Sex and socialism.
Updated: Dec 27, 2022
TLDR; capitalism upholds the patriarchy.
I recently read the book Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism And Other Arguments for Economic Independence by Kristen Ghodsee, and tbh it was pretty mind-blowing.
First and foremost, it’s wild to me how capitalism is portrayed in US public education as the only viable way to structure an economy, and how challenging capitalism is considered blasphemy. (Like, it literally used to get people thrown in jail.)
Second, this booked helped me understand that what we take for granted as “just the way things are” in terms of financial inequality between men and women is, actually, only the way things are under capitalism.
The short version of this story is that women are financially disadvantaged under capitalism, which makes them reliant on men for financial stability and resources, which then perpetuates sexist and unequal treatment of women by men.
Did you know that a lot of western men complained that “Eastern Bloc women” were too difficult to impress and date, during Eastern Europe’s socialist era last century? Those women had their own money, and therefore required that their chosen male partners had to come to the table with well-developed internal qualities like being interesting, warm, and kind.
It was, apparently, too much work for western men, who were used to showing up only with money and status, and expecting that to be enough.
When women have less access to financial resources and opportunities than men (as is true under capitalism) then it becomes prudent for women to get themselves “sponsored” by a man, either through a socially acceptable contract like marriage, a sugar daddy/baby arrangement, or through a direct exchange like sex work.
Women, having been financially disadvantaged for so long, have historically sought out men with money and material resources, because it was the only way they could acquire those things for themselves.
Which means that historically, western men didn’t have to be interesting or kind to acquire access to a woman’s body or affection; they only needed to offer financial resources or stability.
Capitalism has effectively turned all heterosexual intimacy into a business transaction.
Let’s consider the transactional agreement of a man paying a woman for sex work. It’s a straightforward exchange of financial resources for access to her body and attention, right? Marriage isn’t all that different.
Back in the day, a man had to prove that he had “made something of himself” and was wealthy enough to support a family in order to gain exclusive access to a woman’s sexuality via marriage. He showed up with the money to support them, and she showed up with a willingness to fuck (and nurture) only him.
Can you see how this transaction might alter the way each person showed up? How a man might feel entitled to his wife’s emotional and sexual care (and she might feel obligated to give it) but he wouldn’t feel obligated to give it back to her, and she wouldn’t feel like she deserved to receive it in return?
I wonder if the ghosts of that mentality can be seen in modern straight relationships, where the majority of men drag their feet about “helping out” with domestic and childcare duties, due to an unconscious an unexamined feeling that those are just… her responsibility? (See: the domestic duty gap.)
Not to mention the effect this mentality might have on the orgasm gap.
If a man pays a woman to have sex with him, would he (or should he) then also concern himself with her pleasure, and make sure she’s having a good time?
Well… do you concern yourself with whether your barista enjoys making your latte? Should you?
Once you’ve paid for your latte, your barista’s pleasure or enjoyment doesn’t really matter, just like most men would agree that having paid a woman for sexual favors, her pleasure or enjoyment in the exchange doesn’t really matter. (Beyond, I imagine, her pretending to “be into it” to make him feel desired.)
Add to that of course, the history in the west of believing that women didn’t enjoy sex and couldn’t have orgasms, which was considered “scientific fact” until the invention of the vibrator in the 1880s.
Capitalism has ensured that access to women’s bodies and sexualities are viewed as commodities to be bought or locked down by men in our culture, and that men are viewed as a walking potential mark, to be treated automatically with smiles and flirtation just in case he has something to offer.
We still see men buying pretty girls drinks at the bar or paying for dates, and women feeling pressure to “put out” when he does, and I’ve spoken with quite a few stay-at-home moms who feel pressure to “earn their keep” with sex and domestic duties.
Since white women still only make 78 on the dollar on average compared to men, this kind of transactional male-female relationship is often the only or best option for many women. (And it’s even more true for black women, who only make 64 cents, and Latina women, who make 56 cents on the dollar on average.)
The idea that men’s value comes from their financial resources and social status is something that makes a lot of men feel stressed out an insecure (I’m told) so it’s not like this is good for men either.
But I think this idea can help explain why soooo many men might feel entitled to the bodies, time, attention, gratitude, and sexual favors from women, once they bestow their resources and status upon them.
I mean, if a man buys a woman dinner on a date, and they go home together, doesn’t it kind of make sense that some old narrative about the transactional nature of the thing would make him feel entitled to sex, even if he doesn’t consciously think that way?
I wonder how much shitty male behavior comes from the implicit and unconscious belief that he showed up and met his end of the bargain, and now it’s her turn?
I have often wondered how otherwise “good guys” can end up hurting women with sexual pushiness and coercion, but I’ve seen it thousands of times. Perhaps this is why— without even realizing it, a man is unconsciously trying to cash in on his investment?
This might explain a lot of sexual harassment and domestic violence, too. Men feel entitled to women’s time and attention, and when they don’t get it, they have a tendency to get angry and violent.
Personally, I am fully committed to the belief that men are not born acting like entitled, violent shitheads. This is learned behavior, socialized into them.
Which makes me wonder about what things might be made possible for gender equality if we let go of the capitalism-is-the-only-way mindset clung to so tightly in the west.
If we’re really committed to fighting the patriarchy, maybe we need to consider another way.
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