Lucy Mangan is uncomfortable with the idea of withholding sex as a form of protest, and wants women to think bigger.
There is – let’s be clear – nothing whatsoever wrong with the motivation behind Alyssa Milano’s recent call for women to go on a ‘sex strike’. The actor and activist called for this action (or lack thereof) to protest against the new abortion laws in Georgia and Alabama.
In Georgia, the ‘heartbeat bill’ criminalises abortion once a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat, which happens at around six weeks, before many women know they’re pregnant.
In Alabama the ban kicks in at the moment of conception, with no exception for rape or incest. Yes, you read that right. Some Gilead shit is going down right now for the people across the pond.
But calling for a sex strike is wrong-headed. Partly because it plays into a narrative we are surely trying to leave behind: that sex is a pleasure for men, and that women, daintily uninterested in coarse matters of the flesh themselves, dispense or withhold it according to whim. And partly because it’s just thinking too goddamn small.
To be effective, just strike. If you want to draw attention to women as full and valuable human beings, if you want their contributions to be seen, their personhood to be asserted so as to highlight the vicious absurdity of legislating against their control over their own bodies, then encourage them to withdraw their unpaid labour entirely, not just access to their vaginas.
If nothing else, I bet you’d get a much higher take-up. Sex, after all, can be quite good. But no one ever fantasised about the unpaid, unthanked task of spending an afternoon on hold to British Gas trying to sort out a miscalculated bill (though if you have, please don’t feel othered. Just come round to my house – have I got a funpacked day for you!).
What would a female unpaid and emotional labour strike look like? What would happen if the £7.7 trillion – yes, you read that right too – worth of the largely unseen, unacknowledged, unappreciated work Oxfam recently calculated that women perform every year, around the world, was suddenly withdrawn from the social economy?
Keep a note of everything you do tomorrow: the mugs you rinse out in the office kitchen, the smiles you paste on your face to keep the peace with a relative or placate your boss, the cooking, washing and cleaning you do for someone who never does their share, the things you have to locate for others because you’re the only one who knows where they are (because you’re the only one that puts them away – rare is the task, infuriatingly, that does not lead to more), the cosseting, the therapising of friends and family above and beyond what natural affection dictates.
Then imagine that repeated a million times across the country and in myriad different and more potent ways. Then on into developing countries where economies and societies would absolutely collapse without the women who tend the children, animals and vegetable gardens all day, every day, while their men go out to do the ‘proper’ paid work.
Then imagine looking back at the lawmakers, the religious zealots and the power-hungry. The ones who depend on us for the smooth running of their lives, their offices, their communities. The ones who seek to (and are increasingly successfully managing to) dictate to us our reproductive rights and how we use our own bodies. And strike them from the record.