According to one Penn professor, women living under socialist governments enjoy better sex.
Russian and East European Studies professor Kristen Ghodsee recently wrote the book, "Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism: And Other Arguments for Economic Independence." In the book, Ghodsee argues that when there is greater social security, women are better able to make more independent choices and have more personal freedom.
“When there are larger social safety nets in place … like health care, education, childcare, and job protected maternity leaves, women do not have to marry for money,” Ghodsee said. “They can actually choose their partners based on who they like rather than who will pay their rent.”
The book's title is based on research by German sociologists, which was conducted after the Berlin Wall fell and gave researchers an opportunity to look at how different political systems can affect a previously homogenous population. After the fall of the wall, formerly Communist East Germany merged with West Germany in 1990 to become a unified nation.
“Sexuality just happened to be one of the things that they were studying, but they were studying everything about how 40 years of capitalism versus socialism would change the way you thought as a person,” Ghodsee said.
The Penn professor said her previous experience teaching a Sex and Socialism class at Penn helped ease the writing process.
College sophomore Shana Vaid, who took Ghodsee's class last semester, described it as "very informative and also very fun," citing her interest in learning about the relationship between socialism and feminism.
Ghodsee's interest in Eastern Europe sparked in high school, when boys in her Model United Nations club would not give her a country with veto power in the security council — leading her to becoming an Eastern Bloc specialist.
Before becoming a professor, Ghodsee took a detour from her academic career and dropped out of college, citing her fear of nuclear disaster towards the end of the Cold War.
“The world is going to end and I'm going to be sitting in some classroom taking a chemistry exam," Ghodsee said. “So I'm out of here, I'm just gonna go, and I basically dropped out of college and bought a one way ticket to Spain.”
Ghodsee maintained her interest in Eastern Europe, spending the summer of 1990 in the region shortly after the Berlin Wall fell. She began graduate school knowing that she wanted to continue studying the region.
Through her work as an Eastern European Studies professor, Ghodsee was asked to write an op-ed for the New York Times on women's lives under Communism, based on an essay from her previous book.
The op-ed was published amid a frenzied national atmosphere, at the same time as the violent 2017 Charlottesville white nationalist protests.
Because of the nature of the piece and the coincidence of the date of publication, Ghodsee received extreme reactions.
“[There were] death threats, rape threats, all sorts of crazy, people went crazy —I mean really really, crazy. It was on Fox News,” Ghodsee said.
After the op-ed, she was approached by a publisher to write "Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism" and to expand on the female Communist experience — although some academics warned her not to write it.
“They thought that it was stupid for me to do it,” Ghodsee said. “I had to speak to people in a way that they could understand, and a lot of my colleagues I think frown on that.”
Penn professor of Russian and East European Studies Mitchell Orenstein was also one of the colleagues who encouraged her to write the book and expand on her controversial NYT op-ed.
"I think in the short op-ed piece, the claim came off as kind of sensational and very controversial, and she wasn't able to really develop the arguments she wanted to make," Orenstein said.
Since the book was published in November 2018, Ghodsee has been accused of wanting a new communist regime, but she said that is far from the truth.
“This is not a book that's advocating that we should go back to any form of 20th century communism or 20th century state socialism,” Ghodsee said. “That experiment was the failure, and there's no doubt about that.”
The book advocates for socialist policies that are present in Scandinavian countries such as job-protected paid maternity leave, federal subsidized child care, universal pre-kindergarten education, and gender quotas in politics and businesses.
“These are things that we can all institute that would make people's lives better — there are very concrete things that I talk about in the book,” Ghodsee said. “And the question is just the political will to do them.”
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