Commentary Politics

No Thanks, Lysistrata

Lorraine Berry

You say you want a revolution? Well, Lysistrata seemed like a good idea at the time, but please count me out.

What’s a good feminist to do? I have been told, repeatedly, that social issues that disproportionately affect women—birth control, abortion, violence against women—give me only one choice between the parties. Therefore, my only option is to hold my nose and vote for Democrats—no matter how far-right leaning they may be, because, the argument goes, party discipline will make sure that those Democrats vote with the party when these issues come up.

And so, here we are. The Tea Party-controlled House of Representatives, supposedly elected on a platform of reducing the national debt, has instead gone after Planned Parenthood, abortion rights, and even NPR. Can I trust the Democrats to do the right thing?


Despite his promise to close Gitmo, President Obama has now declared that not only will it stay open, but the men locked up within will be tried by military tribunal. We are now fighting another war (or invasion, incursion, police action, or intervention—whatever the new term is for dropping bombs) in Libya. The Ivory Coast is burning. Women continue to be raped as war trophies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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And the beat goes on.

I went out for drinks with friends, and someone mentioned Lysistrata, the Greek play by Aristophones that suggest women use the one true weapon we have in our quivers. That is: we cut men off.

Leaving aside for the moment the issues of how to incorporate the desires of lesbian women and gay men into the equation, does anyone believe that stopping all sexual activity until men vote our way would make a difference?

Excuse the pun, but FUCK NO.

In principle, choosing not to have heterosexual sex as a protest against policies that restrict women’s abilities to have autonomy over their bodies seems the ultimate in women’s power. It did, to some extent, work in the case of Liberia, where the brave women there forced their men to continue negotiating for peace by sitting naked outside the building where the negotiations were taking place.

But these sanctions wouldn’t work for me. One obvious reason is that I like sex too much to give it up. I almost feel as if I have to defend that statement. I am willing to make some sacrifices if I believe they’re for a greater good; after all, I’ve had no problem boycotting products that I actually kind of miss having access to. And if someone were to tell me that if all women were to suddenly decide to deny men access to sex would guarantee that the abortion debate would come to a screeching end, I could be called selfish for my refusal to participate. But I still wouldn’t do it.

I am uncomfortable with a number of aspects of a “no sex until we’re free” campaign. For one thing, it feels as if it affirms, in a backwards way, the goal of the right-wing, theocratic, body-hating, misogynistic asses who are passing the restrictions on abortion. As I have said many, many times before, the anti-abortionists are anti-woman and anti-sex.

The evidence is overwhelming: not only do they oppose abortion, but they also oppose sex education in the schools, emergency contraception, and the rights of gays to marry and adopt.  Plus, they lie about the effectiveness of condoms in AIDS prevention. In essence, they don’t want women to have access to medical care, but they also don’t want men and women to have access to sexual pleasure that doesn’t take place within a state-sanctioned, God-sanctified, heterosexual marriage.

So, why should I give them what they want? I stop having sex in protest of their anti-sex policies? I don’t think so.

Secondly, I’m really uncomfortable with the implications of giving up sex in order to make a point. It seems to me that denying men access to women’s bodies in an effort to have them get on board with the right to privacy reinstantiates, or confirms, some sort of notion that it’s men who want sex and women who accede to those demands. It reconfirms the notion that women are not active sexual agents, that we are the receptors, not the instigators of sexual contact. And, quite frankly, that bothers me a lot.

Look, I’m not saying that women do not have the right to choose whether or not to have sex. I know women who don’t enjoy sex for whatever reasons, and who have decided to opt out of sexual contact with men (and women, too). Of course, I support their choice to not have sex.

But I do not want to contribute to a discourse that sees sex as a weapon that women use as a method of getting what they want from men—be it diamonds, marriage, or abortion rights. If I choose to have sex, it’s on my terms. Not as some sort of negotiation. Not because I know he wants it and I’ve got what he wants. I have sex because I want to, because it feels good, because it affirms the pair-bond, because I can.

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News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.