Shulamith Firestone, sprung from her own head
August 31, 2012 2:55 PM   Subscribe

Shulamith Firestone, RIP. The founding radical feminist was found dead in her apartment, a quiet end to a revolutionary life.

She thought childbearing was the main thing that made women an oppressed class, and she had some odd ideas about how to rectify that (incubating children in artificial wombs, for instance). But she was instrumental in radical second wave feminism and wrote one of its classics.

After that, according to reports, she withdrew from public life and was hospitalized off and on for schizophrenia.

She features prominently in Susan Brownmiller's In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution but is oddly largely absent from the web, except in recent remembrances.
posted by newrambler (48 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by Countess Elena at 3:06 PM on August 31, 2012


Actually "incubate children in artificial wombs" was a relatively common idea among futurist-minded second wave feminists - you see the idea in the anti-racist utopia in Marge Piercy's Woman On The Edge of Time and in the intro to Women of Wonder. And honestly, if you assume that you can successfully and safely replicate the womb 100%, why not? The issue is that we can't - and that the techno optimism which still informed second wave feminism has pretty much dissipated. It's really just a Soul of Man Under Socialism idea applied to women.
posted by Frowner at 3:08 PM on August 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


She was the kind of feminist that Pat Buchanan warned us about, and for that alone I would salute her. I don't agree with much of anything she had to say, but it was very necessary to hear in her time.

The circumstances of her life and death are a little haunting. It's exactly what the culture warns will happen to you, a thinking woman, if you don't make an effort to get out more and be sweet to men. I hope her life was much happier than it looks on paper.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:16 PM on August 31, 2012 [12 favorites]


I read somewhere (can't find the cite) that she'd said the main error was the word revolution in the title of her book which had been miscast.

As for decanting babies from bottles, Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold is a great example of how it fits into daily life.
posted by infini at 3:37 PM on August 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


What kind of revolution are you when your views are essentially the same as most of the mass media, political elites, the literati, academia, journalists and generally taken for granted, while anyone who disagree is called a fascist, a hatemonger, a woman-hater and a potential sex criminal?
posted by Yakuman at 3:37 PM on August 31, 2012


> She was the kind of feminist that Pat Buchanan warned us about, and for that alone I would salute her. I don't agree with much of anything she had to say, but it was very necessary to hear in her time.

My feelings exactly. She was a thrilling voice, and it's sad that her life couldn't have gone better. Thanks for the post, newrambler; frankly, I thought she was so little remembered that MeFi wouldn't notice her passing.
posted by languagehat at 3:40 PM on August 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


languagehat, I searched and scanned about seven times before posting, because I was sure someone had beaten me to it!
posted by newrambler at 3:42 PM on August 31, 2012


My error, here is what I'd read.

Shulamith Firestone who inserted feminism into lost places like Freud and Marx, also inserted feminism into Hobbes and biology and outlined the only cogent manner for emergency population reduction, should our resources start to fail. Her error is to qualify the shift as a revolution when it will probably come from biological necessity. Died August 28, 2012.
posted by infini at 3:43 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


newrambler, I was debating back and forth on it with an undercurrent of worry that I might not have the sufficient knowledge to do justice to it.
posted by infini at 3:44 PM on August 31, 2012


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posted by halonine at 3:51 PM on August 31, 2012


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posted by Jikido at 3:57 PM on August 31, 2012


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posted by broadway bill at 3:57 PM on August 31, 2012


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posted by therewithal at 3:59 PM on August 31, 2012


We argued a lot about her writings in my women's studies classes (and outside of them). Hers was a voice that gave shape - both in action and reaction - to the development of our various feminisms.

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posted by rtha at 4:01 PM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


infini, I so didn't have sufficient knowledge, but as a librarian, I'm kinda used to that. :)
posted by newrambler at 4:05 PM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


In “Airless Spaces,” Ms. Firestone writes of life after hospitalization, on psychiatric medication. The account is in the third person, but the story is her own:

“She had been reading Dante’s ‘Inferno’ when first she went into the hospital, she remembered, and at quite a good clip too, but when she came out she couldn’t even get down a fashion rag. ... That left getting through the blank days as comfortably as possible, trying not to sink under the boredom and total loss of hope.”

The story continues: “She was lucid, yes, at what price. She sometimes recognized on the faces of others joy and ambition and other emotions she could recall having had once, long ago. But her life was ruined, and she had no salvage plan.”

posted by docgonzo at 4:10 PM on August 31, 2012 [9 favorites]


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posted by immlass at 4:19 PM on August 31, 2012


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posted by trunk muffins at 4:24 PM on August 31, 2012


She thought childbearing was the main thing that made women an oppressed class

This is something to remember in a time when popular feminism seems to try its best to ignore the physical realities of femaleness, the unequal toll that childbearing takes on women as individuals and as a class, and the real inability of women to achieve true equality without complete control over reproduction.

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posted by the young rope-rider at 4:25 PM on August 31, 2012 [42 favorites]


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posted by quazichimp at 4:51 PM on August 31, 2012


the real inability of women to achieve true equality without complete control over reproduction.

Not to mention at a time when one of the major candidates for president of the United States is evidently unclear on the concept that "woman" and "mother" aren't actually interchangeable terms.
posted by scody at 4:52 PM on August 31, 2012 [17 favorites]


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posted by brujita at 5:40 PM on August 31, 2012



posted by Wordwoman at 5:59 PM on August 31, 2012 [13 favorites]


one of the few revoultionary marxists who made me sit and think about what class meant thru that lens.
posted by PinkMoose at 6:46 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by humanfont at 7:54 PM on August 31, 2012


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posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:21 PM on August 31, 2012


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posted by heurtebise at 8:32 PM on August 31, 2012


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posted by hockeyfan at 8:36 PM on August 31, 2012


I remember reading Shulamith Firestone's essays when I was an undergrad; they terrified and thrilled me. It is one of the first times I remember being so challenged and upset by ideas. My own identity as a feminist has definitely been influenced by her and other radical feminists of the 1970s.

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posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:41 PM on August 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


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posted by Isadorady at 9:11 PM on August 31, 2012


It's not made clear in any of the links, but one of the organizations Firestone helped create, New York Radical Women, was responsible for perhaps the most iconic feminist protest of the 1960s, the action at the 1968 Miss America pageant in Atlantic City:

In September 1968, NYRW protested the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Hundreds of women marched on the Atlantic City Boardwalk with signs that criticized the pageant and called it a "cattle auction." During the live telecast, the women displayed from the balcony a banner that said "Women's Liberation." Although this event is often thought to be where "bra-burning" took place, their actual symbolic protest consisted of placing bras, girdles, Playboy magazines, mops, and other evidence of the oppression of women into a trash can, but not lighting the objects on fire.

Wikipedia calls it "the first major Women's Liberation Movement demonstration":

About 400 women were drawn together from across the United States to a protest outside the event. The women symbolically threw a number of feminine products into a large trash can. These included mops, pots and pans, Playboy magazines, false eyelashes, high-heeled shoes, curlers, hairspray, makeup, girdles, corsets, and bras, items the protestors called "instruments of female torture." Carol Hanisch, one of the protest organizers, said "We had intended to burn it, but the police department, since we were on the boardwalk, wouldn't let us do the burning."

RIP.

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posted by mediareport at 9:35 PM on August 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


She was one shot in a war to to replace a joyful, integrated teleology with a perpetually revolutionary one, a deterministic end that can only be approached asymptotically. Once she was used, she, now a shell, was discarded -- but her shot is the reason for many more discarded shells today.
posted by michaelh at 10:06 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by book 'em dano at 10:42 PM on August 31, 2012


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posted by one teak forest at 11:04 PM on August 31, 2012


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posted by spinifex23 at 11:06 PM on August 31, 2012


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posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:34 PM on August 31, 2012


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posted by Mister Bijou at 11:39 PM on August 31, 2012


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posted by Cocodrillo at 3:33 AM on September 1, 2012


I hate it when I am reminded of a writer who I've meant to read for ages, but have never gotten around to, by their death.
posted by Kattullus at 6:44 AM on September 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


An early heroine of mine. For me, it was as if she proposed an entirely new way or a new language for describing the social and political experience of being a woman. I wish her life had been less damaged by her illness, but I'm grateful for her work.

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posted by jokeefe at 11:25 AM on September 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Eulogy for a Sex Radical: Shulamith Firestone's Forgotten Feminism
posted by homunculus at 2:32 PM on September 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


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posted by theora55 at 9:59 PM on September 1, 2012


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posted by ead at 12:13 AM on September 2, 2012


She thought childbearing was the main thing that made women an oppressed class, and she had some odd ideas about how to rectify that (incubating children in artificial wombs, for instance).

She's not wrong. I honestly think that if (a) women were the same approximate size as men and not so damn easily overpowered by any guy who wants to rape/beat/kill us, and (b) weren't incapacitated (to varying degrees) by childbirth, we wouldn't have the problems that we do. We're never on an equal playing field and may never be because of those two things, when you think about it.

I really wish artificial wombs existed. They probably never will, but that would help. Though according to a book I read, in a few hundred thousand years, men and women may actually evolve to be the same size, so...yeah.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:54 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hate it when I am reminded of a writer who I've meant to read for ages, but have never gotten around to, by their death.

Authors in general live a life defined by ideas, and polemic writers such as Firestone in particular. I'd imagine she'd have thought that it's far more important that the ideas don't die than the person who created them. So, you know, still read the book. ;)
posted by jaduncan at 2:38 PM on September 2, 2012


She was so far ahead of the world. How sad to lose her.
posted by Surfurrus at 9:26 PM on September 2, 2012


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posted by SassHat at 5:39 PM on September 3, 2012


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posted by inertia at 9:18 PM on September 3, 2012


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