Friday, August 31, 2012

RIP Shulamith Firestone

I've just found out that Shulamith Firestone, feminist, radical, and author, died on Tuesday.

Her The Dialectic of Sex: The case for feminist revolution (Morrow, 1970) was the first explicitly feminist book I ever read. I read a battered library copy. It was chewy stuff. I was nineteen. Her basic thesis was that if women didn't have to bear children, we could eventually dismantle the oppressive patriarchal apparatus and attain true equality.

Here (lifted from Firestone's Wikipedia entry) is a fairly representative quote:

So that 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 to assure the elimination of sexual classes requires the revolt of the underclass (women) and the seizure of control of reproduction: not only the full restoration to women of ownership of their own bodies, but also their (temporary) seizure of control of human fertility - the new population biology as well as all the social institutions of child-bearing and child-rearing. And just as the end goal of socialist revolution was not only the elimination of the economic class privilege but of the economic class distinction itself, so 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 differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally. (A reversion to an unobstructed pansexuality Freud's 'polymorphous perversity' - would probably supersede hetero/homo/bi-sexuality.) The reproduction of the species by one sex for the benefit of both would be replaced by (at least the option of) artificial reproduction: children would born to both sexes equally, or independently of. either, however one chooses to look at it; 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, and any remaining inferiority to adults in physical strength would be compensated for culturally. The division of labour would be ended by the elimination of labour altogether (through cybernetics). The tyranny of the biological family would be broken.
—Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex
If I remember correctly Firestone imagined artificial wombs. This vision influenced a lot of feminist science fiction. It influenced me--because it made me think. It made me work out what I didn't like about her vision.

What I didn't like was the separation of mind and body. On some level I've always believed that if we all--women and men--just loved our bodies more, not less, if we valued our organic and visceral selves, our overlaps and differences, rather than despairing over or disliking same, we would all be better off. We are our bodies. The more divorced we become from them, the more alien we become to ourselves and each other.

But that book was a mind-opener to me, the crack that let the light in.
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