Today's episode is a short book summary, on a book called Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism: And Other Arguments for Economic Independence by Kristen Ghodsee. This book was written for young Americans who were pissed off and energized by the election of Trump.
The author, Dr. Kristen Ghodsee is a professor of Russian and Eastern European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She studies countries that went from socialism to capitalism.
Her big thesis in this book is that capitalism isn't all it is cracked up to be. That it turns out we, as a society can't really have it all, and she zeroes in on women in particular. Based on her research, she believes that women will have more economic freedom and work life balance under socialism, whereas capitalism has reinforced gendered stereotypes and roles, a gender wage gap and a situation where women work second shifts as caretakers.
Tune in to the episode to learn more!
Hi! Welcome to Spend Donate Invest! I’m your host, I go by GG, which is short for Genet Gimja.
Typically on this show, you’ll hear practical, concise conversation about ways we can line up our money and our values. Whether climate change is what keeps you up at night, or racial injustice, maybe the thing you’re up at night thinking about the quality of public schools in America, or the lack of clean water in parts of our country. Every once in a while, an email comes in asking about what to read, if you’re interested in these topics. On episode 25 I went through a list of books that might be interesting for adults and kids. And speaking of kids, I know that some of you listen to this show with your kids, I don’t think there needs to be a content warning for the episode, there’s absolutely nothing graphic. At some point there is a mention of the existence of sex and the existence that it might or not make you happy, honestly maybe that is a good conversation for all ages to hear lol, but I’m sure you’ll let me know in your feedback after today’s episode. If you’re a parent, let me know your thoughts.
So today we will do a short book summary, on a book called Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism: And Other Arguments for Economic Independence by Kristen Ghodsee. This book was written for young Americans who were pissed off and energized by the election of Trump.
The author, Dr. Kristen Ghodsee is a professor of Russian and Eastern European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She studies countries that went from socialism to capitalism. And she used to teach a class called Sex and Socialism earlier in her career as a college professor.
Her big thesis in this book is that capitalism isn't all it is cracked up to be. That it turns out we, as a society can't really have it all, and she zeroes in on women in particular. Based on her research, she believes that women will have more economic freedom and work life balance under socialism, whereas capitalism has reinforced gendered stereotypes and roles, a gender wage gap and a situation where women work second shifts as caretakers. In short, her data analysis suggests that companies pay women less because on the whole women are more likely to drop out of the workforce to take care of whoever needs taking care of- children, grandparents, other relatives with health challenges. And because women are more likely to drop out of the workforce, companies don’t really want to hire them, so the way they make it make sense for themselves is to pay women less. Then it becomes a self perpetuating cycle. Women are paid less because they are more likely to quit, and then paying them less makes them more likely to quit. Because in a heterosexual couple, if something comes up, someone needs to be cared for, they are likely to look at who makes less money and the woman typically then quits to engage in the caretaking. This is her case that she lays out in the book.
She presents a historical record that indicates that in some countries, socialism was a time when women were invested in. Literacy rates for women increased, networks of childcare, laundries, cafeterias, kindergarden. So children were invested in as well. Maternal and child mortality decreased, life expectancy increased. She doesn't glorify socialism, she spends time the book talking about all of the really ugly aspects of socialism, but apparently this book as been controversial because some people just are not ready to hear any praise of socialism yet. This book was her attempt at breaking out of her academic world and speaking to a broader audience, and that's where the catchy title comes in. There are a couple of chapters that discuss sex within socialism, but the majority of the book really is more about this idea that carework, typically done by women, is not valued in a free market economy. And she's talking about all carework, whether or not women do it, but it is typically done by women. Anyone that does this type of work is going to be disadvantaged in our version of capitalism. The argument in the book is taht when the state socializes carework they take some of the burden away from women. So she discusses paid maternity leave, federally supported childcare. So, she looks at different types of socialism in different countries and studies the historical data. On all kinds of things, including the wellbeing of women. And that's where the convo on sex comes in.
In a society where women have fewer opportunities to work outside of the home, they have to pick their partners based on whether or not he can pay the bills. So she’s not necessarily choosing based on love or attraction or affection. She’s picking, or her parents are picking her partner based on his ability to pay the bills.
And her idea is that when women have economic independence, she can choose her partner based on love, attraction, affection, mutual respect, a healthy relationship. And the data, in her book, bears that out. She looks at survey data asking women how happy they felt after sex, and also questions about whether or not they want to get married, in general. And she presents the case that women are less likely to have to work this second shift of caretaking under socialism, and she also presents a case that men are freer and more interested in marriage when they can set aside the preoccupation with being able to be breadwinners for their families. So her desire is that we all have an informed discussion on socialism, can it liberate women, and she presents ideas for how socialism could be done better this time around.
Let me know if you have picked up this book and your thoughts on it. I was having a hard time with the goal of what she calls economic independence for women. It seemed to be measured by participation in the workforce. And that didn’t sit well with me. We have more and more participation of women in the workforce here in America, and we all see that we are not free. We are hanging by a thread to our autonomy over our own health care choices. And being an Eritrean American, I have seen the posters celebrating the women soldiers that helped to liberate the country from Ethiopia. On the surface, the military participation of women is championed as a victory in terms of gender equality, but gender equality was never the goal and it was never truly the outcome. When we look at the failed socialist states that supposedly pushed for women’s participation in the workforce, or in the military, it was governments needed more bodies. Period. They needed more bodies to work, more bodies to pick up arms. So yes, if that meant they had to better educate women, or create these networks of the childcare facilities, laundries, etc.
And in listening to interviews with the author, I think she fully aware of this criticism and gets it. She is aware that governments often have ulterior motives in pushing for women’s participation in the workforce. But she is solidly of the belief that women’s freedom comes from our ability to get outside of the home and to work. And, I am not sure about that. To me, that vision of freedom sounds like it is still rooted in the patriarchy. But I would love to hear from you all on that one. Especially if you have an inclusive theory on feminism that includes more than heterosexual white women. Please educate me, I am always interested to learn!
So that’s a book summary on this book, Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism: And Other Arguments for Economic Independence. The subtitle is probably a more accurate name for the book “arguments for economic independence.” The text isn’t the easiest to read, at times, it felt like an academic paper. But don’t take my word for it, like everything else you hear on this podcast, form your own opinion. Consider the conversations here to be a teaser, a sampler platter to decide what you might want to order for your own meal.
I’ll include links, including an excerpt of the book if you want a sample before you commit to the whole book.