Shulamith Firestone, a widely quoted feminist writer who published her arresting first book, “The Dialectic of Sex,” at 25, only to withdraw from public life soon afterward, was found dead on Tuesday in her apartment in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan. She was 67.
Ms. Firestone apparently died of natural causes, her sister Laya Firestone Seghi said.
Subtitled “The Case for Feminist Revolution,” “The Dialectic of Sex” was published by William Morrow & Company in 1970. In it, Ms. Firestone extended Marxist theories of class oppression to offer a radical analysis of the oppression of women, arguing that sexual inequity springs from the onus of childbearing, which devolves on women by pure biological happenstance.
“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,” Ms. Firestone wrote, “so the end goal of feminist revolution must be … not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself: genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally.”
In the utopian future Ms. Firestone envisioned, reproduction would be utterly divorced from sex: conception would be accomplished through artificial insemination, with gestation taking place outside the body in an artificial womb. While some critics found her proposals visionary, others deemed them quixotic at best.
She had been a feminist street organizer before the book catapulted her to fame.
The reader who sent me this obit adds:
I took a women’s studies class at the University of Oregon in 1979. Don’t hate me—it was a 4 credit automatic “A” and fulfilled both social science and humanities core requirements, so was highly popular. It was an automatic “A” because the women’s studies faculty believed that grading was a tool of The Man and they weren’t into that hierarchical scene created by their patriarchial oppressors.
By making that class so attractive I believe the administration did all of us undergraduates a favor. We learned to think critically. The hopelessly earnest T.A’s guided us through the canon of work from such luminaries as Ms. Firestone. It was so bizarre that as 18 year olds, we started, in our discussion sections, to rip apart the handed down truths from our esteemed sages—the professors. Because they didn’t believe in grading, they couldn’t fail anybody who questioned the orthodoxy.
I’m deeply grateful, in retrospect, for the experience. It taught me to be an equal-opportunity skeptic. And I won’t speak ill of this poor woman who turned out to be schizophrenic, but I am glad that her ideas didn’t get any traction in the sane world. God rest her soul, and bless her heart. May she find peace.