Eulogy for a Sex Radical: Shulamith Firestone’s Forgotten Feminism

Dialecticofsex-smallerEmily Chertoff in The Atlantic:

It's hard to imagine that Shulamith Firestone and Helen Gurley Brown thought very highly of each other. Gurley Brown wore immaculate make-up and had a driver. There were needlepoint pillows in her office. She had sex. She told other women that they should have sex, too.

Firestone, on the other hand, did not have sex. In fact, she was a political celibate. She encouraged other women to become celibate. Some of them did. She wore owl glasses; she looked like the 70s radical she was.

Firestone, whose death was reported yesterday, will not receive a fraction of the encomia Gurley Brown did after her death earlier this month. Why? Both women were feminist pioneers. Both wrote canonical feminist texts that became bestsellers when they were published about a half century ago. Both shaped absolutely the ways we think about gender, education, and the family today. Both put sex at the center of their analyses.

Yet Gurley Brown became one of the most successful magazine editors of all time. Firestone became a hermit and suffered from mental illness. She'd been dead for a weekwhen neighbors found her. But her reclusiveness isn't the only reason we don't remember her.

Here's the main reason. Firestone wanted to eliminate the following things: sex roles, procreative sex, gender, childhood, monogamy, mothering, the family unit, capitalism, the government, and especially the physiological phenomena of pregnancy and childbirth. She wanted to mechanize reproduction — gestating fetuses in artificial wombs — and raise the offspring communally, treating them no differently from adults at the earliest possible age. Sound crazy? It was certainly extreme. But it's surprising how many ideas that are now starting to gain currency can be found in kernel form in her 1970 book The Dialectic of Sex.