Sex and Politics

These words come from curiosity more than from deep thinking: this post contains more questions than answers.

With the debates currently going on in politics, I have been thinking how we approach the subject of sex: how we discuss it in our personal lives and how we discuss it concerning politics. Sex, after all, has become a dividing factor of politics– and I’m not talking about “gender,” but straight-out, throw-down coitus.

How does our comfort with discussing sex affect our political views? Can sex be used as a political means? What is considered inappropriate in the political realm?

Mostly, conversations have stemmed from the outbursts of foolish old men, most notably U.S. Representative Todd Akin’s comment about “legitimate rape.” He argues that sometimes what we call rape is not rape at all, but instead a fantastical illusion of some woman’s mind. Basically, he claims that some forms of “rape” are justified, that the air-quotes around the word should always been instilled in our language. Honestly, just typing the word makes me shudder, which makes me unlikely to openly discuss it, which probably affects how I approach women’s rights altogether.

This is interesting to consider because when the Founding Fathers first signed the Constitution, they deliberately refused to discuss slavery or immigration. Both were highly controversial and to avoid causing disagreements, they explicitly refused to argue slavery for at least twenty years. Sometimes, we put off speaking of what we should for the sake of feeling comfortable.

I won’t get into that conversation at all, but only to say that this idea permeates world-wide, though I believe most people from the U.S. have come to a consensus that Akin’s style of thinking is nothing short of ludicrous. I didn’t come here to talk about why rape is real and obvious. If you want to hear about that, look here and here or here to get a wide scope of the issue from several viewpoints.

What sparked my interest in the connection of sex and politics was something that coalesced the ideas much more concretely: the situation in Togo.

For the past four decades, Togo has been ruled by a father and son who have shared the presidency throughout, holding bogus elections and generally inciting tyranny for the country. Isabelle Ameganvi (leader of a civil rights group) urged women to go on a “sex strike” for a week. This means withholding sex from their husbands to encourage them to unseat the current leader. By violent or political means, I’m not really sure, only that these women want their voices heard.

This interests me because women in this country intend to use sex as a political tool. They hold a particular power over men in that respect, even if not directly politically. ” That’s also a weapon of the battle,” said Ameganvi of sex (http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/08/27-6). So, in this sense, sex is a weapon, a means to an end, a reward for all men willing to make change. While this may work in a country in which women hold no political power, I wonder how American women (fighting to be de-sexualized in the political sphere) feel about this.

There have been so many arguments in America to remove the idea of sex from politics because it corrupts the fairness of the proceedings, but in Togo, women actively use sex to drive political initiatives.

Like I said, I have no answers, only questions and whatever research I could muster. For example, I could find nowhere whether or not the women of Togo can vote. I also don’t know the laws of Togo concerning sex with husbands. I can glean from this next quote that the laws do not favor married women:

“I do agree that we women have to observe this sex strike but I know my husband will not let me complete it. He may agree at first, but as far as I know him, he will change overnight,” said Judith Agbetoglo. “So I don’t believe I can do the one week sex strike. Otherwise, I will have serious issues with him. He likes that too much.”

(http://news.yahoo.com/togolese-women-plan-sex-strike-press-resignation-president-154612133.html)

Many are quick to point out that the inciter of this idea (Ameganvi) is not married herself. The entire situation raises many questions, of course.

How might this discussion affect our views of how women are treated in America? And do men, who simply cannot experience things from a female perspective, have at all a reasonable handle on what it means to live as a woman in our country today? Therefore, should this blog post exist or should I avoid wading into sexually-charged, political waters?

In the case of Togo women, the organization plans on coaxing the men by giving them a reward, or perhaps in the eyes of the man, taking away what is rightfully his. Naturally, from nation to nation, culture to culture, the idea of what a man’s “rights” are drastically changes, whether they be civil or natural. And this implies that the act of withholding sex for the Togo women will be much more controversial than it would be in America. While here we would see that as women asserting their rights over their own bodies, in Togo this could be seen as severe disobedience not only to the family but to the ideals of the culture.

An aside: I’m not sure a week without sex would truly change my political views, but maybe because for me, every week is without sex. What is important to remember is that men in Togo see sex as a duty their women commit to, not a gift they give away. So women are not simply shirking on pleasure, but in the Togo mindset, their obligations.

As I have said again and again, I have no answers, only questions. If you are a woman (from America or from anywhere in the world), how do you feel about the Togo sex strike? Are they demeaning themselves or empowering themselves by using sex as a political “weapon”? How else might sex or sexuality affect politics and create change?

Leave me some answers in the comments, perhaps.

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About Derek Berry

Derek Berry is a novelist and spoken word poet. Derek is the author of Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County (PRA Publishing, 2016). He co-founded and organizes The Unspoken Word, a literary non-profit based out of Charleston, SC, which provides an intendent home for the poetic arts through regular readings, workshops, and community fundraisers. He is on the Executive Board of the Charleston Poetry Festival, the inaugural production of which will be Fall 2017. His work has appeared in The Southern Tablet, Cattywampus, Charleston Currents, Illuminations, RiverSedge, and other journals.He has performed in venues across the United States and Germany. He has worked as a photographer’s assistant, busboy, and bookseller. He currently works at a curation facility for Cold War History.

Posted on August 30, 2012, in Blogging, Controversy, culture, Government, Politics, Sex, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Wow for there in Togo its impowerment, a time for them to say they have rights or obligations to respect themself and have a say over not only their body but mind as well. Don’t know about here but to many young women feel their only value is sex, abstaning might lead them to realize they have way more value. In politics what Todd Aktins said either his brains fell out or he really didn’t think it through – that is my hope otherwise that is so cold and could explain why when we stick ours hands every where in this world yet are blinded to the ravages of rapes going on at holocostic levels in Africa.

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