In this eminently readable account, Ghodsee points towards the way our intimate lives are embedded and commodified. Our attention, our affections, our love, our pleasure, our bodies are traded in ways that make many of us extremely unhappy. Mark Fisher wrote about mental health being a political issue. Ghodsee is politicising female sexual pleasure…
A different kind of arms race perhaps… but as we watch the US slide backwards we have to wonder. The first step to Gilead is outlawing women’s right to work and making them economically dependent. So to insist there are other ways to live is important. That Ghodsee also makes this a joyous read is the cherry on the cake.
So did women really have better sex under socialism? As Ghodsee notes, if you have economic equality, your relationships in the bedroom change. No longer dependent on men, you are free to choose — and dump — your mate. Her thesis comes into sharp focus when she looks at what happened after the Wall fell 30 years ago: “The world could watch as free markets were conjured from the rubble of the planned economy and these new markets variously affected different categories of workers.” The result was that, “like so many other women across the globe, women in eastern Europe are once again commodities to be bought and sold”: Russian mail-order brides, porn shops, unemployment, academies for would-be gold-diggers.
The book isn’t nearly as silly as the title suggests. Ghodsee’s real argument in Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism is that capitalism is bad for women. It is bad for women for the simple reason that it dumps us with the childcare, pays us less and so makes us financially unequal and dependent on men. She argues that “the collapse of state socialism in 1989 created a perfect laboratory to investigate the effects of capitalism on women’s lives”....However, Ghodsee’s argument fails when she argues that modern capitalism cannot provide sexual equality. It can — and does. Ghodsee says that in the UK and on the Continent “most women are paid less than men for the same jobs”. This simply isn’t so — and to suggest that it is so is offensive to the feminists of my generation who have spent the past 30 years making it not so.
She is not advocating a return to life as it was in Soviet Russia, but pointing out certain policies undertaken by eastern European countries under state socialism that could be successfully adopted by democratic countries... Her argument that socialism leads to “better” sex is harder to substantiate... Ghodsee’s book could not have been published at a better moment... As Ghodsee notes, younger women are far more likely to vote for progressive candidates, and benefit most directly from progressive ideas... Ghodsee spells out the capitalist incentives behind policies that are so often disguised as “culture wars”, and ends her book with the exhortation to “push back at a dominant ideology” that confuses social bonds with economic exchange: “we can share our attentions without quantifying their value, giving and receiving rather than selling and buying.”