Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism and Other Arguments for Economic Independence by Kristen R. Ghodsee was comprised of six essays whose focus was on the general state of women while living under socialism, specifically within the eastern bloc states. At the beginning or end of each chapter Ghodsee introduced short profiles of leading feminist women (and one man) who contributed to women’s liberation such as Alexandra Kollontai, Rosa Luxemburg and Ana Pauker, and I enjoyed reading about these early feminists.
The main title was the focus of two essays, whose premise was that capitalism hinders women by overworking them (to state it in as general a point as possible). Women who have affordable childcare options, jobs that pay the same as men, and husbands who contribute equally to housework are generally happier in their lives and enjoy sex more. Socialist states, therefore, generally produce a female populace that is better off than their capitalist sisters. Ghodsee used statistics from former eastern bloc states to back these claims up, including even sex surveys that these governments conducted:
“In the early 1950s, sexologists in Czechoslovakia focused on female pleasure and argued that ‘good sex’ was only possible when men and women were social equals. They supported women’s access to birth control and abortion, their full incorporation into the labor force, and steps taken to alleviate their domestic burdens or to share them more equitably with men. As in other state socialist societies, all citizens were guaranteed employment and opportunities for leisure, and they enjoyed universally accessible health care and the security of pensions for the elderly, which reduced women’s economic dependence on men. Once again, the liberation of love, sex, and romance from economic consideration was considered a unique feature of state socialism.”
“The experiences of some of the state socialist countries in Eastern Europe suggest that there was something different about sexual relations under socialism, and that at least one significant factor in this regard is the social supports put in place to promote women’s economic independence. Although these policies were never fully realized, and were in part implemented to support the developmental goals of the socialist economy, one consequence of these policies was that women were less economically dependent on men and therefore able to leave unsatisfying relationships more easily than women in the West. In addition, to varying degrees, socialist states promoted the idea that sexuality should be disentangled from economic exchange, and in the case of East Germany and Czechoslovakia, politicians and doctors openly claimed that this made relationships more ‘authentic’ and ‘honest’ than in the West. In countries like Poland and Bulgaria, medical experts supported the idea that women’s sexual pleasure was important for healthy relationships, and disseminated public educational materials (books, pamphlets, articles, and so forth) to educate men about the basics of female anatomy.”
The second sex chapter ends with this this succinct statement:
“Although it may sound corny to our twenty-first-century ears, [August] Bebel and Kollontai were basically right. Intimate relationships that are relatively free from the transactional ethos of sexual economics theory are generally more honest, authentic, and, well, just better.”
While sex and its relationship to socialism makes up the longest section in the book (and we know that sex sells, so it seemed almost expected for it to be featured so prominently in the title, the consequence being that I picked up the book and read it) Ghodsee also covered socialism and how it related to women and employment, birth and childcare, advancement through leadership and the right to vote. We know that the eastern bloc states were far more advanced than capitalist countries in the role of childcare and maternal welfare. These states wanted expectant mothers to be healthy–as they were workers for the state after all–so they promoted prenatal care and then once the babies were born, after a period of maternal leave, a nationwide system of daycares was in place. Women did not have to sacrifice their incomes to pay for quality childcare. The experience of new motherhood was less stressful in socialist countries when you knew the state was looking after you and your baby.