Was Socialism Sexy?
April 9, 2019 11:39 AM   Subscribe

80% of women living in communist East Germany always reached orgasm during sex, according to the Hamburg magazine Neue Revue in 1990. For West German women that figure was only 63%. [...] In short, they claimed, women had better sex under socialism than under capitalism because socialism treated women better.
posted by infini (68 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite


 
The sex was so good they stampeded into Austria to escape it.
posted by ocschwar at 11:51 AM on April 9 [43 favorites]


From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.
posted by gimonca at 12:14 PM on April 9 [37 favorites]


What an interesting article! It really highlights the difference between popularization ("women categorically had better sex under socialism, also the downsides of Cold War communism weren't really that bad") and scholarly work ("in Eastern Europe communism opened up space for women and queer people to effectively contest patriarchy and homophobia and to gain advantages rare in the West, even in a context of other kinds of repression").

It is frustrating (and I'm sure it's frustrating for scholar and popularizer Ghodsee too) that you can't actually make a lot of headway with a complicated argument even if it's a good one. "Communist economic and political logics opened up space to win rights; we can learn from this in specific ways" is a really good argument, but if you want to write a book you have to be all "sex is better under communism", which seems to be broadly true but insufficient.

Ghodsee has a pretty neat publication record, as does the author of the article, Clowes Huneke and I'll definitely look for their work. I've been reading a bunch of Svetlana Alexievich lately, and it seems like, for instance, Ghodsee's Lost In Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life After Communism would be a good thing to read next. Clowes Huneke seems to do a lot of queer history, and that seems to get left out of a lot of popular accounts of the Eastern Bloc.
posted by Frowner at 12:17 PM on April 9 [40 favorites]


"sex is better under communism", which seems to be broadly true

Does it? That assertion is based on 2 studies from East Germany in 1984 and 1988 and a study from a West German magazine in 1990. I'm really wondering about the data points from East Germany in these studies. In the land where the Stasi were always watching, were people really giving truthful answers about a topic that touches on the party-line superiority of socialism?
posted by Sangermaine at 12:24 PM on April 9 [32 favorites]


I'm really wondering about the data points from East Germany in these studies. In the land where the Stasi were always watching, were people really giving truthful answers about a topic that touches on the party-line superiority of socialism?

That was my thought. The article left me wondering how comfortable people felt expressing dissatisfaction about their lives.
posted by betweenthebars at 12:32 PM on April 9 [16 favorites]


If you enjoyed this article, you might also like this interview with the author on the Season of the Bitch podcast.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 12:41 PM on April 9 [2 favorites]


Betteridge’s Law applies to both sides of the Iron Curtain.
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:44 PM on April 9 [4 favorites]


I guess my thoughts are these:

Ghodsee seems like someone who has studied everyday life under communism in Eastern Europe pretty extensively and who has given a lot of thought to ethnography and how people describe their lives. It looks like she's actually written a book about how women in Bulgaria were able to transition to capitalism better than men were precisely because of the sexism they experienced under communism, so it's not even like she's out there blowing some kind of uncritical horn. I suppose that she could either be a blinkered ideologue or simply not understand surveys, but I think it's reasonable to assume that she's considered the nature of the surveys in question.

And

One of the distinctions between criticizing communism and "anti-communist hysteria" is the ability to recognize that communist governments have interests both in perpetuating their own authority/power/surveillance/etc and in running a functioning society. It's true that they want the functioning society to be communist and happy about it, but that's not to say that they have nothing but a cynical interest in pretend happiness. That is, not everything is a totalitarian plot just because it happens under a communist government, any more than, eg, Medicaid is a capitalist plot because it was developed by and is administered under capitalism. I don't think that it's reasonable to dismiss out of hand every survey/study/piece of data generated by communists under communism unless you're also going to dismiss out of hand every analogous thing generated under capitalism.

Also, bureaucracies always have competing factions and competing interests and draw different kinds of people. One of the things I've taken from reading, for instance, Secondhand Time is that there were plenty of communist government workers who really believed in and strove to forward small-c communism,and there were plenty of others who were doctors or researchers who pursued their professions honestly and sincerely regardless of how they felt about communism.
posted by Frowner at 12:45 PM on April 9 [34 favorites]


"Comrade Becker is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful lover I've ever known in my life."
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:47 PM on April 9 [14 favorites]


So the book The Lavender Scare argues the second red scare in America was actually a moral panic about homosexuality - if only by the numbers more people got fired from the state dept on suspected homosexuality then got fired for supposed communist sympathies - and they have a lot of the op-eds at the time and they’re not blunt about it being a culture war, if the government is going to hire more women and pay them as well as men then they won’t be dependent on a male breadwinner and might start to develop deviant activities ...which was communism, somehow.

It’s like that Don’t Bang Norway or whatever guide that horrifying racist rapist put out that his pick up and coercion tactics didn’t work at all in social democratic states as opposed to countries with huge gaps between the rich and poor and strictly defined gender roles.
posted by The Whelk at 12:48 PM on April 9 [25 favorites]


communist governments have interests both in perpetuating their own authority/power/surveillance/etc and in running a functioning society

Only insofar as it functions to perpetuate the former.
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:49 PM on April 9 [2 favorites]


I suppose that she could either be a blinkered ideologue or simply not understand surveys, but I think it's reasonable to assume that she's considered the nature of the surveys in question.

No one accused her of being a "blinkered ideologue", that's weirdly accusatory. It's just that there is very good reason to suspect the information in these surveys given the nature of East Germany, especially in this time period. Maybe she goes into this in her book, I don't know, but it doesn't seem like information to be taken at face value without knowing how free the participants actually were to answer.

That is, not everything is a totalitarian plot just because it happens under a communist government

But the problem is you can't know what is or what isn't, which is the point. The Stasi were infamously thorough and effective even among the totalitarian Communist states. It's very hard to believe that a survey could be conducted in the 1980s without them knowing and tracking it, a fact which the participants would well know.

I don't think that it's reasonable to dismiss out of hand every survey/study/piece of data generated by communists under communism unless you're also going to dismiss out of hand every analogous thing generated under capitalism.

Yes, it's very reasonable to do both. I would be equally suspicious of a survey conducted by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in the 60s that shows that smokers overwhelmingly make better lovers.

there were plenty of communist government workers who really believed in and strove to forward small-c communism,and there were plenty of others who were doctors or researchers who pursued their professions honestly and sincerely regardless of how they felt about communism.

Sure, and there were also massively powerful, ubiquitous state security agencies hovering over them that would affect their behavior no matter how sincere their intentions.

You seem to be doing the same thing Ghodsee does in her book regarding the threat of state repression. You can't just handwave these concerns away. Without knowing how free people were to answer these surveys, the data is suspect no matter how good-hearted and sincere the participants or researchers were.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:56 PM on April 9 [15 favorites]


The article is kind of weird in that it suggests that the fact that communist regimes were changed by public opinion makes those changes less communist. I can't even understand that reasoning. If women within a communist system demand change, that change remains within the system, or what?
And also, I can believe that a comparison between East and West German women will come out with the East Germans having better sex, mostly because, as it says in the article, Cold War West Germany was not a good place for women. That whole society was built on the same family values as those of the Nazis, and even today older women are struggling, because the West German system was built on the mens' insurances.
I remember anecdotes of East German Women being very liberated and self-assured.

But if you'd compare East German women with French or Swedish or Dutch women, you might not get the same results. So it's maybe not so much communism being better than capitalism as it is about how society, regardless of the economic system, values gender equality and sexual freedom.
posted by mumimor at 1:06 PM on April 9 [12 favorites]


80% of women living in communist East Germany always reached orgasm during sex, because doing so was ideologically correct and thus strict party policy.
posted by Wolfdog at 1:36 PM on April 9 [6 favorites]


So the thesis is that women pre-emptively faked orgasms because they suspected they might fill out a future survey, and were worried they were going to be targeted for undermining communism if they didn't do so?

And presumably 80% was only the first year, because next time round the remaining 20% had been disappeared by the Stasi, operating in Bulgaria for some reason.

Also, there's certainly no way in which such a survey conducted in a capitalist country could be affected by fear and propaganda, because we are all perfectly at liberty, and women are never censured for not meeting society's demands of them.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 2:22 PM on April 9 [20 favorites]


Also, "We have no sex in the USSR".
posted by peeedro at 2:23 PM on April 9 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised the article doesn't directly mention the availability of contraception in East Germany.
posted by mikeh at 2:30 PM on April 9 [9 favorites]


Is it possible to take any social science research conducted in an Eastern Bloc country at face value?
posted by JamesBay at 2:41 PM on April 9 [3 favorites]


Is it possible to take any social science research conducted in an Eastern Bloc country at face value?

No. It's not possible to take any social science research, or indeed any research, at face value. That's why literature reviews exist.
posted by howfar at 2:45 PM on April 9 [17 favorites]


Da.
posted by clavdivs at 2:47 PM on April 9


Comrades know about the clitoris!
posted by nofundy at 3:01 PM on April 9 [2 favorites]


So the thesis is that women pre-emptively faked orgasms because they suspected they might fill out a future survey, and were worried they were going to be targeted for undermining communism if they didn't do so?

Presumably the thesis is that they just exaggerated on the surveys. But yeah I agree that this isn't a problem unique to these historical circumstances. And it's not obvious to me without further context whether this was a mark that survey respondents would have been trying to hit. I mean, did they know the BRD was only reaching 63 percent? If they were just trying to make Communism look good, why 80 percent, and not, say, 95 percent?

I think a safer approach is just to note that self-reported sex studies from 35 years ago ought to be read with caution, in general.
posted by atoxyl at 3:17 PM on April 9 [11 favorites]


What kind of person lies to a survey? How can I ever trust anyone again?
posted by some loser at 3:40 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


Ich can kein satisfaction haben. 🙆🔫👮🔦📢🔌📡
posted by Oyéah at 3:45 PM on April 9 [5 favorites]


A measure that reinforces the more-gender-equality-under-Communism argument is STEM PhDs.

Soviet Russia Had a Better Record of Training Women in STEM Than America Does Today

In Romania, Vestiges of Communism Boost Women in Tech

"In East Germany, women had been independent for several generations and worked just like men. It was in the West that I discovered the problem of inequality in the world of work."

Etc.

Now I just need to show that more STEM degrees lead to more orgasms, and you'll all be able to stop arguing about whether people lie on surveys.
posted by clawsoon at 3:48 PM on April 9 [19 favorites]


> Is it possible to take any social science research conducted in an Eastern Bloc country at face value?

No. It's not possible to take any social science research, or indeed any research, at face value. That's why literature reviews exist.


I read the link, I don't see the results of the literature review. I guess I could track down Ghodsee's book, but I thought that you might have a link to the review yourself.

FWIW, I'm not "anti-socialist" or whatever, and I realize the West has its own serious problems, but it seems ridiculous to take a study conducted in 1984 in East Germany at face value.
posted by JamesBay at 3:55 PM on April 9 [2 favorites]


Given the heavy cultural baggage in the West placed on women who enjoy sex, perhaps it's ridiculous to take those survey results at face value, too.
posted by clawsoon at 4:02 PM on April 9 [8 favorites]


Comrades know about the clitoris!

So that's what that whole "CCCP" thing was about.
posted by clawsoon at 4:03 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


Bothsiderism didn’t work any better in 1984.
posted by Celsius1414 at 4:12 PM on April 9 [5 favorites]


FWIW, I'm not "anti-socialist" or whatever, and I realize the West has its own serious problems, but it seems ridiculous to take a study conducted in 1984 in East Germany at face value.

Umm, I get what you are saying, and in a way I agree, but things were just far more complicated. It's not like nothing worked in the East Block, actually my first impression of the US (in 1986) was that it was almost exactly like the East Block, except for the rich people. The rich people in the East were like Sovjet bureaucrats' images of rich people. Like Donald Trump. OK, scratch that, now I've confused myself.

Anyway, statistics were done in East Germany, and sometimes they were dependable. You'd never know when.
posted by mumimor at 4:23 PM on April 9 [9 favorites]


As someone who grew up in an EE country (albeit not Estern Germany), I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear that people in my own country had better sex than people in a random western country, say the UK. For my country, reasons have pretty much zit to do with this grotesque idea that women under communism lived so much better than their western equivalents, and more with things such as: nothing much to do in your free time other than read, socialize, or ... have sex; dreadful economy in which you could easily go to work day after day and have nothing much to do other than chat to colleagues, and the paradoxically peaceful feeling of knowing that there is not much you can do about the tremendously shitty situation you find yourself in.

And yes, people routinely lied, in surveys and everywhere else, too, in a way that has sunk in to the bone to the point where every single piece of advice about honesty in relationships on AskMefi tells me that every single person on Metafilter lives a life of privilege when it comes to state suraillance, including surveillance via those nearest and dearest. The fact that anyone on Metafilter sees fit to dispute that just shows that there is a vast sea of ignorance re. life in former communist states, carefully cultivated.

This

One of the distinctions between criticizing communism and "anti-communist hysteria" is the ability to recognize that communist governments have interests both in perpetuating their own authority/power/surveillance/etc and in running a functioning society.


Is just ... honestly, wilfully naive. Do you have any idea what a functioning society means in a dictatorship? Do you have any idea what your whitewashing of criminal regimes does to people who have lifelong PTSD from being born there, growing up there, living there? Can you understand what it means to live in a place where 15% of the population was in political prison, being tortured in ways that make Guantanamo Bay look like a picnic on a seashore? Not to speak of the numbers who were vanished in the mental health system? Where 14-year-old girls were imprisoned and savagely beaten for wearing jeans? The women's paradise in which you could go to prison for trying to procure contraceptives and where you had to stick wire coathangers into your vagina to get rid of unwanted pregnancies (and yes, that film is seen like a documentary in my circles - most of my friends cannot see it because of flashbacks)? Where you had to prostitute yourself - as a respectable teacher, no less, if you wanted a hot shower or something to eat that is more than soured bread with a dead mouse in the middle, that you carefully eat around? Where you ever in the situation of getting your protein from a morsel of flabby, rancid fat and gristle and count yourself lucky, knowing that it has to last you a month, but at least you've already lost your teeth from malnutrition, so that's OK?

And this on a website which seems to be devoted entirely to dscussing at ever greater lengths the failings of the American system, which look like PARADISE comparatively. Where you have to avoid any vague suggestion that maybe not all men are arseholes, and maybe not everything about western society should be burned to the ground - but the fact that excuses are regularly made for a system that outright killed hundreds of thousands in torture in my country alone has to always, always be greeted with awe and respect.

But don't worry about showing some common decency to people who might read whatever odes to communism you feel like writing - most of them have long gone and I seem to be one of the last idiotic holdouts. Thanks for lionizing my abusers.

Thanks for a sleepless night. Thanks for triggering my PTSD.
posted by doggod at 4:50 PM on April 9 [62 favorites]


I've mentioned before, that--as bad as the whole communist era, cold war, etc etc etc etc, were--there certainly were some positive dynamics at work in the whole 'competition' between democracy/capitalism and communism that was at work during that era.

Each side was trying to outdo the other in a large number of dimensions, from public welfare to economic growth to military strength to science, technology, and culture. All those things were real competitions--ie, competitions to actually be better than the other side in those various areas--but also to a very large degree, PR/propaganda competitions played out on a world stage.

It's in that sense I would worried about the integrity of the East German survey data. Government functionaries would have been under strong pressure to make the east look better than the west (and particularly the DDR look better than the GDR) on just about every topic looked at. Studying scientific output? Communism better look better than capitalism. Art & culture? Same. Sex? Same--why not? The propaganda line was that their way of life was better in literally every dimension.

Militating in favor of accurate data though is that countries like East Germany really did pride themselves on being tight and well run, and did in fact foster and train top-notch scientific and technical people. They certainly had the knowledge and know-how to do a this type of study right.

And the propaganda twist might be more likely to happen in the sense that negative results (of which there were certainly very many) tend to be deep-sixed, whereas any positive result is given the full PR treatment.

At any rate, I wouldn't automatically just jump to the conclusion that any such data gathered is suspect, any more so any any similar data gathered by any similar governmental entity. You'd have to really examine the specifics carefully.
posted by flug at 4:52 PM on April 9 [2 favorites]


Maybe it’s just that alienation is really bad for orgasms.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:20 PM on April 9 [3 favorites]


I'm not going to search for it at work but I'm surprised no one's linked Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industry's contribution to this topic.
posted by kenko at 5:22 PM on April 9 [2 favorites]


Boring Television programming in the Eastern Bloc...
I think the restrictions on interesting entertainments & lively cultural diversions is also a significant factor in this equation.
posted by ovvl at 5:35 PM on April 9


So the book The Lavender Scare argues the second red scare in America was actually a moral panic about homosexuality - if only by the numbers more people got fired from the state dept on suspected homosexuality then got fired for supposed communist sympathies - and they have a lot of the op-eds at the time and they’re not blunt about it being a culture war, if the government is going to hire more women and pay them as well as men then they won’t be dependent on a male breadwinner and might start to develop deviant activities ...which was communism, somehow.

related song
posted by eviemath at 6:13 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


> more with things such as: nothing much to do in your free time other than read, socialize, or ... have sex; dreadful economy in which you could easily go to work day after day and have nothing much to do other than chat to colleagues, and the paradoxically peaceful feeling of knowing that there is not much you can do about the tremendously shitty situation you find yourself in.

On the one hand I know your lived experience is of something more serious than what you describe, but on the other hand your description of life under late communism sounds so much better than my relatively privileged (though not quite so privileged as to allow me to not feel precarious) life under capitalism.

I don’t like stuff. Cars leave me cold, nice clothes leave me cold, fancy computers and phones leave me cold, even (and I feel embarrassed admitting this) fancy food leaves me cold. I like books and conversations about books and I like sex, lots and lots of sex, and I like dreaming about having a spare small apartment that no landlord could ever chase me out of. I don’t like work for pay. I don’t find fulfillment in work for pay. Anything that I find fulfilling eventually stops being fulfilling and starts being an intolerable burden after a few months or years of doing it in exchange for money, without regard to how much or how little money I get for my work time.

The closest thing to a decent worthwhile job I’ve ever had have been the jobs where there’s not much to do and everyone just sits around bullshitting most of the time.

I am mortally tired of most luxuries beyond the luxury of friends and books and (most especially) unstructured time to enjoy my friends and books. Unstructured free time, great vast oceans of unstructured time, is the sweetest luxury I’ve ever known and it’s specifically the thing that late capitalism won’t give me.

For other reasons, the actually existing communism of the 20th century was miserable. But your description of why it seems miserable makes it seem like paradise, a paradise specifically tailored for me and people like me.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 6:42 PM on April 9 [6 favorites]


The blanket skepticism of all survey data (and, apparently, social science) published in the second world that some people are suggesting in this thread is curious. With a very small number of exceptions, I'm willing to wager that almost no one in this discussion has almost any factual knowledge about East Germany (and I include myself in this list!). Indeed, as a group, we are more likely to have some vague caricatures that are even worse than total ignorance.

Most of the people in this thread probably don't routinely disregard all research published under capitalist regimes because, say, researchers in capitalist states are existentially dependent upon a steady stream of new publications. We know that there is more, as Frowner suggests in an excellent post above, to life in the United States than all-prevading capitalism. But once we start talking about East Germany, we are left with nothing but our propaganda to fall back on. And I see this attitude constantly--it's baked in to the way we think about the entire second world: everything was corrupt, inept, incompetent. Everyone lied, etc. And yet the Soviets put the first human being in space. DId their scientists and engineers do that by lying constantly to each other? How did anyone get anything done at all? But this is all vague, precisely because I don't know anything about the conditions under which researchers might have produced a survey like this or women answered it. There's a more important point I want to make.

What is worse than all that--the automatic dismissal of studies published in East Germany, etc.--is the assumption that a widely published scholar who has devoted most of her life to ethnographic research in formerly socialist eastern Europe makes elementary, undergrad-level mistakes and has no idea how to examine her evidence critically. That is a kind of anti-intellectualism that I don't often see here. If we know how to assess the veracity of these survey results, but Professor Ghodsee, who has, according to her faculty page, published seven scholarly books, doesn't, then maybe we can't trust anything produced by American academia after all.
posted by a certain Sysoi Pafnut'evich at 6:52 PM on April 9 [23 favorites]


Oddly enough, when you start talking about the nastier elements of the old Warsaw Pact regimes certain folks tend to start loudly insisting that "those regimes weren't really socialist" - perhaps we should change the thesis to "state capitalism makes women orgasm more regularly?"

More seriously, I'd be interested in seeing data from non-European socialist (or "socialist", if you prefer) societies as well - if it's really a function of the form of economic organization, presumably we should see it in China, Cuba, post-reunification Vietnam, and North Korea as well?

I don't find it inherently crazy that a cruel and even misogynist regime might have weird side effects re: sexual life. Up through early modern times many Europeans believed that the female orgasm was required for pregnancy - and given the ferociously pro-natalist tone of the official ideologies of the time, that may have actually resulted in some more care taken in that direction.

But once we start talking about East Germany, we are left with nothing but our propaganda to fall back on.

Some people here may in fact be better read in, or even have direct experience of, this area of history. I don't disagree with the idea that giving the good professor the benefit of the doubt is a good principle to hold to, but maybe the same could be done with the folks in the thread (as well as the reviewer, who appears to have some chops himself in this department).

A friend of mine who I shared this article with recommended one of Ghodsee's other books: The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of Communism in Eastern Europe. Which I've picked up and thus far am kind of enjoying - it's at least part memoir, and she clearly loves the region of the world she's studying - the actual people and places (mainly Bulgaria, it seems?), I mean. Worth checking out. And I say that as someone with no particular interest in rooting around for anything good in Communism, 20th century or otherwise.
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:32 PM on April 9 [3 favorites]


Regardless, I'm going to make socialism sexy.

*sprays mouth, straightens suit*

Change will not come from above, eh comrade?
posted by The Whelk at 8:01 PM on April 9 [6 favorites]


I am mortally tired of most luxuries beyond the luxury of friends and books and (most especially) unstructured time to enjoy my friends and books. Unstructured free time, great vast oceans of unstructured time, is the sweetest luxury I’ve ever known and it’s specifically the thing that late capitalism won’t give me.

You might have had vast oceans of free time, if you had very little to offer the state. You might even have the luxury of books... that were approved by the state. I'm sure that would be the sweetest luxury, because that's probably all you would have. Sounds like heaven.

Most of the people in this thread probably don't routinely disregard all research published under capitalist regimes because, say, researchers in capitalist states are existentially dependent upon a steady stream of new publications. We know that there is more, as Frowner suggests in an excellent post above, to life in the United States than all-prevading capitalism. But once we start talking about East Germany, we are left with nothing but our propaganda to fall back on. And I see this attitude constantly--it's baked in to the way we think about the entire second world: everything was corrupt, inept, incompetent. Everyone lied, etc. And yet the Soviets put the first human being in space. DId their scientists and engineers do that by lying constantly to each other? How did anyone get anything done at all? But this is all vague, precisely because I don't know anything about the conditions under which researchers might have produced a survey like this or women answered it. There's a more important point I want to make.

You do realize we're talking about East Germany here?

If you wanted to decry the politicization of science from top to bottom, you'd easily find 20th century communist regimes among the finest examples. I suppose I'd hold research from all-pervading capitalist USA with great suspicion, too. If the US government decided upon, supervised and approved the research that was done. It would appear that the concept of academic freedom and autonomy as we understand it simply was not a thing in the communist countries we all know and love. Ghodsee's authority is not automatically granted. Perhaps she has the goods. Perhaps she's been hoodwinked. That's a pretty long tradition among academics when it comes to deciphering what was going on in places like Easter Bloc countries. The bottom line is that East German information, about East Germans, is immediately suspect and should be treated with great skepticism.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:03 PM on April 9 [6 favorites]


if we accept the premise that you can't trust studies from the GDR, maybe we can trust stats from modern day Germany that say that women earn close to what men do in former east Germany.
Across the Berlin Wall, things were very different. Melanie Alperstaedt, who grew up in West Berlin in the 1980s, says as a child, she aspired to be a housewife, like her mother, and all the adult women she knew. She says back then, it seemed “normal” that women would stay at home. So, learning about women's lives in East Germany was an eye-opener.

“I was really impressed how normal it was for women to go to work in the German Democratic Republic. And how much independence this brought for them,” she says. “I was so surprised because I was growing up in a totally different society.”

Today, Alperstaedt works for Berlin's DDR Museum, which tries to explain East Germany to a western audience. She says East Germany's gender-neutral approach to many jobs brought women authority and autonomy they didn't have in the West.

But, she points out, they still lived in a dictatorship. And it's not that East Germany was a feminist utopia. Women there still did most of the housework, and on average, still earned less than men.
It would actually be surprising if the romantic lives of East German women weren't better given what we in the West now take for granted about autonomy and happiness.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:44 PM on April 9 [6 favorites]


Is just ... honestly, wilfully naive. Do you have any idea what a functioning society means in a dictatorship? Do you have any idea what your whitewashing of criminal regimes does to people who have lifelong PTSD from being born there, growing up there, living there? Can you understand what it means to live in a place where 15% of the population was in political prison, being tortured in ways that make Guantanamo Bay look like a picnic on a seashore? Not to speak of the numbers who were vanished in the mental health system? Where 14-year-old girls were imprisoned and savagely beaten for wearing jeans? The women's paradise in which you could go to prison for trying to procure contraceptives and where you had to stick wire coathangers into your vagina to get rid of unwanted pregnancies (and yes, that film is seen like a documentary in my circles - most of my friends cannot see it because of flashbacks)? Where you had to prostitute yourself - as a respectable teacher, no less, if you wanted a hot shower or something to eat that is more than soured bread with a dead mouse in the middle, that you carefully eat around? Where you ever in the situation of getting your protein from a morsel of flabby, rancid fat and gristle and count yourself lucky, knowing that it has to last you a month, but at least you've already lost your teeth from malnutrition, so that's OK?

And this on a website which seems to be devoted entirely to dscussing at ever greater lengths the failings of the American system, which look like PARADISE comparatively. Where you have to avoid any vague suggestion that maybe not all men are arseholes, and maybe not everything about western society should be burned to the ground - but the fact that excuses are regularly made for a system that outright killed hundreds of thousands in torture in my country alone has to always, always be greeted with awe and respect.


All of this is terrible, but I don't think there are any tankies here denying the many horrors of life in the USSR. At the same time, it's not a pissing contest; what you are saying sounds like the reality facing many in America today, especially racialized minorities, and the Guantanamo comparison is in pretty bad taste (once again, not a pissing contest; trauma is trauma). You may feel like the American system is "paradise" in comparison because you are a white person who presumably came to America when "social mobility" still "worked" and have the trauma of your experience of life under Soviet communism to compare it to, but under neoliberal oligarcho-fascism it's hard to see how you can keep up the ruse that capitalism is the best possible system unless you have the privilege of not understanding the lived realities of a huge swath of Americans today (although obviously this extends far beyond the US), or, like many of those Americans, think that any real alternative inevitably leads to the conditions you're describing because the remnants of Red Scare persist and permeate American ideology. I am afraid of tankies and the like who idealize/romanticize the Soviet Union (and you know, some of those people actually did live in the USSR; people have different experiences), but implying that making room for nuance can only be a form of "whitewashing" strikes me as sort of totalizing...
posted by LeviQayin at 8:53 PM on April 9 [14 favorites]


everything was corrupt, inept, incompetent. Everyone lied, etc. And yet the Soviets put the first human being in space. DId their scientists and engineers do that by lying constantly to each other? How did anyone get anything done at all?

Bit of a straw man there, as the Soviet space program was quite a different thing from any sort of social science research; it was not only important for national prestige, but also for national defense, as the technology involved was both derived from and contributed to military rocketry (as was just as true in the US), and fudging the numbers could have catastrophic effects. Also:

The blanket skepticism of all survey data (and, apparently, social science) published in the second world that some people are suggesting in this thread is curious.

I see quite a lot of skepticism regarding social science in the first world on the blue, all the time.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:04 PM on April 9 [6 favorites]


> You might have had vast oceans of free time, if you had very little to offer the state. You might even have the luxury of books... that were approved by the state. I'm sure that would be the sweetest luxury, because that's probably all you would have. Sounds like heaven.

I direct your attention to every word in my comment aside from the ones you quoted.

The gdr sucked and the bolsheviks were jerks. All the best media there you could only get in illegal editions, and whereas you can (and should!) effectively avoid the west’s evil copyright police through diligent use of a vpn, dodging the stasi was much more difficult.

But a stable, simple life with books and sex and conversation and an absence of work isn’t a nightmare. It’s a dream. It’s the good life, in the highest possible sense, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:17 PM on April 9 [3 favorites]


Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon: have you considered going to prison? You would have a small room, a stable life, and some books to read. I'm pretty sure you could arrange for sex. Surely that would be the good life in the highest possible sense?
posted by happyroach at 9:55 PM on April 9 [11 favorites]


>“80% of women living in communist East Germany always reached orgasm during sex”

That number is incredulously high compared to modern sex surveys of any nationality and modern understanding of the frequency of orgasm. Doubling down on the effect of communism on orgasm seems like a weird conclusion when the alternate explanation about self-reporting error makes a hell of a lot more intuitive sense. Modern surveys don’t even find much of a correlation between orgasm frequency and societal acceptance of gender equality as far as I can tell. Not everyone elevates orgasm to be the most important outcome of sex.

I’ve lived in post-Soviet eastern Europe for only a few years now and I think doggod’s comment about Western privilege on Metafilter is worth rereading. The scars in the post-Soviet cultures are, indeed, bone deep and affect interpersonal trust in tangible ways to this day. https://www.metafilter.com/180336/Was-Socialism-Sexy#7676825
posted by Skwirl at 10:18 PM on April 9 [10 favorites]


Now I just need to show that more STEM degrees lead to more orgasms...

Well, if you rearrange the letters it does kind of sound like "smut."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:41 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


So do observations about the real life eastern bloc police states now allow conclusions about what happens when socialism is put into practice?
posted by mark k at 12:19 AM on April 10


Now I've RTFA for the second time, and it seems to me that prof. Ghodsee's research is interesting and of high quality, and that prof. Clowes Huneke's criticism is valid and interesting. What confused me at first reading is that both of them are too young to remember life during the Cold War on both sides of the iron curtain. That is fine, it doesn't disqualify their discussion at all, but for an old person like me makes everything read slightly off.

First of all, the Eastern Block was a political block, but there were huge differences in culture and quality of life among them then, as there is today, and as there is among all European countries. In a way, Ghodsee acknowledges this, and then she doesn't. There were and are much bigger differences between strongly Catholic Poland and strongly Protestant Eastern Germany than there are between New York and Texas, even though Germany and Poland are neighbors and have a deeply intertwined history. Bulgaria is in a whole other region and has a whole other history. Not everyone in the East had doggod's experiences and trauma.

Second, even though there was a significant political surveillance, with secret police, prisons, torture and even political murder, the main reason Eastern Europe was fenced in and controlled was the lack of economic opportunity in the East. Lots of people didn't care about the politics and were not troubled by the system, but they wanted more money, better jobs, better homes, cars etc. If there had been freedom of movement, millions would have moved away from the Warsaw Pact countries, like they did when the wall came down. When the wall came down, different things happened in different countries, from Die Wende in Germany to the war in former Yugoslavia, leading to different interpretations of what happened and what came before. A lot of people are nostalgic for DDR in Germany, simply because the material wealth they had dreamt of never happened. A lot of people are nostalgic for Yugoslavia because the war was a horrible slaughterhouse which dismantled a country that wasn't at all terrible in comparison with for instance neighboring Rumania.
A lot of old people in Eastern countries are nostalgic for the old times because shock therapy meant that they lost their already meager pensions or small wages and still live in abject poverty.
Finally, some people actually led good lives within the communist block. Even some of the dissidents had nice homes, summer houses, cars, jobs and travels, and while they disagreed with the communist ideology, they weren't hard core shock-therapy Conservatives.
So when you interview people in those countries, or read histories, you are going to get all sorts of nuance that can be lost in translation, and certainly in popularization.

I worked in Berlin during Die Wende, and I can assure you all that there were East German women who were shocked and very disappointed by the sexism and bad conditions for women in the West. They were used to being respected as professionals, to having access to childcare, and to having reasonable working hours. I was shocked, too. First I was slightly amused when a West German colleague insisted that we addressed her with her full title. Then I wasn't when I realized our clients didn't even look at the women in our group of friends and colleagues, much less took us seriously.

When I wrote above that I was surprised to find the US a lot more like the Eastern block than like Western Europe, I wasn't joking. As a child, I'd gone to an American school in Germany and had American teachers at another school in Denmark. I had a very idealized view of America from those experiences and from TV and movies. Arriving in the US in 1986, I was really surprised by the bureaucracy, the sad public buildings, the bad infrastructure, the apparent poverty, the lack of healthcare, the crime, all things you didn't see to the same degree in Western Europe at the time (it was coming to Britain, via Thatcher, but those were early years compared to what there is now). I'd seen it in Fascist Greece, Portugal, Spain as a child, and in East Germany where I also went for the first time that same year. It was a huge disappointment, and for me a forewarning of what was about to happen in Europe. I later moved to the US and learnt about all the nuances, and to love the many contradictions and wonders in America, but I guess this is a mirror-image of how I see the American discussion of Europe.

That I haven't travelled in East Germany before 1986 doesn't mean I didn't know anything. My German husband had cousins in the East. Lots of my friends traveled there, and lots of people from there traveled in the West. It was closed off, but not hermetically. We had dissidents from Poland visiting our high school when I was a teen. My granddad was friends with Lech Walesa, a Polish immigrant colleague at work was friends with the Pope. Several good friends of mine are from former Yugoslavia, and I went to Slovenia. I strongly believe that a lot of European people back then on both sides of the Iron Curtain were like me: their image of the West was Western Europe, with strong welfare states where everyone had basic rights to housing, food, jobs, education and health and freedom of movement and speech. I have friends who are nostalgic for that dream of Westernization, as a contrast to what actually happened in the East during the 1990's. Possibly including better sex.
posted by mumimor at 12:52 AM on April 10 [23 favorites]


The Soviet Scar produced by Al Jazeera English, about the effects of the Soviet system on Georgia and its legacy, is a good though far from comprehensive documentary. Yeah, it wasn't 100% bad, but it was pretty damn bad, to a degree that really must not be put aside in the envisioning of what might be implemented post-capitalism.
posted by XMLicious at 1:06 AM on April 10 [4 favorites]


While I could talk a bit from my family's experience, doggod summed it up quite neatly. And unstructured free time sounds fun until you realise that Pynchon's novels started to be translated into Polish in 1985 once the cultural censorship thawed a tiny bit. Before that, all those neat novels etc? You'd better have access to a Party member with a job that took him abroad, and the additional privilege to learn suspect foreign languages. Oh, and not do anything that could get your flat searched for contraband.

And just because I saw queer people roped in with women: do you really think an oppressive police state wouldn't weaponise queer oppression?
posted by I claim sanctuary at 2:14 AM on April 10 [7 favorites]


Socialism != Communism afaik

India was considered a socialist country from Independence in 1947 through to the early 1990s
posted by infini at 2:26 AM on April 10 [5 favorites]


Political arguments aside, the fact that some folks here seem to view an 80% orgasm rate for women having heterosexual intercourse as unrealistically high in any conceivable circumstances is pretty depressing. Also, I think I have a new useful weed-out question for dating.
posted by eviemath at 4:02 AM on April 10 [10 favorites]


Jesus, I am gobsmacked that anyone could read doggod's comment and come away with the conclusion that life in a communist country was some sort of paradise of endless book-reading and sex-having. That life in the comment is like yours in the West? You're on Metafilter, but you're also under constant state surveillance and eating bread with dead mice in it and moldy gristle? Really? Really? The hand-waving and lack of perspective is monstrous. You don't like cars, so it's totally better to live in a country where people live in constant fear of being tortured by the state for daring to voice criticism.
posted by schroedinger at 4:24 AM on April 10 [22 favorites]


Let's have a discussion about the legitimate differences in how women were viewed in some (not all!) Eastern Block countries, but wow, let's not let existential ennui get in the way of actual facts and lived experiences, OK?
posted by schroedinger at 4:28 AM on April 10 [7 favorites]


Yes, that comment was rather flippant.

But for the argument in the article, it is more important to know that there were different conditions in the different East Block countries, and the women who lived in the DDR and maybe, maybe not had more orgasms than their cousins in BDR, did not eat moldy bread with mice in it except in the first few years after WW2 (where lots of Europeans east and west ate moldy bread).

doggod's comment was heart-wrenching. But it wasn't really about the article in the FPP. It was maybe about mefites or maybe professor Ghodsee romanticizing communism, which is a valid point, but since most Americans in general have a very loose understanding of what communism/socialism/social democracy is, I'm still not so certain that doggod's or I claim sanctuary's lived experiences are completely to the point. I do think they are very relevant as reminders of why the system didn't work and why we don't want it back, though.
posted by mumimor at 4:42 AM on April 10 [8 favorites]


Yep, we're all great at nuance and all that here, what with the willful conflating of the entire Eastern Bloc going on here. The DDR was not Yugoslavia was not Russia, etc, etc. We're capable of recognising that Sweden and the US aren't the same, and that you can't generalise experiences from one to the other, but hey, any data point from anywhere in the USSR proves something about East Germany apparently.
posted by Dysk at 4:47 AM on April 10 [10 favorites]


The "I don't like cars" comment was in direct response to someone documenting experiences that gave them PTSD. Criticizing that comment is not the equivalent of conflating the entire Eastern Block and I'm not sure where you got that.

That said, I'm not sure why it is being considered out of line here to suggest that state and economic repression in East Germany was a thing and yes, was worse than what is faced in the USA.
posted by schroedinger at 5:58 AM on April 10 [6 favorites]


Thanks MeFi. I now have the image of screaming nude Frau Farbissina riding nude Dr. Evil like Slim Pickens on a nuke stuck in my head. Yee-haw, tovarich!
posted by zaixfeep at 7:41 AM on April 10


Political arguments aside, the fact that some folks here seem to view an 80% orgasm rate for women having heterosexual intercourse as unrealistically high in any conceivable circumstances is pretty depressing.

Relatedly, I've always felt a little confused, or maybe a little left out, by articles or conversations which seem to imply that the ideal sex experience for women should end in orgasm. Maybe my view has been soured a bit by the boyfriends of my 20s almost universally deploying that most annoying of all questions to receive in bed: "Did you come?!" It seemed to have a lot more to do with how they wanted to see themselves making me feel than how I wanted to feel. I mean, sometimes you just want to chill out, right?
posted by frobozz at 7:44 AM on April 10 [3 favorites]


any data point from anywhere in the USSR proves something about East Germany apparently.

Point of order: neither Romania or Poland were never in the USSR, and the Eastern Block consisted of the USSR and a whole bunch of satellite states with varying levels of ideology, oppression (e.g. Romania was I think the worst for reproductive rights, DDR for surveillance) and economic idiocy. Right now a lot of people in this thread are talking at the level of... I guess Polish kids discussing the States and deciding Texas sounds great because they've got Queen Elizabeth.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 7:51 AM on April 10 [5 favorites]


Someone above did link to a documentary about Georgia, though.

Somehow this has turned into a Metafilter proxy battle over something other than a discussion about the themes discussed in the article. I do think it is relevant to our time how the fall of the Sovjet Union and its satellites was and is perceived by those who lived through it, and I think the feminist angle is relevant and interesting because one rarely hears about that. I feel a lot of what is going on right now, both in Russia and in Europe including the UK are direct results of the mishandling of that historical moment by US ideologues. (And on the other hand, if one wants to understand the German stance on Brexit and the EU in general, look at who Merkel is).
Those who wholesale dismiss the value of all information from all of the states in the East Bloc are in my view avoiding relevant information and knowledge, which never seems to be an enlightened stance. Should we be critical? Yes, of course we should. Can we ever know the historical truth? No.

This particular research about sexuality compared between East and West-Germany sounds likely to align with the historical facts to me, because of my personal experiences and the general discussions about women's sexuality in those countries at that time. Where I was a living adult human with a lot of interaction with Germans from both countries.

Neither at the time or now does this research change my general opinions about GDR or the East Bloc.

And obviously I know about the horrors that went on in Romania at the same time, which were beyond the pale, but had almost nothing to do with the sex lives of Germans.

Some fun facts:
The Politics of Contraception in the GDR
posted by mumimor at 8:16 AM on April 10 [3 favorites]


"Political arguments aside, the fact that some folks here seem to view an 80% orgasm rate for women having heterosexual intercourse as unrealistically high in any conceivable circumstances is pretty depressing."

The scholarship on this is very inconsistent because there are strong biases everywhere and cultural attitudes vary across time and place. However, there are many reasons to be suspicious of generalizations at either extreme. I think the scientific consensus among sex researchers in the US is that female orgasm rates have increased significantly over the last sixty years, but it's a very tentative consensus. Virtually all such surveys have been self-reporting, and self-reporting of sexual practices is notoriously inaccurate. Cultural biases play a very strong role, both in reporting and in practice and sexual experience, and those have changed over time.

In North America, two things seem to be true: that the rate of female orgasm has increased over the last sixty years, and that rates of orgasm are relatively low for young women but increase with age. However, both of those could be the result of reporting bias. Even so, a causal relationship could exist in the opposite direction, that cultural and age-related variance in views about women's sexuality and orgasm changes over time which results in decreased body and sexual alienation and thus increased rates of orgasm. I think the causal relationship is bidirectional.

Also closely related are the rates of female masturbation found in surveys over this period. The patriarchal notion that women's sexuality exists solely for procreation and the pleasure of men heavily stigmatized female masturbation in the past and this is less true today. Sex researchers and therapists have found a strong inverse correlation between female masturbation and anorgasmia and so it makes sense that rates of female masturbation and female orgasm have increased in step over time, as the cultural attitude toward women's sexuality has become less hostile.

Important, too, is to consider selection bias among women with regard to perceived rates of orgasm understood anecdotally. This is related to the better understood bimodal clustering of numbers of sexual partners -- actual, reported, and perceived -- for both men and women: across the population, there's one peak just around ten, and then another peak at several times that number. But population self-selection and the social nuances of anecdotal discussion mean that each of the two populations are largely unaware of the other and wrongly assume that their cluster describes most people's experience. There's research that finds that this happens when women discuss orgasm/anorgasmia among themselves.

Finally, the other closely related cultural bias which has varied over the years is the notion that women's orgasms are necessarily and largely a function of male sexual performance -- it's very revealing that even today's less sexist and less sex-negative attitudes still places the agency of women's orgasms with men. The degree to which this is accepted is the degree to which it's a self-fulfilling prophecy...and male sexual awareness about women's sexuality was poor sixty years ago and isn't that much better today. Additionally, this bias and interaction almost certainly plays a significant role in how rates of female orgasm increase with age.

All of this is to say that strong assertions about female orgasm with regard to whole populations are very problematic -- both in veracity and in how such assertions play a role in establishing or maintaining cultural norms. This is true both here and now, but it's also especially true with regard to cross-cultural comparisons. Reliable data on rates of female orgasm have long been almost non-existent, and this is still largely true today.

With regard the post itself, given all this, I'm personally very skeptical of conclusions such as those presented -- not that I have any reason to believe or disbelieve the presumed causal relationship, but because all such data is questionable, and this is much more so when it's different sets of data with different methodologies.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:57 AM on April 10 [1 favorite]


For One Another

This is another review of the book. I listened to the Season of the Bitch episode first and was pretty excited to read the book, but my book group and I found it disappointing, and the New Inquiry review gets at a lot of the reasons why.
posted by clavicle at 10:06 AM on April 10 [2 favorites]


Ivan, that's a detailed response to the article, but entirely misses the point of my comment.
posted by eviemath at 4:04 PM on April 10 [3 favorites]


view an 80% orgasm rate for women having heterosexual intercourse as unrealistically high

As described in TFA, it's not an "80% orgasm rate." It's 80% of women have orgasms one hundred percent of the time, which would presumably put the orgasm rate at something close to 100%. The East German "When Harry Met Sally" scene would presumably involve Sally telling Harry how men always assume women know how to fake orgasms, but that it's something that doesn't happen.
posted by mark k at 7:35 PM on April 10


Thanks for that interesting link, mumimor! I really enjoyed the read.

The idea that a society, any given society, government, or institution, can be dead wrong on items a, b, and c while still doing a good job with item d and maybe even e on a good day doesn't seem far-fetched at all to me.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:31 PM on April 10 [2 favorites]


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