Second World, Second Sex

Socialist Women's Activism and Global Solidarity during the Cold War

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 42 illustrations Published: February 2019

Author: Kristen Ghodsee

European Studies > Eastern Europe and Russia, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, History > World History

Women from the state socialist countries in Eastern Europe—what used to be called the Second World—once dominated women’s activism at the United Nations, but their contributions have been largely forgotten or deemed insignificant in comparison with those of Western feminists. In Second World, Second Sex Kristen Ghodsee rescues some of this lost history by tracing the activism of Eastern European and African women during the 1975 United Nations International Year of Women and the subsequent Decade for Women (1976-1985). Focusing on case studies of state socialist Bulgaria and nonaligned but socialist-leaning Zambia, Ghodsee examines the feminist networks that developed between the Second and Third Worlds and shows how alliances between socialist women challenged American women’s leadership of the global women’s movement. Drawing on interviews and archival research across three continents, Ghodsee argues that international ideological competition between capitalism and socialism profoundly shaped the world women inhabit today.


"Kristen has written a very important book. Not just in terms of reminding us of an important aspect of women’s history,  but in allowing individual women to tell their story and show the price they have paid for their political activity."
  — Bernadette Hyland, Lipstick Socialist blog

"An engaging narrative of feminist movements during the Cold War. . . . [Ghodsee's] work is vital in documenting a neglected component of feminist history while illuminating a new resource for feminist theorists and activists interested in thinking about the political project of gender justice outside the confines of dominant, Western, liberal feminism. Recommended. Advanced undergraduates through faculty and professionals; general readers." — C. E. Rasmussen, Choice

"Second World, Second Sex is a must read for anyone hoping to understand the complexities of a global women’s rights movement that goes beyond the boundaries of Western, liberal feminism." — Tony Pecinovsky, People's World

"A powerful reminder that ultimately structural conditions are of prime importance if women’s emancipation is to succeed. . . . Ghodsee’s book ultimately reminds as, through the often moving testimonies of former activists she has collected, that women’s activism, also when attached to or even dominated the state, can be effective and progressive." — Tanja R. Müller, Twentieth-Century Communism

"Interrogating why the activities of women in countries with strong states promoting gender equality should be deemed inauthentic vis-à-vis those in democracies that perpetuate patriarchal norms, alongside rendering the Cold War as a battle between not just capitalism and communism but also competing visions of feminism, Second World, Second Sex is essential reading for anyone in any field interested in women’s activism in the twentieth century." — Christine Varga-Harris, Slavic Review

“Besides offering a masterful reconstruction of Cold War women’s activism and East-South alliances, Second World, Second Sex provides its readers with extensive and previously uncovered historical documentation, together with important methodological reflections on feminist knowledge production. The book will be of great interest for historians of gender, transnationalism, and the Cold War, and will undoubtedly expand the scope of scholarly research on transnational women’s and feminist history.”

— Chiara Bonfiglioli, American Historical Review

“… [Ghodsee’s] inspiring book not only brings up a forgotten fragment in the history of the global women’s movement but also reminds us of the existence of various feminist programs and the constant clash between them, nowadays transferred into the area of historical memory, as well as of the production of historical knowledge.” — Agnieszka Mrozik, H-Soz-Kult

Second World, Second Sex challenges the conventional wisdom of three-wave feminist history by documenting the critical interventions made by these women in service of a vision of women’s equality that was always already intersectional, and that refused to separate women’s issues from questions of neo-colonialism, racism, and economic re-distribution. Ghodsee’s book offers a helpful and instructive reminder of socialist feminism’s rich and global history of organization and action, a history that was created and fought for in large part by alliances of women from non-aligned and socialist countries during the Cold War, and whose memory is all too often erased from Western histories of the women’s movement during the ‘American century.’”

— Steven Gotzler, Lateral

“The Cold War’s end has seen the vision and achievements of the socialist women’s activists marginalized, devalued, and almost forgotten, the neoliberal consensus quickly undoing in the East and South many of the rights which had been so dearly won. Ghodsee articulates a concern that powerful forces in the West still conspire to suppress or delegitimize histories that take state socialist women’s activism seriously…. Ghodsee’s persistence and peerless scholarship have ensured that it will not be allowed to disappear from the mainstream narratives of feminism.”

— Dominic Martin, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Second World, Second Sex is an excellent account of women’s activism in Bulgaria and Zambia throughout the Decade for Women. Using oral history and archival sources, the author skillfully examines this forgotten Cold War history. Her work makes meaningful contributions to a range of historiographies, from activism, to feminism, to the Cold War. Her work is particularly meaningful because it places women in these Second World nations at the forefront of the narrative.” — Julianne H. Haefner, H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews

"Second World, Second Sex has to be strongly recommended not only to scholars in Slavic studies, feminist, gender and postcolonial studies, as well as international relations, but to all those who have high expectations of the current trend of re/connecting the feminist and the climate change movements, as well as the new global actions combating inequality, racism and violence against women and girls, as necessary actions to restore the political relevance to transnational women’s organizing efforts, as was the case in the 1970s and 1980s.” — Renata Jambrešic Kirin, Wagadu

“Brilliantly written…. Second World, Second Sex is a key historiographical intervention into the history of these conferences, and into the history of women in both Bulgaria and Zambia. It is a passionately written work and reminds the readers of the lost horizon of women’s emancipation which is tied to the abolition of private property as a commodity and the establishment of socialism. An important intervention in Marxist-feminist criticism, this book should be cited as an important secondary source for those who wish to further ideas about social reproduction, as well as the role of the state and internationalism.” — Brant Roberts, Houston Review of Books

“Powerfully rethinking a range of twentieth-century women's activism that has been reviled or denounced out of hand, Kristen Ghodsee refuses to position communist and socialist women's movements solely in relation to those in the West. She asks us to begin from another history, another frame of reference, and other political grounds—a difficult, sometimes uncomfortable, and ultimately valuable task. This is a brilliant, funny, surprising, and moving book.” — Elisabeth Armstrong, author of Gender and Neoliberalism: The All India Democratic Women’s Association and Globalization Politics

“In this ambitious and fascinating book Kristen Ghodsee makes visible and celebrates the communist, socialist, and non-Western women who played a central role in the UN's Decade for Women. With vivid, engaging, and rewarding writing, Ghodsee offers a compelling narrative and collection of stories that will be of great interest to scholars of women's activism during the Cold War.” — Maria Bucur, John W. Hill Chair of East European History and Professor of History and Gender Studies, Indiana University Bloomington


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Kristen Ghodsee is Professor of Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of eight books, including Red Hangover: Legacies of Twentieth-Century Communism, also published by Duke University Press, and most recently, Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism: And Other Arguments for Economic Independence.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Abbreviations and Acronyms  viii
Note on Translation and Transliteration  xiii
Acknowledgments  xv
Introduction. Erasing the Past  1
Part I. Organizing Women under Socialism and Capitalism
1. State Feminism and the Woman Question  31
2. A Brief History of Women's Activism in Domestic Political Context: Case 1: Bulgaria  53
3. Emancipated Women and Anticommunism in the American Political Imagination  76
4. A Brief History of Women's Activism in Domestic Political Context: Case 2: Zambia  97
5. Sandwiched between Superpowers  121
Part II. The Women's Cold War
6. The Lead-Up to International Women's Year  135
7. Historic Gatherings in Mexico and the German Democratic Republic  146
8. Preparing for the Mid-Decade Conference  160
9. The Third Week in July  174
10. School of Solidarity  186
11. Strategizing for Nairobi  198
12. Showdown in Kenya  207
Conclusion. Phantom Herstories  221
Appendix. A Few Reflections on the Challenges of Socialist Feminist Historiography  244
Notes  249
Selected Bibliography  283
Index  301
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0181-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0139-3
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