Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Look But Don't Touch

Women in Togo, organized into a group called Let's Save Togo, have called for a week-long sex strike against the government of ruler Faure Gnassingbe. The Gnassingbe family has been in power since 1963, when Faure's father Eyadema instigated a military coup, and is your standard African strongman regime. The idea is that, by withholding sex, the regime will be undermined, and Gnassingbe will be under pressure to resign and allow free elections. Opposition leader Isabelle Ameganvi provides further explanation here.

Now, you may remember back when Republicans in Virginia's state legislature were bringing forward the vaginal-ultrasound bill earlier this year. During the floor debate on that, David Albo related a story about how, in response to his having supporting the bill, his wife wouldn't have sex with him. People just kind of shrugged it off as a cheap laugh. I remember saying on Facebook afterwards to a couple of the women on my friends list that, no, seriously, don't laugh, Albo's wife was on to something. Their response was essentially 'Really? You're kidding, right?'

No, I was not. Men, it is well documented, are horny. Women can be horny too, but on the whole, they figure they can outwait the men, because it's always the women launching the sex strikes, never the men. Sex strikes are not an unknown thing, and they have actually been known to work. They even have an alternative name, 'Lysistratic nonaction', named for an ancient Greek comedy in which the eponymous main character launches such an initiative to try and put an end to the Peloponnesian War. They just don't work all the time is all... including the play itself. The play depicts the tactic working, but in reality, the war was still ongoing when the play was written, and would drag on another seven years afterwards.

There appear to be a few factors that affect the odds of success:

*The duration of the sex strike should be long enough to get the point across, though it shouldn't have to last so long that interest is lost. The longer it lasts, the higher the odds that people drop out of the strike, which undermines it.

*The women in the society in question have to have enough pre-existing power to be able to tell their husbands no. Going on sex strike doesn't really work if the men can just take the sex while society looks the other way.

*At the same time, the society should not be so progressive that there's too much individual independence to get the entire society of women on the same page. Solidarity is key. Adding in the anecdotes provided by The Week, and more provided here and here, you'll see that two efforts in Colombia and one each in Kenya and the Philippines worked, one in Liberia mainly just got the story in the news (though the goal it was working towards was successful and inspired the effort in Togo), and Belgium, Colombia, Italy and Virginia saw failed efforts.

Togo's society falls into the category where they could theoretically get it to work. But it also matters as to what you're asking to have happen. The bigger the ask, the lower the odds. Things like demanding a road get built can be obtained. Asking a dictator to step down after 49 years of familial power? That might be a bit tougher.

But we'll see.

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