I recently came across the site Does This Make Sense? and I already love it. It’s got a lot of intelligent, thoughtful commentary. One piece that I particularly liked is called “Hell, No. I Won’t Say No.” It concerns the idea that women who want to change their society should withhold sex from men until their wishes are fulfilled. Lorraine Berry writes:
In principle, choosing not to have heterosexual sex as a protest against policies that restrict women’s abilities to have autonomy over their bodies seems the ultimate in women’s power. It did, to some extent, work in the case of Liberia, where the brave women there forced their men to continue negotiating for peace by sitting naked outside the building where the negotiations were taking place.
Ultimately, though, Berry argues that this form of protest is not only ineffective but counterproductive for women who happen to enjoy sex (which is, I might argue, almost all of them). There are many problems with a “sex boycott, such as what gays and lesbians would do, and the fact that it almost seems to confirm right-wingers’ anti-sex campaign (no abortion, no contraception, no pornography, no comprehensive sex ed, no premarital sex, no non-hetero sex, and so on).
However, I have another problem with it, and it involves the concept of “the personal is political.”
Here I’m going to just be a bad feminist and say that I disagree with this principle. Of course, I do believe that people should live according to their values (political ones included), but I cannot condone manipulating personal relationships for the sake of one’s politics. Unless your partner is personally overseeing the campaign to take control of women’s bodies, it’s completely unreasonable, not to mention unethical, to punish him for the actions of certain other members of his gender. (This is not even to mention that I cannot imagine a feminist woman dating an anti-feminist man to begin with.)
And, in general, I don’t think that politics should direct one’s personal life. If I choose to date a woman, it’ll be because I like her, not because I want to make a political statement about bisexuality. If I choose to date someone of a different race, it’ll be because I like him/her, not because I want to make a political statement about interracial dating. In contrast, the so-called “political lesbianism” movement advocated choosing to be a lesbian for political purposes. How is this an authentic way of living?
Of course, sometimes the personal becomes political, as when an anti-gay politician is revealed to be having same-sex relations, or when people speculate on whether or not Elena Kagan is a lesbian. In the first case, although people may bristle at the obvious hypocrisy, I think being anti-gay is bad enough regardless of what one does in his spare time (and sending inappropriate messages to teens is bad enough regardless of their gender). As for the second, most would agree that it shouldn’t matter. The fact that people make it matter is the crux of the problem.
So, is the personal political? Maybe, but it shouldn’t be. In my opinion, personal relationships are a sort of refuge from the outside world. I don’t bring politics into the bedroom, just like I wouldn’t bring my cell phone or my laptop or God into it.