Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Peace and Conflict

Beyond Sex Strikes: Women's Movements, Peace Building, and Negotiation in Lysistrata and Pray the Devil Back to Hell

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Peace and Conflict

Beyond Sex Strikes: Women's Movements, Peace Building, and Negotiation in Lysistrata and Pray the Devil Back to Hell

Article excerpt

When I first saw Pray the Devil Back to Hell, in fall 2009,1 was struck by the many similarities between the women's movement for peace portrayed in the documentary film and that depicted in the ancient Greek play Lysistrata. I had heard that women in Liberia had also staged a sex strike as part of their efforts, but I had not made more than a passing connection to Lysistrata before seeing the film. Others noticed these similarities as well. In his interview with Leymah Gbowee, the leader of the women's movement in the documentary, comedian Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report pointed out the connection, saying, "That's just like the Greek play Lysistrata," to which Gbowee replied that she "had not read the Greek play" and "didn't have any idea ofthat play."1 The fact that Gbowee was unaware of Lysistrata makes the many similarities between the film and the play uncanny.

Both works are about women's peace movements. Lysistrata portrays a group of ancient Greek women banding together to bring an end to the Peloponnesian War, and Pray the Devil Back to Hell documents the efforts of Liberian women to end their country's civil war. Both works call attention to the uneven costs of war for women. Both works feature a female leader who is smart, strong, and strategic in her plan to end conflict and negotiate peace. The women's movements in both works featured women staging a sex-strike, occupying public spaces, and uniting across cultural barriers to bring an end to conflict. Together, these works offer valuable insights into the role of women in the peacemaking process and attest to the power of women to come together to bring an end to conflict and to forge peace.

Both Lysistrata and Pray the Devil Back to Hell highlight the effects of war on women. When the Magistrate challenges the value of Lysistrata's wool-working metaphor, in which she applies the wisdom of home economics to running the city-state, and demands to know what she has "done for the war effort," Lysistrata replies:

Done, curse you? We've contributed to it twice over and more. For one thing, we've given you sons, and then had to send them off to fight....For another, we're in the prime of our lives, and how can we enjoy it, with our husbands always away on campaign and us left at home like widows? And quite apart from us married women, what about the unmarried ones who are slowly turning into old maids?2

Pray the Devil Back to Hell likewise portrays the costs of war for women. Rather than being relegated to collateral damage, women in the film are front and center. In her 2011 memoir Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War, Gbowee claims that the war story told by foreign reporters in written accounts and video clips focused on male fighters and diplomats and that, in these reports, "women are always in the background/' "fleeing, weeping, kneeling before our children's graves."3 In contrast to what she calls the "traditional telling of war stories," in which women's "suffering is just a sidebar to the main tale," the story told by the documentary is "about an army of women in white standing up when no one else would."4 "Our stories," Gbowee writes, "rarely are told."5 In fact, Gbowee recounts how difficult it was for the filmmakers to find footage of the women's movement; when asked why they had not filmed these women, photojournalists explained, "Why would we? They just looked pathetic."6 In interviews that appear in the documentary, Gbowee and other women tell stories about the horrors of the civil war for women; in one such story, a woman is forced to watch as her husband is killed and her daughter is raped. In addition to sexual violence, the documentary film draws attention to other issues such as food scarcity and internal displacement, which affect women and children at rates much higher than men.

Both leaders capitalize upon the traditional roles ascribed to women in patriarchal societies as a means of justifying their anti-war stances. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.