A World Without Sex: Politics without the Pussy-Grabbing

In this month’s column, we apply our thought experiment to the ever-contentious topic of politics and consider how women might participate in government in a society unburdened by sexual politics.

Worldbuilding requires worlds, and aside from lawless dystopian societies, worlds require political machines to run them. Authors who wish to write matriarchal or egalitarian societies may find our current reality a poor environment for inspiration and modeling. Most modern societies either rely strictly on male-dominated governing systems or display the heritage of such systems, as seen in the unbalanced male-to-female ratio of governing bodies around the globe.

As of 2018, only two countries—Rwanda and Bolivia—boast legislatures with more than fifty percent women, with Cuba at a close 48.9%. The numbers fall steadily from there. The United States comes in well below the global average, though significant gains in the recent November 2017 elections improved this to a record-breaking number for the U.S.

Even as women make numerical gains in congress, they don’t often garner the same esteem as their male counterparts. Consider the recent confirmation of Rep. Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House and the manufactured controversy surrounding Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The sexist comments and criticism female politicians receive are more nuanced than in previous eras but still very much present.

Throughout history, women have also occasionally served as heads of state, though again not nearly to the same degree as men. This list provides a rundown of female rulers throughout history while this list provides a more modern—yet not entirely inclusive—accounting of women leaders. The United States has yet to place a woman in the Oval Office. We’ve come close, but no cigar.

Even once we reach that milestone, I expect our first female Commander-in-Chief will also face commentary and criticism that is coded as sexist. Consider how Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin were treated on the campaign trail. They received more questions and comments on sartorial choices and emotional fortitude than their male counterparts. The question of whether Clinton lost because she is a woman still hangs heavy in the air.

Speaking of Clintons and cigars, that’s a perfect segue into how sex and sexuality have had a direct impact on politics. In today’s reality of porn star lawsuits and “grab ‘em by the pussy” attitudes, sex scandals seem par for the course, but they have brought down political figures. Just ask Gary Hart, subject of the recent movie The Front Runner.  A long list of male political figures have been shamed into retirement, resignation, or general infamy because of their sexual misconduct. It’s only fair to note that while the dearth of women in politics largely explains why female-based scandals are few and far between, they happen, as well.

So how would a world without sex shape the political landscape? For starters, Gary Hart might be former President Gary Hart today, but removing the prospect of sex scandals doesn’t mean smooth sailing for political leaders of any gender. There are still plenty of other vices to take its place: drugs, embezzlement, falsification, bigotry, greed, and abuse of power to name a few. Opponents need mud to sling, and the darker nature of humanity and human society provides no shortage of ammunition. Of course, this is a straightforward aspect to consider when imagining our world without sex.

A more important question for fictional worldbuilding is how might a sexless society—one that stands a better chance of being matriarchal or egalitarian—affect the participation of women in politics? Unlike most of the topics covered in the World Without Sex series thus far, politics translates to power and control. There is thus a strong motivation for select groups to seek dominance over others through governance (see: apartheid and the Rohingya crisis.) Indeed, this is why women were historically shut out from participating in their own governance. Sexual control translates to gender-based control, which then extends to and through politics.

Remove sexual reproduction and you remove the motivation to exert gender-based control. It’s therefore likely that without sexual politics to muck it up, women would have exhibited greater presence, agency, and influence in politics throughout history and around the world. They would have selected candidates, run for office, and voted in even the earliest democracies, at least in places where they weren’t otherwise restricted by arbitrary and “othering” categories, like race or religion.

Yet another point of exclusion might exist for all women, one that belongs only to that biological sex. Women around the world have long been limited to roles as caregivers and homemakers. The “women belong in the home” mindset has long kept them out of the workforce, out of military service, and out of the political arena. Some might argue this mindset is a thinly-veiled form of sexual control, and it is definitely a form of gender control, but it highlights a specifically-defined group: mothers.

In this case, remember that our thought experiment envisions a reality in which women still go through pregnancy and childbirth. Would women’s roles be restrictively defined in a world in which sex doesn’t exist but motherhood does? I’ll explore this topic in depth in a future column, but in regard to political participation, women of childbearing age or those with small children could still potentially be discouraged if not altogether prevented from seeking office because of that “caregiver” role.

When it comes to worldbuilding, it’s not enough to place a female character on the throne or at the president’s podium to defy patriarchal norms. Authors must examine all the ways women interact with their countries’ governments—from voting to candidate selection to serving in office—and ask: how might this government develop in my fictional world if gender wasn’t divided and controlled on the basis of sex?  On that note, the same-titled movie about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s successful struggle in the male-dominated (and highly politicized) world of the U.S. justice system is out now in theaters. Grab a girlfriend or two, go watch it, and call it research for your novel.

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