Ukrainian Women’s Lysistrata Moment: Sex Strike Against Russian Men

Call me when you’ve left Crimea, Ivan. The ‘Don’t Give It to a Russian’ campaign enlists Ukraine’s women in the boycott of Russian-made goods.

On the heels of of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, while the U.S. and EU threaten sanctions against the Kremlin, Ukrainian women have adopted their own extreme measure to pique Putin’s interest: swearing off sex with Russian men.

The women behind the sex-strike campaign, called Don’t Give It to a Russian, are doing their part to contribute to a larger boycott of Russian-made goods, urging other Ukrainian ladies via their Facebook page to “fight the enemy by whatever means”—to keep their legs crossed at all costs, in this case.

The campaign reportedly borrowed its “Don’t Give It to a Russian” slogan from Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko’s 1838 verse—Kateryna: “Fall in love, O dark-browed maidens, but not with Moskaly [the Russians].” And the initiative already has its own line of T-shirts bearing the slogan and their not-so-subtle logo (two hands cupped together to resemble a vagina).

The initiative has successfully ignited a media frenzy and pissed off a few Ivans, who denounced its female organizers as prostitutes. In turn, the group has appealed to their Russian sisters on Facebook: “Our men are still at home, but yours appear to be going to war.”

Whether the movement will have any quantifiable effect on Ukraine’s strained relations with Russia remains to be seen. But this is hardly the first time women have withheld sex as a bargaining chip for peace and politics—a power play as old as Lysistrata, though rarely as successful in real life as in the ancient Greek play. Below, a recent history of abstinence demonstrations.

‘No Masuzoe’

In February, a group of Japanese women threatened a sex strike against men who voted for Yoichi Masuzoe, a conservative politician thought to have misogynist views, in Tokyo’s gubernatorial election. The “No Masuzoe” campaign garnered a huge online following, including a

website that received 75,000 hits a day and a Twitter account with some 3,000 followers. But the risk of sexlessness didn’t prevent Masuzoe from winning the majority vote.

‘Cross-Legged Movement’

Women in Colombia have repeatedly renounced (or at least claimed to renounce) sexual activity to implement change, though often to no avail. In 2011, women in the southwestern town of Barbacaos boycotted sex in attempt to get the government to pave the town’s roads. The protests made enough noise that the government finally pledged money to pave at least half of one particularly treacherous road, then reneged on its promise. The women of Barbacaos resumed the strike in 2013, but their demands have still not been met. Similarly, in 2006, the wives and girlfriends of gang members in the town of Pereira reportedly withheld sex in a failed attempt to reduce violence.

No Peace, No Sex

In 2011, a group of women in the Philippines staged their own “cross-legged movement” as a weapon to rival fighting among villages on rural Mindanao Island. Violence in the region had forced the closure of a main road between the villages, preventing women in a sewing cooperative from selling their wares. Before long, their husbands were too busy trying to seduce their wives to keep up clashes.

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Life Imitates Lysistrata, Almost

In 2003, Leymah Gbowee led a coalition of Liberian women in an epic sex strike as part of a series of nonviolent protests of the country’s 14-year civil war. Gbowee, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for leading these efforts, wrote in her memoir that the strike “had little or no practical effect” but was “extremely valuable in getting us media attention”—attention that rallied the international community to help Liberians confront the country’s ruthless president and rebel warlords. “As a woman, you have the power to deny a man something he wants until the other men stop what they are doing,” she wrote. Still, some women were beaten for denying their husbands sex.

Femen Sets a Precedent

Femen, Ukraine’s radical feminist group, called for a sex boycott in March 2010 in protest of then-Prime Minister Nikolay Azarov’s “caddish and humiliating attitude toward Ukrainian women.” The boycott came a month after the collective staged its first topless demonstration—now their signature move—on the day Viktor Yanukovych was elected president.