Feminist Author Shulamith Firestone Dies at 67

Shulamith Firestone

Feminist author Shulamith Firestone whose work radicalized second wave feminist thinking passes away at home

By Team FI

Shulamith Firestone, feminist author and thinker, known for her acclaimed work The Dialectic of Sex, was found dead on 28th August in her apartment in New York city. She was 67 and reported to have died of natural causes.

Firestone wrote The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution in 1970 when she was 25. Till date it remains one of the widely taught second wave feminist books in university women’s studies courses. In The Dialectic of Sex, described by feminist author Naomi Wolf as a ‘second wave landmark’, Firestone links women’s oppression to pregnancy and child rearing. The book synthesises the work of Freud, Marx, de Beauvoir and Engels to construct a convincing argument for feminist revolution. Identifying women as a caste, she declares that they must seize the means of reproduction.

Firestone wrote “…just as to assure elimination of economic classes requires the revolt of the underclass (the proletariat) and, in a temporary dictatorship, their seizure of the means of production, so…the elimination of sexual classes requires the revolt of the underclass (women) and the seizure of control of reproduction… . The reproduction of the species by one sex for the benefit of both would be replaced by (at least the option of) artificial reproduction: … the dependence of the child on the mother (and vice versa) would give way to a greatly shortened dependence on a small group of others in general…. The division of labour would be ended by the elimination of labour altogether (through cybernetics). The tyranny of the biological family would be broken.”

Acknowledged alongside the pioneers of second wave feminists like Betty Friedan, Kate Millett and Germaine Greer, Shulamith Firestone founded three radical feminist groups in the US. With Jo Freeman, in 1967, she started the Westside group. In the same year, Firestone founded New York Radical Women with Ellen Willis. In 1968, Firestone and Willis launched Redstockings, rejecting the existing political left and accusing other feminist groups of still being part of a society that oppressed women.

Born in Ottawa, Canada in 1945 to a Jewish family, Shulamith Firestone moved to the United States as a child and studied Fine Art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1967, her classmates made a documentary titled Shulie based on a day in her life as an art student. It was part of a series of films made by the Art School students. The film was remade by Elisabeth Subrin in 1997. The original scenes were recreated exactly as they were and Firestone was played by actress Kim Soss. However, it is reported that Firestone was upset with the remake as she was not consulted by the film maker.

Unable to bear the attention after the success of her first book in 1970, Firestone retreated to a reclusive life as a painter. In 1998, she wrote her second book -a memoir-in-stories titled Airless Spaces.

 

3 comments

  1. Ammu Abraham says:

    Was searching for my copy of the Dialectic of Sex, to counteract that somewhat unfair summary, but couldn’t find it. Wanted to quote from the first pages, where she defines the need for radical feminism then. At the time one was trying to articulate one’s own feminism in the end of 1970s and beginning of ’80s, I was delighted by Firestone’s book. Thought it was brilliant and the author a kindred spirit. But we took a somewhat different trajectory, addressing violence against women in our own society, its structurally mandated forms.
    Still, I remember odd bits of the book.
    Her analysis of Ray’s Devi, for example.
    A star has fallen, and she was a feminist and a fighter.
    Loved the picture.

  2. RIP
    Shulamith Firestone
    Whereas the second wave of feminist revolution of 1970s was apparently a real source of inspiration for radicals of all hues in the West, in many Asian countries including India things were slightly different .
    Even women who consider themselves progressives or part of the Left would call them names. Radical feminists were more widely misinterpreted and maligned in Asia as stupid bra burners than they were indeed,in the West .

  3. asha kachru says:

    i was in germany when i read her book early seventies. i was part of the leftist as well as autonomous women’s group in bonn. what struck me most in shulamith’s book was her analysis of the reproductie sphere of life, the need to also look into psychological and socio-cultural relationships and their meaning in life’s courses, added to the work relations in the production sphere that marx and all the so-called progressive, leftist men and women in those times were talking about. i was a single mother, a scientific officer as well as a socially-politically and culturally active woman, also an exotic one, to that. so my problems were not understood by the majority there i felt. shulamith’s book and ideas gave me much strength and i am thankful to her all my life. only her idea of test tube births to avoid the burden of being a mother and houseworker did not appeal much to me at that time. i wanted instead that we find out modes of work and work organisation which would allow us the society the option of having children as well as doing work outside homes…

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