Death of a Revolutionary


Susan Faludi in the New Yorker:

In some two hundred pages, “Dialectic” reinterpreted Marx, Engels, and Freud to make a case that a “sexual class system” ran deeper than any other social or economic divide. The traditional family structure, Firestone argued, was at the core of women’s oppression. “Unless revolution uproots the basic social organization, the biological family—the vinculum through which the psychology of power can always be smuggled—the tapeworm of exploitation will never be annihilated,” Firestone wrote. She elaborated, with characteristic bluntness: “Pregnancy is barbaric”; childbirth is “like shitting a pumpkin”; and childhood is “a supervised nightmare.” She understood that such statements were unlikely to be welcomed—especially, perhaps, by other women. “This is painful,” she warned on the book’s first page, because “no matter how many levels of consciousness one reaches, the problem always goes deeper.” She went on:

Feminists have to question, not just all of Western culture, but the organization of culture itself, and further, even the very organization of nature. Many women give up in despair: if that’s how deep it goes they don’t want to know.

But going to the roots of inequality, Firestone believed, was what set radical feminism apart from the mainstream movement: “The end goal of feminist revolution must be, unlike that of the first feminist movement, not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself: genital difference between human beings would no longer matter culturally.”

In one of the book’s later chapters, Firestone floated a “sketchy” futuristic notion that she intended only “to stimulate thinking in fresh areas rather than to dictate the action.” She envisioned a world in which women might be liberated by artificial reproduction outside the womb; in which collectives took the place of families; and in which children were granted “the right of immediate transfer” from abusive adults.