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We Can Do Better Than Gender-Naturalizing Feminism


In The New Inquiry, Sophie Lewis reviews Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism: And Other Arguments for Economic Independence by Kristen R. Ghodsee. Originating in a 2017 New York Times article that went viral, Ghodsee books uses research into the sex lives of East German women to argue that social-democratic policies like paid family leave and universal healthcare allow women to live freer and more satisfying lives. As Lewis writes, Ghodsee’s vision of liberation is laudable but severely limited. It not only leaves unaddressed certain social structures that contribute to women’s oppression, such as the nuclear family and heterosexual gender roles. It also has very little to say about the liberation of queer folks and others who don’t fit neatly in the category “women.” Here’s an excerpt:

If we follow Ghodsee in averring that there is “truth,” no matter how contingent a kind of truth, in the sexual-economics model, there are several premises we must accept. First, we can’t disagree all that much with the assumption that “women’s sex drives are weaker than men’s” (even though that is nonsense). Second, we have to accept the idea not only of a non-labor-based commodity but of a sex-price set by nature —set by men’s gaze itself—since for Baumeister and Vohs, “the price of sex varies with the perceived desirability of the woman offering it.” How else would this unimaginably complex metric manage to achieve an equalized aggregate of varying tastes, rendering the desires of woman-desirers fungible and modulating them according to geopolitical trends? Third, we must bracket the sex industry and throw its workers under the bus. “Many will argue that there’s nothing morally wrong with sex work,” states Ghodsee backhandedly, but it “is not sex-positive empowerment for women.” (Who really argues that work is empowering, though? Not any sex workers that I know of.) Ghodsee has said in an interview that “sex work is work,” but nothing about her intervention suggests she has integrated that knowledge into her thought. She is neither able nor willing to center sex workers qua sex workers as part of the constituency of working-class women.

Image: Still from the 1982 Hungarian film Egymásra Nézve (For one another). Via