Saturday, March 5, 2011

The WI Conflict, Lysistrata, and Women's History Month, March 5th

I read this past week that Lisa Fitzgerald, the wife of the Republican majority leader in the Wisconsin Senate is among those facing layoffs.  Mrs. Fitzgerald works as a counselor in the Hustisford, Wisconsin school district.

Rather than the heavy handed and authoritarian methods being used to bully state Senate Democrats into returning to resolve the budget issues for Wisconsin, it occurred to me that Mrs. Fitzgerald is in a perfect position to follow an old - and also a very modern - tactic to end the standoff in Wisconsin.

The ancient play by Aristophanes is well known; performed in 411 B.C., it involves a woman, Lysistrata, organizing other Greek women to end the Peloponnesian war between Athens and Sparta.  Should Women's History month address only actual women, and not fictional heroines?  Possibly, but this tactic is not unique to an ancient work of fiction.

But it has also been used in multiple modern conflicts as a very real tactic, quite successfully. That is where the Women's History Month comes in.  There are real women who have been making current history, recent history, by withholding sex.

Women like Daily Beast columnist for African issues, Leymah Gbowee
Daily Beast photo

“Sex Strike” is the headline that sells, so when reporters interview me, they tend to ask about the sex strike first. Did the women of Liberia really bring an end to the heinous civil war by withholding sex? Well, it certainly gave the men a fresh motive to press for peace.
Her efforts, in cooperation with other Christian and Muslim women, were documented in the film "Pray the Devil Back to Hell".  So why not apply her protest techniques - all of them, not just the sex ban - to the conflict between Republicans on one side and Democrats and union employees and their supporters, on the other?

This is a technique that was used not only in Liberia; in 2009, it was used in Kenya, where according to the AP :
Leaders from Kenya's largest and oldest group dedicated to women's rights, the Women's Development Organization, said they hope the boycott will persuade men to pressure the government to make peace.

Eleven women's groups are participating in the strike. The groups have also called on the wives of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to abstain. It was not clear how either wife responded to the request.

"We have looked at all issues which can bring people to talk and we have seen that sex is the answer," said Rukia Subow, chairman of the Women's Development Organization. "It does not know tribe, it does not have a (political) party and it happens in the lowest households."
Women also used this as a tactic in the Sudan in 2002, as reported by the Telegraph:

A former university professor in Sudan has launched a sex strike in an attempt to to end the 19 years of civil war that have torn the country apart.

"Women decided that by withholding sex from their men they could force them to commit to peace - and it's worked," said Samira Ahmed.

She was explaining the way that Sudanese women in the Upper Nile region of Southern Sudan have acted to stop their children dying.

The action is called alHair in Arabic, which means "sexual abandoning" of their men.

It began with just 20 women from the two tribal groups, the Lou and Jekany, which have been at the centre of the fighting.

It had now been taken up by thousands of women, said Mrs Ahmed.
I don't approve of using access to sex for bargaining, as a reward or punishment, usually.  Sex should be about expressing love and intimacy.  But in the current conflict, which appears to be taking bizarre new directions as the conservatives try to coerce political conformity on the minority, using all of the techniques of those in a minority or with less power is a consideration.  And as I look at the video footage, there are about a half dozen Republican women senators, and more than a dozen Republican state senators who are men.

Maybe it is time for a little international strategizing, a little 'alHair', to get things moving in the direction of resolution.  And it is worth a digression to acknowledge the role in modern history in establishing peace in their respective countries, to recognize Samira Ahmed and Leymah Gbowee.  Perhaps it is time to consider the inequality of the genders of those who have been elected to office compared to the genders of the citizens they represent, the genders of those who will be affected by this legislation as a demographic of the different professions represented by the unions, and at least discuss this as a possibility.  Mrs. Fitzgerald?

It is certainly no more outrageous than issueing arrest warrants, taking parking places, denying access to the copy machines, and some of the other moves by the Republicans to try to pressure opposition.  And it is a damn site more responsible than the unAmerican efforts to deny protesters, and even some legislators, access to the capital.

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