The actress and activist Alyssa Milano has drawn criticism in recent weeks for encouraging women to stop having sex in protest of the abortion bans the GOP has recently passed in several state legislatures. “It’s reminding people that we have control over our own bodies and how we use them,” she told the Associated Press, noting that the tactic had been used to successful ends by women-led pacifist movements in Liberia and among the Iroquois.
Those wins aside, sex strikes rest on some faulty premises: that women don’t have sexual needs of their own, that sex is a gift for women to bestow upon others, and that women only have sex with men. Plus, women and men in the U.S. have very similar views about abortion; women are even slightly more likely to call themselves “pro-life.” The Republican men working to pass abortion bans are far more likely to be sleeping with women who share their opinions than with those withholding sex for political reasons.
But I admit that the prospect of harnessing one’s sexual and reproductive powers for social good is a tempting one. So I’d like to present what I humbly consider a much better proposal: Instead of a sex strike, let’s try a grandkid strike.
This idea stemmed from a tweet by comedian and writer Ashley Nicole Black, who got a phone call from presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren after asking if the famously proposal-happy senator had “a plan to fix my love life.” After the two women spoke, Black summed up their conversation on Twitter. “We have a plan to get my mom grandkids,” she wrote. “It’s very comprehensive, and it does involve raising taxes on billionaires.”
Black surely meant this as a joke. But at Slate, some of us wondered if she’d just happened upon a brilliant new weapon of progressivism. “Framing liberal policy platforms as The Only Way You’ll Get Grandkids … will make my dad Pokémon Go to the polls,” one of my colleagues mused. Another said a grandchild strike would be like “Handmaid’s Tale, but in a good way”—meaning, I assume, that it’s exactly the kind of radical response today’s radical threats to equity, justice, and humanity demand. It’s time to demand that baby boomers and Gen Xers decide which they’d rather have: their vague attachments to policies that have poisoned the earth and will soon make it difficult for anyone but the obscenely wealthy to live healthy, happy lives, or a pack of adorable munchkins in itty-bitty suspenders ready for unlimited tickle fights and cookie-baking sessions.
The parent who will die if her adult child does not procreate with haste is one reductive stereotype that’s almost entirely based in truth. I have never met a parent who isn’t already dreaming about how much fun it’ll be to have a few roly-poly wee ones (who are ultimately someone else’s responsibility) around. I’ve already decided that I’m not having kids, and even I desperately want some grandkids to spoil and squeeze and take to the zoo. I’m starting to think that whatever innate desire compels some people to have children is actually a sublimated thirst for grandchildren—a first step toward a goal that’s an entire generation away.
But for the children of those would-be grandparents, having kids of their own is becoming a less and less attractive option. Child care is extravagantly expensive, and paid family leave is a rare luxury. Bringing a new set of chubby cheeks and wonderfully incomprehensible babblings into the world is the most destructive thing one couple can do to the planet. It seems certain that today’s babies will be tomorrow’s survivors of famine, water shortages, unprecedented natural disasters, and refugee crises.
There are no individual solutions to these systemic problems. One person’s decision to have a child or not have a child won’t make the difference between cool breezes and boiling seas. But you know what could make that difference? Lots of people dangling their potential future snugglebugs in front of the noses of their right-wing, centrist, or politically complacent parents to cajole them into supporting policies and candidates that have a hope of redeeming this planet before it becomes one big overheated sandbox (not the fun kind!).
Just imagine: Your Republican parents are lukewarm on Donald Trump but will probably support his reelection, or maybe they’re Democrats who’ve sworn they’ll never elect a “socialist.” They’ve been bugging you and your partner to have kids for years; perhaps they’ve even kept your old sandbox and bedtime books in their basement in hopes of breaking them out again when you decide to breed. You sit them down and break the news: You’re not going to make any grandchildren anytime soon. It’s too expensive, what with your student loan debt, the schemes of predatory banks, and the disproportionate tax burden you’re forced to take on so billionaires can keep their tax breaks. It’s an impossible burden, what with our underfunded and shamefully segregated public education system, your own stagnant wages, and our nation’s failures on paid family leave and affordable child care. It’s a huge risk to have a child on purpose when you know you may be forced to bear another against your will, at any time, if the Supreme Court guts Roe v. Wade. It’s unethical, what with climate change and all. And it’s too dangerous—you’ve seen the news reports on school shootings and know how easy it is for violent men to get their hands on guns.
Your parents pause to envision the lonely quarter-century ahead, a far cry from the years of trumpet recitals, slumber parties, and trips to Disney World they’d long imagined. They ask what they can do to ensure their own legacies in the form of a pudgy little sweetums in a romper. They plead with you, promising to do everything in their power to help ease your concerns. Lucky for them, you have an answer: radicalize.
It’s up to you to set the parameters of your own grandkid strike. Maybe you’ll be satisfied if your parents prove to you, via voting booth selfie or supervised completion of an absentee ballot, that they voted for the sufficiently progressive candidate of your choice. Maybe you’ll insist they go a step further and CC you on the donations they make to the National Network of Abortion Funds, Zero Hour, or the National Women’s Law Center. Maybe you’ll give them a coupon for a weekend with your hypothetical child for every lobbying day they attend on Capitol Hill or the nearest statehouse. Maybe you’ll promise them one FaceTime session with your spawn for every call they make to a legislator. Maybe you’ll have an extra kid for every act of highly visible civil disobedience they perform, like chaining themselves to the Statue of Liberty or scaling a flagpole to remove a Confederate flag.
The point is, your parents will be forced to decide which is more important to them: their ill-informed allegiance to trickle-down economics, or their ability to lavish love upon a squishy, nice-smelling, giggly little cutie patootie. The up-by-your-bootstraps mythology, or watching their own children grow into loving, capable parents. NIMBYism, or a fridge covered in finger-painted renderings of whales eating hamburgers. The Second Amendment, or a lovebug—in a bath towel with tiny cat ears on the hood—who will possibly look like them and/or carry on their last names. Unregulated carbon emissions, or someone who yells “Nana!” or “Pop Pop!” and runs over for a big, wet smooch whenever they enter the room. It’s their choice!
There are a few kinks in this plan, as there are with any promising new organizing tactic. Some people want to have kids so badly that they’ll do it even if their parents harrumph at the thought of their taxes supporting someone else’s child care subsidy. Others will be offended by my suggestion that the serious business of childbearing and -rearing be used as a political weapon. Would-be grandparents might worry about a slippery slope—what’s to stop their kids from raising the bar after every vote or donation made under duress? Enforcement could be tough, and there must be a critical mass of participation, especially in purple and red states, to make a real difference. There’s also something undeniably weird about leaving a woman’s reproductive decisions up to her parents.
But hey, this is just a blog post, and there are no bad ideas in a brainstorm. If a grandkid strike seems like a leap too far to you, you can start with a baby step. Send your parents a link to this post—subject line “lol, what a crazy idea”—and see what they have to say about the Green New Deal next time family dinner rolls around.