Sex and socialism: what happens when women’s needs matter

Among the other effects of socialism: twice as many orgasms. In a quite riveting piece, we are told

“.. it was so easy for women before the Wall fell,” Daniela Gruber, East Germany, told me, referring to the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989. “They had kindergartens and crèches, and they could take maternity leave and have their jobs held for them. I work contract to contract, and don’t have time to get pregnant.”

This generational divide between daughters and mothers who reached adulthood on either side of 1989 supports the idea that women had more fulfilling lives during the Communist era. And they owed this quality of life, in part, to the fact that these regimes saw women’s emancipation as central to advanced “scientific socialist” societies, as they saw themselves.

The author of this fascinating piece, however, thinks we cannot achieve the same situation today. I myself am doubtful of her explanation of the obstacles:

Some liberal feminists in the West grudgingly acknowledged those accomplishments but were critical of the achievements of state socialism because they did not emerge from independent women’s movements, but represented a type of emancipation from above. Many academic feminists today celebrate choice but also embrace a cultural relativism dictated by the imperatives of intersectionality. Any top-down political program that seeks to impose a universalist set of values like equal rights for women is seriously out of fashion.

4 thoughts on “Sex and socialism: what happens when women’s needs matter

  1. The problem is that feminists in the West haven’t focused on workplace issues—and to the extent that they’ve paid any attention at all to women’s position in the labor force it’s been about about wage gaps and glass ceilings for just a few women—educated, upper middle class professionals. There is virtually no effort directed to address sex segregation in the non-college-graduate labor market which excludes working class women from blue collar jobs and locks them into service sector womenswork where overcrowding depresses wages and degrades working conditions.

  2. It was an interesting piece, but seemed to me to give a really very cherry-picked view. For example, in the largest and most well known socialist country at the time, the Soviet Union, the joke was that there was “no sex in Russia”, and talking with people I knew when I lived there (after the fall of the Soviet Union, but within easy memory) there was no impression that the place was full of better sex then what came later. One big reason for this was that housing was really scarce, so people had little privacy. Even if you are not worried about having a job (you may be spending a huge amount of time standing in lines, and that’s not so non-stressful!) if you have to come home and share a one bedroom apartment with your in-laws, that may not lead to such a hot sex life. Similarly, if, like most women in the Soviet Union (and many other eastern block countries) you can’t get birth control, it’s nice that abortions are easy to get, but not everyone wants to have 3-5 abortions, as was common among Soviet women. (If you were Romanian, you couldn’t even get an abortion.) So, color me unconvinced that actually existing socialism was super great for the sex lives of most women living under it. I say this as someone who actually has a fair amount of sympathy for the Soviet experience, and think something important was lost with it. (In addition, homosexual sex was deeply repressed in pretty much all of these countries, so if you were not straight, it’s very unlikely that you were having better sex.)

    (This also leaves aside some other significant hardships for women in these countries, nicely documented by Slavenka Drakulic, among others, like the near total lack of feminine hygiene products under communism for most women. This is at most imperfectly correlated with the sex life in those countries, but still the sort of thing to throw doubt on some of these claims.)

  3. As someone who lived in Poland before the wall fell, I am also unconvinced by the ‘better sex’ argument. I’m much more convinced about the benefits of socialism for workplace issues such as maternity leave, which were admittedly great. But hand-in-hand with kidergartens and creches and maternity leave went the heavy expectation that women must want to have and must have children in the first place. Lastly, the fact that kindergartens and creches and leaves from work were (and are) seen as resources **for women** only underscores the sexism inherent in socialist (and pretty much all) countries.

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