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January 7: Shulamith Firestone

January 7, 2015

FIRESTONE-obit-superJumboAuthor of The Dialectic of Sex (1970) and one of the most radical leaders of the feminist movement of the late 1960s, Shulamith Firestone (Feuerstein) was born into an Orthodox Jewish family in Ottawa on this date in 1945. She studied Judaism and art before moving to New York in 1967, where she co-founded New York Radical Women, Redstockings, and New York Radical Feminists, all leading-edge feminist collectives. Firestone and Ellen Willis organized the nation’s first abortion speak-out, in 1969, at Judson Memorial Church in New York. Her landmark manifesto, The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, published in 1970, identified pregnancy and the traditional family structure as fundamental to the sexist oppression of women, reinterpreted Marxism through a feminist lens, and identified the “end goal of feminist revolution” as “not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself: genital difference between human beings would no longer matter culturally.” By the time the book came out, however, Firestone had been at the center of feminist infighting over elitism and ambition and had withdrawn from politics. She led a reclusive life as a painter in the 1970s and fell to paranoid schizophrenia in the 1980s, but survived with the help of a small collective of women who had studied her writings and helped her navigate her life throughout the 1990s. In 1998 she published Airless Spaces, a collection of fifty very short stories about suffering people. Shulamith Firestone was found dead in her apartment in 2012, at age 67.

“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.” —Shulamith Firestone