Come again? In a recent interview with Marie Claire, singer Janelle Monáe discussed her ideas when it comes to participating in resistance. I’m not going to lie: As a hot-blooded, fully grown and liberated woman who is in both her sexual prime and a happily grown-and-sexy relationship, reading this quote from one of Marie Claire’s newest cover girls gave me serious pause (and a possible eyeball sprain). For all its noble—albeit idealistic—intention, my entire body recoiled at this stream of logic (aside from its being a wholly unappealing concept).
Monáe may presumably be willing to give up her interactive “Yoga” habit until all of mankind is fighting for and alongside womankind, but suggesting that we wait until men get on board, en masse? With all due respect to her vagina—and utmost respect for my own—I felt cobwebs beginning to form at the mere thought ...
Of course, Monáe’s position (pun intended) isn’t a novel one. From the ancient Greek comedy Lysistrata—which inspired Spike Lee’s controversial film Chi-raq—to Poland’s most recent iteration of “Black Monday” as an anti-abortion protest, withholding sex has long been considered potentially the ultimate weapon, capable of compelling social change, ending violence and asserting female power. Admittedly, the results have been mixed; but it’s a resistance tactic that continues to resurface, increasingly in the name of feminism, since sex is often considered a “gendered activity.”
See? There’s that pesky record scratch again. How do I count the ways in which this is problematic for me?
Well, let’s start with the obvious, which, ironically, is reducing women’s worth quite literally to the sum of their parts. As much as we extol the much-lauded “power of the pussy,” are women—who statistically suffer the highest percentage of sexual assaults—really expected to (still) consider our sexual availability our best bargaining tactic? Does the “Day Without a (Vagina)” approach truly advance any conversation about female liberation? And specifically, when the agency and autonomy of our bodies is still actively up for debate, is dangling sex like a carrot really our best argument? Is our humanity not enough to justify our rights?
As much as I personally respect the yoni, let’s be honest: #NotAllWomen do. Fifty-three percent of white women made that abundantly clear last November. Truthfully, the women’s movement has so much work to do on itself that convincing men to act in our best interests is only part of the problem. Inclusion, intersectionality and misogyny are not just male issues; multitudes of women exclude, fear and outright hate other women—enough to vote against ourselves and/or other women’s autonomy, long after fighting to get the vote.
And truth be told, for every male armchair pundit advising that women think more like men in order to get one, there’s a woman teaching other women that they aren’t fit to be mated (to a man, at least) without “wife school.” So much for sisterhood.
As much as I’d like to keep this centered on the women, let’s address men for a second. You know, the hypothetical men from whom we heterosexual women (because apparently none of this logic applies to same-sex, non-gender-binary, etc., relationships) should be withholding sex until they—and all their comrades—get with the program. As Monáe states (and I wholeheartedly agree): “I love men. But evil men? I will not tolerate that. You don’t deserve to be in my presence.”
Undoubtedly, not every man deserves access to the good stuff, including our pussy-grabber-in-chief. But if not all women unilaterally respect the vagina, it’s equally true that #NotAllMen disrespect it—or the women attached. And no, I’m not talking solely about card-carrying, self-proclaimed “male feminists” who’ve made themselves known as of late. Admittedly, the jury’s still out on a lot of those dudes.
But what about your average, respects-his-mama/sister/ex-girlfriends, secure-enough-in-his-nontoxic-masculinity-to-find-feminism-nonthreatening, believes-in-equal-rights-because-it’s-basic-common-sense dude? Frankly, there are far more of them than flag-waving, possibly trend-riding male feminists, and while they may not be schooled on feminist theory, in my experience, they’re often willing to learn. Should we not be willing to teach them (night classes, anyone)? Which leads me to my next concern:
Perhaps the most unnerving part of “Lysistratic nonaction,”as it is called in feminist resistance circles, is the concept of sex as a “gendered activity,” rather than as a mutual—and, ideally, equal—exchange between consenting adults. Personally, I consider sex as much of a human right as anything else. But more important, giving up that right is a concession to the same oppressive patriarchy we’re fighting.
It’s using sex as a weapon against a system that already sexually objectifies women. To me, it sounds like another attempt to use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house (shoutout to Audre Lorde). I know the worth of my womanhood; I refuse to punish myself or concede my sexual power (or pleasure) to those already intent on ignoring it.
But I will conduct my due diligence. As Monáe says, “I have learned there is power in saying no. I have agency. I get to decide.” And discernment is key. Not all masculinity is toxic. Not all women are feminists. But for those of us who both consider ourselves feminists/womanists and choose to share our bodies—and lives—with men, our commitment to feminism is inextricable from our commitment to those men. With whom we choose to share ourselves reflects that commitment. And yes, sometimes that means saying no.
To Monáe’s credit, she recognizes this also, and she has since clarified her controversial statement in a series of tweets explaining that, no, she doesn’t believe sex is a bargaining tool:
Sometimes you give interviews right after the “leader of the free world” has a meeting to discuss women’s issues with a room full of men … and it’s very frustrating … I just wonder how these people got born and raised … then I remember that choosing a partner for a co-parent is important. Because those values are passed down for generations. Hotep to hotep.