Editor’s Note: Peggy Drexler is a research psychologist and the author of “Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family” and “Raising Boys Without Men.” She is at work on a book about how women are conditioned to compete with one another and what to do about it. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers. View more opinion on CNN.
Actress Alyssa Milano has become one of the #MeToo movement’s most powerful celebrity mouthpieces, inspiring thousands of women to come forward with their stories of rape or assault. Last week, though, in calling for a “sex strike” to protest anti-abortion laws, she may have missed the mark — by a long shot.
“Our reproductive rights are being erased,” she tweeted Friday. “Until women have legal control over our own bodies we just cannot risk pregnancy. JOIN ME by not having sex until we get bodily autonomy back.”
Milano posted the missive a few days after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the “heartbeat bill,” one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation. The legislation makes it illegal to have an abortion after a heartbeat has been detected in the womb — or about six weeks, which is before many women realize they are pregnant.
The Georgia law is a blow, for sure. But Milano’s message, though attention-grabbing, was misguided. And far from feminist. In fact, it largely served to reinforce the idea that women’s power lies primarily in their willingness to “give” men sex and that abstinence is the way to get that power back.
Think about it. In calling for a sex strike as a way to regain “bodily autonomy,” as she put it, Milano is implying that women pretty much only have sex to please men or for babies. There’s no acknowledgment that women might have sex for their own pleasure. Calling for a sex strike also suggests that women can, and should, bribe men with sex, effectively reinforcing an age-old stereotype, which feminism has worked hard to debunk, that all women have to offer is their bodies.
She later tweeted, “Protect your vaginas, ladies. Men in positions of power are trying to legislate them.” But a sex strike to protest the “men in positions of power” excludes lesbians, among other people, entirely. Or is it OK in Milano’s view to have sex with a partner who can’t impregnate you? And what if you actually want to get pregnant?
Lastly, it implies that she thinks men — all men — are the problem when, in fact, many measures to restrict abortion and birth control are backed by women. Meanwhile, plenty of men work hard to protect women’s rights. Pitting men against women is too easy and more divisive than is accurate or necessary.
Taking a stand against restrictions on women’s reproductive, or any other, rights is important. But calling for everyone to do so in this way misses the point and risks alienating more people than it unites.
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There are other ways to protest the Georgia law, including donating to Planned Parenthood or another organization working to protect women’s rights, calling your representatives, and voting, which too many people do not do. Instead of withholding sex from the men in your lives, and from yourself, try talking to them about what’s at stake for women and why it matters to them, too. “History shows that a sex strike is surprisingly effective,” Milano tweeted Saturday, doubling down on her call. But you know what else is effective? Communication.