Sex Strikes and Other Provocative Protests
A group of women in Ukraine are applying an age-old tactic to protest Russia's controversial annexation of Crimea: They're pledging to abstain from sex with Russian men. A Facebook campaign, called "Don't Give It to a Russian," encourages Ukrainian women to "fight the enemy by whatever means."
In addition to taking pledges, the group is also selling T-shirts, the proceeds of which are to be donated to the Ukrainian army. As group co-founder Irina Rubis told NBC News: "Sex is known for being one of the most effective elements of drawing substantial attention to campaigns."
"Sex sells" is a well-known axiom when it comes to product advertising, but does it also apply when marketing a movement? As you'll see in this slideshow, the results are mixed.
"Don't Give It to a Russian" organizers claim their inspiration from the ancient Greek comedy "Lysistrata." Performed in Athens more than 2,400 years ago, the play is set during the Peloponnesian War, a decades-long conflict that pitted the Athenian empire against Sparta. Though Sparta emerged the victor after Athens surrendered, the war proved ruinous for all of Greece.
Lysistra is the main character and she gathers women from across the Greece city states in order to get them to agree to withhold intimacy from their husbands until peace is negotiated amongst the warring parties. In the end, Lysistra's gambit pays off as the sexually deprived men bid for a truce.
Although Lysistra is entirely fictional, what the women in Liberia achieved in 2003 -- partly due to the sex strike they imposed on men who had been engaged in a brutal, 14-year civil war -- is both real and legendary.
Led by Leymah Gbowee, the women participated in a months-long sex strike. Gbowee later admitted that the sex strike was most effective simply in getting attention, but the women employed other nonviolent tactics in a bid for peace, such as bringing Muslims and Christians together.
For her efforts in ending the war, Gbowee shared the Nobel Peace Price in 2011. Today, Liberia has a woman president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
In 2012, the women of Togo launched their own sex strike in an effort to bring democracy to the small West African nation. The family of President Faure Gnassingbé has held the reins of power for more than 40 years.
Although the tactic proved effective in garnering attention for a country that goes otherwise unnoticed in the international press, the sex strike did little to budge Gnassingbé from office.
Sex strikes are a tactic with which the women of Colombia are becoming increasingly familiar and successful.
Dubbed a "crossed legs strike," the tactic was first successfully used in 2006 in the town of Pereira, which at the time was one of the most violent cities in the nation due to gang activity. As BBC News reported that year: "Studies had found that local gang members were drawn to criminality by the desire for status, power and sexual attractiveness, not economic necessity." By depriving them of one of their main reasons for fighting, the women of Pereira helped precipitate a decline in the murder rate, which fell by more than 25 percent by 2010.
In 2011, the women of Barbacoas launched their own "crossed legs" protest due to the terrible conditions of a 35-mile stretch of road so bad that it could take a full 24 hours to travel even when not closed by flooding and mudslides, according to NBC News. Again, the protest succeeded when army engineers began work on the road some months later.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
For four decades, a separatist rebellion has gripped rural parts of Mindanao Island. Some 100,000 people were displaced by the conflict in 2008 to Dado village, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Fighting between two villages stifled the flows of goods. The refugee women of Dado village decided they had had enough and called for a sex strike to bring about peace. The campaign was devised at the women's sewing cooperative organized by UNHCR. Within a week, a truce was declared.
Earlier this year, Tokyo elected a new governor, a political commentator turned politician named Yoichi Masuzoe. Masuzoe likely didn't win his election with the help of many of Tokyo's women, and may have lost quite a few male votes that day.
A group of some 3,000 women in Tokyo called for a sex strike against any man who voted for Masuzoe, who drew fire for a series of sexiest comments attributed to him. On the issue of women in public office, Masuzoe stated his belief that women were ill-suited to politics because they menstruate once a month and are unable to make decisions during that time. He called women who had been elected to office old hags and bragged about cutting benefits to single mothers, as reported by BBC News.
On Jan. 24, 2011, at an event hosted at Osgoode Hall Law School, a police constable gave his two cents as to how students can avoid getting sexually assaulted: "Avoid dressing like sluts." The officer's remarks reverberated across the globe.
In response to not simply the officer's comments but a "blame-the-victim" attitude for rape and sexual assault cases, a group of women organized what they dubbed a "SlutWalk" in Toronto, which was attended by around 3,000 participants, with many scantily clad. Organizers sought to raise awareness of victim-blaming and also appropriate what has long been a derogatory term toward women.
Similar events have been staged since in cities worldwide, including New York, London, Sao Paolo, New Delhi and many more.
FEMEN is a protest group that originated in Ukraine and gained international recognition for their controversial protests. Adorned in crowns of flowers, bright colors and painted slogans on their bodies, FEMEN participants protest in scanty outfits, or even topless. As an article published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty notes, FEMEN's antics and media attention have created what is arguably the most visible advocacy group on women's issues today.
According to the organization's website (NSFW), the objectives of the movement are "to provoke patriarchy into open conflict by forcing it to disclose its aggressive antihuman nature to fully discredit it in the eyes of history;" "to ideologically undermine the fundamental institutes of patriarchy -- dictatorship, sex-industry, and church -– by putting these institutes through subversive trolling to force them to strategic surrender;" and "to instill in modern women a culture of active opposition to the evil and of struggle for justice."
Given the group's controversial tactics, it's no surprise that FEMEN has a wide range of critics. As Reason.com's Elizabeth Nolan Brown states: "Femen's philosophy is incoherent, and its tactics nonsensical -- but they do know how to create a spectacle." One feminist blogger derided the organization for "sexing up feminism for the media." And of course, given all of their opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian media outlets frequently target FEMEN, calling the group's members "ridiculous" and "vicious."