Shulamith Firestone, one of feminism's most influential thinkers, passed away today.
Firestone electrified a generation of budding feminists with her 1970 book The Dialectic Of Sex: The Case For Feminist Revolution. In powerful prose, ideologically driven in all the right ways, she recast marxist theory to apply it to gender, arguing that women could never be free until they seized and controlled the means of reproduction. Were you watching the Republicans do their thing in Tampa this week? Obviously, her ideas are still completely relevant.
Thinking of her takes me back to the days when feminist ideas were new and positively thrilling. I can remember devouring The Dialectic Of Sex, exhilarated by its combination of steel-trap thinking and sheer outrageousness. "A revolutionary in every bedroom cannot fail to shake up the status quo," she wrote. Radical to the core, she even suggested that the role of giving birth be assigned to automatons.
She was born in Ottawa and raised in Kansas City and St. Louis in an Orthodox Jewish family. You'd think, given the intellectual depth of her marxist analysis and the astonishing range of political ideas in her famous text, that she had formally studied politics. But she began her career as a painter, having attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before moving to New York. There, as women were becoming radicalized and taking to the streets, she helped found that city's pioneer feminist organizations: New York Radical Women, the Redstockings and New York Radical Feminists.
She wrote The Dialectic Of Sex when she was 25, and instantly became identified with a pantheon of groundbreaking feminist writers that included Betty Friedan, Kate Millett and Germaine Greer. But she rejected the fame and celebrity that came her way and went into quiet retreat, returning to her first love, painting.
Her only other book was Airless Spaces, an experimental set of stories based on her experience being hospitalized with schizophrenia. Reports suggest that at the end of her life, her illness had overwhelmed her and she had become a shut-in. Her body was found by her apartment building superintendent, almost a week after she died. Cause of death is still unknown.
She was a woman of vision who had lost hope.