On Firestone

ImageDayna Tortorici on Shulamith Firestone in n+1:

Although in later years a private and often isolated person, the writer, artist, and feminist thinker Shulamith Firestone was at one time a formidable public force. A founder of the first radical feminist organizations in New York and co-editor of the first theoretical journals of the Women’s Liberation Movement, she was one of the most memorable characters of the second wave. Brilliant, passionate, aggressive, and uncompromising in her beliefs, possessing an intellectual confidence that lives on in her work, Firestone embodied much of the radical energy of her era. She “dared to be bad”—as she declared women ought to in an editorial for Notes from the Second Year—which meant not just disobedient, but willing to fail. Women, Firestone knew, had to take risks to find liberation, even if it meant faltering in their first attempts. And although Firestone and her peers struggled to form and maintain a coherent women’s movement—and although their movement today is remembered as flawed and tenuous—our world owes as much to their failures as their successes.

Firestone’s wit was biting and aphoristic; her words sizzled on the page. With an almost anachronistic philosophical confidence she explained the world as she saw it without hesitation, from the ground up. At age 25 she wrote the seminal book The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution (1970)—described by contemporaries as “the little red book for women”—which for the first time united the then-irreconcilable discourses of Marxist analysis and feminist critique. And then, in a turn that still mystifies her admirers, she withdrew from both the movement and from public life. Decades later Firestone re-emerged with a small, startling book called Airless Spaces (1998), a fictionalized chronicle of her later life, that spoke in vignettes to her years spent in and out of mental hospitals. But as if unsatisfied by this account, admirers of her early work still wondered: Why had she left? Where had she gone?