In this episode of Wine, Women, and Revolution Heather talks about sex. She is joined by author Kristen Ghodsee, to talk about her book “Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism”. They discuss how women have better and more satisfying relationships under the economic stability provided by socialism.
Kristen Ghodsee 0:00
Intro Music It’s much easier to sort of get women or seduce women or you know, convince women to date you under reunified Germany, ie, West Germany, because men had more economic power over women whereas in East Germany, you know, money wasn’t enough. And this is a quote that she says, you had to be interesting, right? So you actually had to have a personality and have a, you know, have to be funny or be kind or be interesting and thoughtful and intelligent.
Heather Warburton 0:38
This is Wine, Women, and Revolution, with your host Heather Warburton coming at you here on New Jersey Revolution Radio.
Hi, and welcome to Wine, Women, and Revolution. I’m your host Heather Warburton coming at you here on New Jersey Revolution Radio. You can find us on online www.njrevolutionradio. com, get us wherever you get your podcasts from and follow us on all the social medias. Today I’ve got a really interesting, entertaining author with me. She’s the author of the book “Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism”. Welcome to the show, Kristin Ghodsee
Kristen Ghodsee 1:20
Thank you so much for having me. I’m really delighted to be here.
Heather Warburton 1:23
So this book, as soon as I saw the title, I’m like, oh, I’ve got to get this woman on my show. This sounds right up my alley. And I wanted to first ask why you wrote this book, in your book, you kind of laid out a little bit of a Model UN story from your history. And I’d like it if you could share that with the listeners here today.
Kristen Ghodsee 1:43
Yeah, sure. So I mean, I think that the backstory like deep backstory of this book is growing up in the 80s, sort of coming of political age during the Reagan era. At a moment when everybody was really worried about mutually assured destruction rather than climate change. And I was a Model United Nations geek or dork, I suppose in high school. I spent a lot of time thinking about international relations when I was really young and impressionable. And I became really fascinated with the Eastern Bloc countries, mostly because I really wanted to have veto power on the Security Council. And so I knew the only way I would get veto power the Security Council is if I became like the Eastern Bloc expert of the club. And that, you know, eventually sort of led me into a career of studying the Eastern Bloc, but particularly women’s issues in the Eastern Bloc, and what the Eastern Bloc countries, what I call the state socialist countries, and the book did for women during the Cold War, and what the legacies of those policies are today, and how Eastern Bloc attention to women’s rights on the international stage, in some respects, actually served as a foil and ultimately a catalyst for women’s movements and women’s rights in the West. So it all sort of starts with Model UN and then just sort of grows out into this much broader intellectual obsession, really, with the ways in which state intervention into public policy on behalf of people who have primary care giving responsibilities can actually promote a type of economic independence that is much more conducive to emancipation than any kind of feminist project we’ve seen in the West.
Heather Warburton 3:23
And at the time, you sort of became the Eastern Bloc expert, because that was sort of the only place that would have a powerful woman, like you couldn’t represent the United States in Model UN because they had never had a woman president. But that wasn’t the case for the Eastern Bloc countries.
Kristen Ghodsee 3:38
I mean, the Eastern Bloc countries didn’t have female presidents, or leaders at that time, but they had women very high up in positions of power, and, you know, not as many as perhaps they should have had. But I think that within the diplomatic circles, Alexandra Kollontai in the 20s was like the third, you know, the third woman in the world to serve as ambassador and certainly the first single woman to do so. And there was a long tradition of diplomatic service of women from the Soviet Union and later from the Eastern Bloc countries. So yeah, it seemed very plausible at the time, that a young woman like myself, would be able to represent the Soviet Union convincingly or the Eastern Bloc convincingly because it wasn’t only the Soviet Union that I represented, I represented all the Eastern Bloc countries because nobody else really wanted to do them. And I knew that as a woman as a girl, I mean, because I was 15 16 17 years old at the time, that it was be far more convincing, from a left perspective to be a diplomat from one of these countries.
Heather Warburton 4:35
Yeah, and that’s fairly I thought that was a fairly interesting story. And you also started off your book with another little anecdote which I wanted to touch on before we dive sort of into the meat of the book. I think it was a doctor, right? Who was complaining about having to date East German women. Could you relay that anecdote you share?
Kristen Ghodsee 4:53
Yeah, actually. So this comes from a colleague of mine, Dagmar Herzog, who is the historian of Germany, and she was actually talking to some East German men who were complaining that under socialism in the east, they didn’t have as much power over women, because salaries for men and women were fairly equal. And so it was much it was much more, it’s much easier to sort of get women or seduce women or, you know, convince women to date you under reunified Germany, in reunified Germany, ie under West Germany, because men had more economic power over women, whereas in East Germany, you know, money wasn’t enough. And this is a quote that she says, you had to be interesting, right? So you actually had to have a personality and have a, you know, having to be funny or be kind or be interesting and thoughtful and intelligent, that all of those things, you know, supposedly the implication is, is that in the West, you don’t need to be any of those things. As long as you have money. Women will date you. So I you know, this is again, this is Dagmar Herzog’s anecdote. And I think it’s really funny. And I also think it’s really, really telling about the ways in which, you know, relationships in a non market based economy might be different than those in a market based economy.
Heather Warburton 6:08
Exactly. And I thought that was a good, a great way of kind of leading into the, you know, heavy meat of the book, as it were, that there were women, whose lives, who would happily say that their lives were better under the state socialism system. And I wonder if you could lay out some sort of examples of ways that women’s lives were better, like, you know, examples of economic subjugation, things like that.
Kristen Ghodsee 6:34
Right. So I mean, the basic point of the book, I don’t think is really a newsflash to anybody who’s familiar with socialist feminism, or, you know, socialist ideas of women’s emancipation. And the fundamental idea is that capitalism disproportionately harms caregivers, anybody who’s responsible for giving care in the home, and that’s primarily women. Capitalism needs their labor, but it doesn’t want to pay for it. So, you know, women become financially dependent on men, because capital requires that women produce this care work in the home for free, and when women are dependent on men in this economic way. And that’s why it’s really important that the subtitle of my book is “and other arguments for economic independence”, this kind of economic dependence on men actually makes women less likely to leave abusive, unhealthy or otherwise unhappy relationships.
And so if you think about this as real implications, in the present day. I was looking at a Kaiser Family Foundation study, I think it was from 2016. And something like 25% of American women under the age of 64, get their health care through a spouse, which means that if you are in a relationship, that is less than satisfying for whatever reason, it could be abusive, it could be, you know, just unhappy for other reasons. If you leave that relationship, you will lose your health insurance, you will not have access to medical care. Now, in any other advanced industrialized country, you know, as a citizen, as a citizen of the state, you have access to some kind of, you know, national health insurance. But in the United States, because of our employer based system, we force, often women into a position of economic dependence on their spouses, which means that they’re also deeply compromised in terms of their ability to make actual free choices about their lives.
And so when I talk about what happened in state socialist countries in Eastern Europe, I’m also talking about democratic socialist countries in Northern Europe, is that when you have a very large social safety net, when you have a country that gives a sort of guaranteed minimum standard of living for all citizens, this has a particularly valuable effect on women’s economic independence, because it means that women can now for the first time in their lives, make choices based on who they love. And based on what they want to do with their their lives. And based on the partners that they want to choose, rather than making choices is on the basis of who’s going to help them pay the rent and put food on the table. I think it was in 2016 there’s a study of 2040 people in the UK. And it found that 28% of people in relationships, were staying with their partners for financial security.
Heather Warburton 9:23
Kristen Ghodsee 9:23
That’s almost 30. You know, it’s almost a third of people in relationships in the UK are saying that financial security is one of the main reasons they’re in a relationship. So I think that if capitalism creates economic precarity for people, and relationships become the way in which we deal with that economic precarity. We’re sort of poisoning in some ways, our romantic relationships. And that’s really what the book is about.
Heather Warburton 9:48
Right? And I assume there’s also an emotional toll on I mean, women, but not just specifically women have, if you have this massive economic insecurity, that affects your mental health, that affects every aspect of your life, and sex, just is only one small portion of that, that all of these, oh, how, how am I going to pay this? What happens if I get sick? All of these things going on in your brain can distract you from having good sex.
Kristen Ghodsee 10:20
Oh, absolutely. I mean, so there’s a whole spectrum of ways to speak to that specific thing. So obviously, you know, at the most extreme, you know, if you’re taking any kind of selective serotonin re uptake inhibitor to deal with anxiety or depression, those pharmaceuticals often have libido suppressing side effects, right. So that’s like an actual sort of chemical effect of, you know, capitalism on people’s mental health, if they’re taking pharmaceuticals in order just to deal with the stresses of capitalism. But on the other side of that spectrum, you’re right, there’s this emotional tale, a toll of the daily grind of constantly worrying about the bills of not having enough time in the day of trying to figure out you know, whether or not you should go to work and pay for your kids to be in daycare, if you can find a good daycare place, and if you can afford it, or whether you should stay home and risk economic independence. And then if you’re economically dependent on your husband, or you basically, you know, how is that going to change your relationship or you know, or your spouse or your significant other, I think that all of these things, so from the from the very affective experiences of capital to the much more sort of concrete ways in which people deal with capitalism by medicalizing and dealing with the the real effects of anxiety on people’s lives.
And we have an epidemic of anxiety, we have an epidemic of mental illness, we look at the opioid, opioid crisis, for instance. But we also have an epidemic of loneliness. So there have been a lot of reports, both in the UK and the United States, talking about how people are so lonely, lonelier than at any other time in our history, recent history, in the industrialized world. And that’s despite social media. And that’s despite all of these ways in which we’re connecting online, people are still feeling really lonely. And that alienation, I think, is also part of contemporary late capitalism.
Heather Warburton 12:13
We’ve talked before on the show about that alienation, of all the various kinds of alienation that occur under capitalism. So my listeners should have a pretty good idea of what we’re talking about here. But that definitely is going to have an effect that loneliness, you know, people aren’t making the human connections that they shouldn’t.
Kristen Ghodsee 12:31
And that’s and the other thing about it, this sort of late capitalism, and this I’m really here referring to the work of Mark Fisher and “Capitalist Realism”, this wonderful little book that everybody should read, you know, I think that what’s happening now is that it’s not just that our relationships are being commodified, the sort of market for relationships, like if we think about the way we talk about dating, you know, we say that you invest in a relationship, or you spend time with somebody. And when you break up with somebody, you go back on the market, we have this language that is very capitalistic around our romantic lives, but it’s also that our emotions, our affections, and our attentions are increasingly becoming commodities as well. And so we’re becoming alienated not only from each other, but in some ways, I think we’re becoming alienated from ourselves. And I think that’s really problematic when it comes to not only intimate relationships, sexual relationships, but relationships with our friends, and our family and our children. I mean, all of these relationships really require attention. And they require sharing of time and sharing of affection. And we are just increasingly incapable of doing that, because capital is sort of draining us of all of our resources, not only our labor power, but also our our affective resources as well.
Heather Warburton 13:46
And I think somewhere in the book, I cant remember exactly where it was, but you talked about the fact that sexual dysfunction has even been commodified as some
Kristen Ghodsee 13:55
Heather Warburton 13:55
thing to make profit off.
Kristen Ghodsee 13:57
Exactly. I mean, it’s so ironic, right? That, you know, some of the best selling pharmaceuticals are precisely pharmaceuticals that treat sexual dysfunction. And if we look at the way that sexual dysfunction was treated, for instance, in in Poland, which is I have a colleague, Agnieszka Kozińska, who does really wonderful work on Polish sexology , pre and post 89. And what she shows is that the Polish view of sexuality was way more holistic, and it included philosophy and psychology, and, you know, history, and you really tried to get to understand people’s emotional states and whether they were stressed out and whether it was the economy, whereas here, we just treat sexual dysfunction as a, you know, a disorder that you just take a pill and it goes away. It’s a very capitalist way of thinking about sexuality, you just pay and you fix it. And so yeah, I do think that there’s all sorts of ways in which capitalism has infiltrated our personal lives and these really intricate ways and people don’t fully accept that when you close, you know, you get home, when you get to your bedroom, and you climb into bed, the capitalism follows you there, too. And one of the hopes of this book was that we started to think about the ways that not only, you know, the personal is political, but I want to flip that around and say the political is very, very personal sometimes as well.
Heather Warburton 15:16
Oh, absolutely. I 100% agree with you. And there was one other thing you touched on very briefly, but I’d like to expand on a little bit it you talked about earlier, the reproductive labor and the caregiving labor, can we talk a little bit about more what reproductive labor is and how it hasn’t been compensated under capitalism?
Kristen Ghodsee 15:37
Yeah, so this again, it, you know, goes back to sort of classic socialist feminist theory, the idea that the means of reproduction, right. So we talk a lot and you know, Marxist theory about collective ownership of the means of production. But what that does is that sort of leaves out this theory of reproduction. So this is like not only child bearing and child rearing, but it’s also all the care work that goes into raising a family, creating a community sustaining, you know, a collectivity, in your neighborhood, or in your wider city. All of this sort of things like the holding of birthday parties, and the sending of holiday cards, and all of the kind of softer labors, as well as caring for the elderly and the infirm. All of that work is of extreme value to capitalist society, but capitalists don’t want to pay for it, because if they have to pay for it, that means increasing taxes, and increasing taxes means reducing profits.
And so we can see this really clearly when we think about neoliberalism. And we look at the way that Neo liberal policies slash social spending, because when you have cuts in hospital spending, or you have cuts and care for the elderly, or cuts, you know, for education, where just all of that work go. It’s not as if the sick and the old disappear, it just gets transferred to the home where women do it for free, where women are sort of forced to do it for free, largely for cultural reasons, social and cultural reasons. And so capitalism owes a huge debt to the unpaid labor largely of women, although increasingly there are male caregivers too. But anyone who is primarily responsible for care work outside of the formal economy is going to be exploited by this system and is, is perpetuating the extraction of surplus value from workers because they’re, you know, this this this labor is, it’s sort of just being expropriated by capital without any recognition of its value in society. And yet, we know that it has value because when it does get socialized, and taxes go up, then, you know, we see that women’s economic independence increases, we see that there are really positive effects on society, but profits for the top 1% and profits for corporations are reduced, because there’s this redistributed aspect going on.
One of the things that I also want to make clear, is that, you know, we’re not talking about wages for housework or anything like that. This is really, you know, a model whereby you’re creating an expanded federally funded social safety net, through things like federal subsidies for childcare, you know, pre K education, talking about mandatory federal parental leaves that are paid, talking about things like Medicare for all, you know, free tertiary education, all sorts of social policies that will help redistribute wealth, also create jobs, and really rethink our society in a way that values this care work, because right now is totally and utterly devalued in our society, way more in the United States than anywhere else. But even in other countries that try to value it, it’s still not as valued as formal work in the economy.
Heather Warburton 18:56
We came actually fairly close in this country, to putting the some of these policies in action.
Kristen Ghodsee 19:01
Heather Warburton 19:02
In the comprehensive Child Development Act. Can you talk a little bit about that ?
Kristen Ghodsee 19:06
1972 ,Yeah, exactly. You know, we got really close. And it was actually under Nixon, it was a bipartisan bill. And in the end, it was vetoed. Because, you know, there’s a lot of stories about why it was the vetoed. But one of the reasons, you know, that they say that people lost their taste for it is that there was some evidence that it caused an increase in divorce rates, precisely because it turned out that that wasn’t true. But the the fear that it would increase divorce rates, right, that the that the family that the government would intervene, and create an institutional framework for child rearing a more collective framework for child rearing, rather than the family based approach, which was the ideal American approach with like a mom at home in the kitchen baking cookies, that was enough to kind of scare people away. And so we’ve never even come close, again, to the kind of comprehensive, federally funded, you know, childcare that we might have had in the 70s. And so I think that, you know, it’s not as if these things are impossible, we came very close, I think there’s a lot of really compelling reasons on equity, equity grounds, for, you know, creating, especially something like childcare, universal pre K, education for children, maybe between the ages of three and five.
But I, you know, I think that the problem is, and it’s always going to be that these kinds of policies cost money, and, and they require either, you know, taxation and redistribution or some form of state ownership of productive industries or collective ownership of productive industries, and then the reallocation of those profits into the funding of kindergartens or, you know, hospitals or whatever, you know, homes for the elderly, who knows what these policies would look like in the long run.
But I think that that’s where the resistance are always going to meet resistance in this country, because people think of the government as this alien thing. They don’t think of the government as something that represents the interest of voters as a tool through which voters make their desires, you know, realize their desires and realize their, you know, plans for the future. I think that that’s a big, big, big problem is that people no longer understand there’s this sense in which the conservative forces in this country have made the state seem like this alien, evil thing that is going to come into your life and take away your hamburgers and your pickup trucks. And you know, it’s no longer the body that represents the interests of the citizens, which is, which is a total distortion of what it was meant to be.
Heather Warburton 21:41
Right. I mean, we have a government of the people that’s in the, you know, founding documents of this country,
Kristen Ghodsee 21:47
Right, and not of just the rich people. Right. I mean, I think that that’s the irony is that our government is actually these days feels more and more like a government of the wealthy, a government of the oligarchs. And the idea of actually making it a government of all of the people of the of all citizens is so anathema to those people that they’re you know, I think that there’s a sense of which there’s a conservative turn away from democratic politics that I find really concerning these days.
Heather Warburton 22:15
Yeah, well, there’s so many aspects of what directions, the government’s going, that’s so disturbing now, and this is one of many, many reasons, we need to drastically change society. And we have a very short time. You know, from a climate perspective, we have 11 years to figure all this stuff out. And there’s so many things that need to be improved. To switch gears a little bit. In your book, one of the things I really enjoyed was you highlighted a lot of powerful women under state socialism, women that had jobs or careers or professions that were almost unheard of in the Western societies at the time, why was that important to you?
Kristen Ghodsee 23:01
Well, so I think that this is the you know, the key thing is that economists coming back to this issue of care work in the home. So economists talk about this, this thing called statistical discrimination, which is that if on average, women are more likely to leave the labor force, because they have children and need to care for them, then women’s wages are going to be lower, because companies are going to be risk averse in hiring women who might leave the labor force in investing in the human capital of women who might then withdraw from the labor force. So the only way they’ll pay the only way they have hire women is that they can hire them at a lower wage than men, which explains the wage gap. And then what happens is, is that when largely heterosexual couples decide to settle down and get married and have children, it makes rational economic sense for the woman to stay home because she has the lower wage. And so this creates a very vicious cycle. And the only way to deal with that statistical discrimination is by state intervention.
And so the reason I focus so much on these awesome women in the Eastern Bloc, is because these Eastern Bloc countries really invested in women’s capital, they really wanted women to like, go into space. Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space in 1963. They really, you know, focused on bringing women into mathematics and engineering. In Estonia, something like 74% of all doctors are women. You know, in the Eastern Bloc countries have the highest percentages of engineers almost anywhere in the world to this day, because of the Soviet legacy, the Eastern Bloc legacy. So I think that what I wanted to do in the book, and I didn’t have a lot of room, you know, if you’ve ever written a book that you know that there are very hard word limits. So you have to make choices about what you include and what you don’t include. But what I did want to do is highlight that there were these exceptional women. And this wasn’t a kind of lean in pull yourself up by the bootstraps sort of feminism. These were women that were 100%, supported by their states and believed that state intervention and the expansion of social safety nets were required in order to promote women’s emancipation, because markets on their own will always and inevitably discriminate against anyone who has primary care giving responsibility for the young, the elderly, and the sick.
Heather Warburton 25:25
And some of these stories were so inspiring to hear these stories of these women and one that I thought was really interesting. This is a story I had never heard up until recently, and I’ve heard it like three places recently, was the story of the night witches, the women flew the bombing missions against the Nazis.
Kristen Ghodsee 25:43
Yeah, yeah, The Night Witches exactly they were mostly teenagers and women in their 20s. And they were given pretty old planes that were so old and decrepit that they called them sewing machines, because they didn’t get the fancy new planes. But they learned how to fly these planes in stealth mode by turning the engines off and gliding in and dropping bombs on Nazi targets. And they were very, very effective. They were so effective that any Nazi who shot down a night witch was all met automatically guaranteed an Iron Cross, right, because they were so feared. And I think it’s really important that you know, stories about these women who fought in World War Two on the front lines. These were ordinary girls who got trained up as pilots or snipers or parachutist, and they joined up and to fight against the Nazis there.
You know, in this in the book, I also talked about Elena Lagadinova, who was 14 years old, she was the youngest female partisan fighting against the Bulgarian allied, sorry, the Nazi allied Bulgarian monarchy during World War Two, a young girl, she had a pistol around her neck on a chain, and she was running missions with her brothers in the mountains to fight fascism. And you know, I think you know, there are part of their stories of partisan women fighting and Poland, fighting in Hungary, fighting in Yugoslavia. So many incredible stories of women who were out there fighting for freedom, fighting against fascism, and fighting for women’s emancipation and socialism and to build a new world. And we in the United States never hear those stories, because, you know, it’s just not part of our pantheon of feminism or of women’s empowerment, because its associated with the Eastern Bloc.
Heather Warburton 27:21
Right. And as we’re seeing the rise of fascism coming back in this country, I think those kinds of stories are even more important to hear nowadays, the role of women in fighting fascism.
Kristen Ghodsee 27:34
Absolutely. I you know, I think there’s a long history of women on the front lines, you know, there were American women in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, who went to Spain during the Spanish Civil War. There were women in the Paris Commune, you know, there were all sorts of partisan women fighting in Italy fighting in Yugoslavia, fighting in Hungary all over the Eastern Bloc against the Nazis, and we need to hear those stories. You know, it’s absolutely important to understand that women’s activism in this realm, you know, fighting against the kind of entrenchment of these patriarchal right wing politics, you know, women’s voices and women’s activism are, are essential. And there’s a long history of it, and we should all be aware of that history.
And so yeah, I, I hope, you know, that the book and other people who are, you know, writing in this area, I hope that it inspires readers to go and find the stories of these incredible women because there were many, many incredible women. I mean, I talked about Flora Tristan in the book, who was a utopian socialist writing in the years after the French Revolution. You know, I talked about Inessa Armand and Nadezhda Krupskaya, these were Bolshevik women who had particular ideas about women’s emancipation and education and librarianship and educating the masses. There’s so many stories really inspiring stories, the first woman to ever serve as like secretary of state or, you know, a Foreign Affairs Minister of Foreign Affairs was a Romanian woman called Ana Pauker. So there are amazing examples of women in positions of power and women fighting against fascism and fighting against these regressive, you know, social forces that we should always keep in mind as we face the challenges of the 21st century.
Heather Warburton 29:14
I did, I thought it was a very inspiring book. And I really appreciated, that aspect of it. We are rapidly running out of time. Were there any last words you’d like to add before we call it a day here?
Kristen Ghodsee 29:25
No, I mean, I think that I’m so glad that the book is, you know, finding an audience, I have to say I’m even, you know, even more encouraged by the fact that it’s gone now into eight foreign editions. So it’s not only in the United States, but it’s being translated into German and Spanish and Russian and Polish and Slovak and Czech in some other East European languages to to reach audiences where this was their history, in some ways. And there, you know, there’s a moment right now, I think, as you say, because of the turn to the right, not only United States, but also in countries like Hungary and Poland, we see the rise of right wing parties in Germany. And I think Brexit in the UK, you know, there’s this backlash, and, and, and because there’s this backlash, suddenly, there’s this desperate need to reach back into our own history and say, hey, we’ve been there before. We’ve seen these kind of regressive forces. And we know, we do know how to fight them, we just have to sort of get organized and get to it. And I’m hoping that more, you know, more, especially young people will, you know, read this book, but other books as well. There’s lots of wonderful literature out there. And you know, get radicalized and really think about what they can do just sort of forge a more just equitable and sustainable future.
Heather Warburton 30:41
That I think that is the most important goal is, and that’s part of you know, why I do this podcast is to really get people thinking about, we can create the society that we want. And there’s a blueprint for it right here in this book, there’s blueprints of how we fight against fascism, and investing women and empowering women to get out there and fight against fascism is so very important. So thank you so much for writing this book.
Kristen Ghodsee 31:08
Well, thank you so much for inviting me, it’s been really a wonderful pleasure to talk to you.
Heather Warburton 31:12
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