happen if women living on Chicago’s violent South Side refused to have sex until men laid down their guns.
Images: Rex Features