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April 8, 2013 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Death of a Revolutionary. Susan Faludi on the life, work, and decline of Shulamith Firestone, with some interesting words on the feminist movements of the last century. SLNY.
posted by Currer Belfry (14 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Great article. Thanks.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:50 PM on April 8, 2013

I love Susan Faludi. Thanks for this.
posted by yeolcoatl at 1:01 PM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I read this earlier—really good article, depressing as all fuck. This part especially struck me:
By mid-century, Elaine Showalter noted, in “The Female Malady” (1985), scores of literary and journalistic works had defined schizophrenia as a “bitter metaphor” for the “cultural situation” of women. It was this state of affairs that the radical feminists had set out to change, only to find themselves doubly alienated. The first alienation was a by-product of their political vision: radical insight can resemble the mind-set described by the clinical psychologist Louis Sass, in “Madness and Modernism” (1992), when he wrote that the schizophrenic is “acutely aware of the inauthenticities and compromises of normal social existence.” The second alienation was tragic: alienation from one another.

Medical researchers have long puzzled over schizophrenia’s late emergence (it was first diagnosed in 1911, in Switzerland) and its prevalence in the industrial world, where the illness is degenerative and permanent. (In “primitive” societies, when it exists at all, it is typically a passing malady.) In 2005, when Jean-Paul Selten and Elizabeth Cantor-Graae, experts on the epidemiology of schizophrenia, reviewed various risk factors—foremost among them migration, racism, and urban upbringing—they found that the factors all involved chronic isolation and loneliness, a condition that they called “social defeat.” They theorized that “social support protects against the development of schizophrenia.”
It's not surprising that the people who are most able to envision and work toward a better world are the people least happy in, and least adapted to, the world as it is—but it does seem particularly cruel.
posted by enn at 1:01 PM on April 8, 2013 [9 favorites]

If you have any interest in history/politics/feminism/culture of 9/11, pick up Faludi's Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America . It makes for some stimulating reading/discussion.
posted by Fizz at 1:32 PM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

n+1 magazine published a number of personal reminiscences of Shulamith Firestone last year when she died:
  • Preface (by Dayna Tortorici)
  • Part One (by Jo Freeman, Carol Hanisch, Ti-Grace Atkinson, Alix Kates Shulman, Anselma Dell’Olio, Rosalyn Baxandall, Ann Snitow, Phyllis Chesler, Kate Millett, Beth Rashbaum, Andrew Klein, Tirzah Firestone)
  • Part Two (by Jennifer Baumgardner, Chris Kraus, Elisabeth Subrin, Alice Echols, Nina Power, Madeleine Schwartz, Jennifer Szalai)
There was also an obituary post here on Metafilter.
posted by enn at 1:40 PM on April 8, 2013 [6 favorites]

What a sad (because of her life) and infuriating (because of the ridiculous amount of paternalistic, condescending crap she had to put up with as an activist) article. This though I really liked, from her brother's (apparently heartfelt-yet-point-missing) eulogy-
He recalled a story she told him when he was a boy, about a man on a train who realized that he had dropped a glove on the platform and, as the train left the station, dropped the other glove from the window, so that someone could have a pair.
Does anyone know- is that traditional, or did she make it up? I like it either way.
posted by hap_hazard at 3:36 PM on April 8, 2013

The last story sounds like the tale told about Gandhi and his lost shoe: also on a train, also thrown so that the poor man who found it would have a pair.
posted by jrochest at 3:50 PM on April 8, 2013

Thank you for this, will read and ponder once I get a chunk of contemplative time!
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:15 AM on April 9, 2013

I had a really depressing afternoon yesterday, since by coincidence, I read this article (with its emphasis on interpersonal 'trashing' destroying early feminist groups) immediately after getting annoyed by this article and its comments. The article is about people who call themselves feminists, but who the author feels shouldn't count, such as Spice Girls or Joss Whedon fans, Women who cook for their partners, most women executives and bosses, women who are feminists with the wrong motives - "Secret Submissives"(!?) - and Sarah Pailin. The author actually seems to suggest that cooking in the home is a feminist betrayal equivalent to actively discriminating against trans people or supporting anti-choice legislation.

The comments are full of suggestions for other groups (childless women, attachment parents, SAHMs, other pop-culture fans, slutwalkers) who the commenters would like to add to the excluded list.

Look! Feminists two generations younger than Firestone, who will likely find out out about her from Faludi's article, are still trashing away! And we wonder why we can't have nice things...

Firestone herself, I would argue, is a more ambiguous case than Faludi makes out. While there is no question that her isolation contributed to her decline, there's also lots of indication that her mental health was deteriorating long before her "social failure" - she withdrew from activism around 1970, when she would have been 25, a typical age for schizophrenia to emerge - and one of the symptoms of the disease is social withdrawal. Faludi may have the cause and effect backwards here - her sudden withdrawal from public feminism may have followed the first signs of her illness, rather than caused her illness.

Google books has previews of both the Dialectic of Sex and Airless Spaces, including TOC's.
posted by Wylla at 1:14 AM on April 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Is there really an epidemiology of schizophrenia as a product of anti-establishment politics, oppression or social isolation? Anecdotally that doesn't seem true -- loved, privileged and apolitical people seem to suffer schizophrenia at the same rate as anyone else, and given their better access to health care and their culutural milieu having more tolerance for psychiatric care, I'd think they'd predominate the rolls of the diagnosed and in-treatment.
posted by MattD at 5:01 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wylla - agreed that the origin of Firestone's illness should not be attributed to the splintering of the movement, although it certainly didn't help.

For me, the article highlighted the need of women to support each other, particularly when they are aged and/or ill. I think France's Babayaga house (discussed here on the blue) is a great example. Our American can-do individualist culture probably hurts us in perceiving the need to ask for help or to take care of each other (especially outside traditional family structures - Firestone would have called that out right away). However, so many women are so busy taking care of their families or Having It All that people like Firestone, who can't/won't/don't want to rely on their own families, fall through the cracks.

I was glad to see that Firestone had a few good years in the '90's when that informal support group rallied around her. But circumstances change. In the end the person with the illness often is the one to take the initiative to ensure care for themselves, but often they are just too sick or demoralized to put on the armor one. more. time.
posted by Currer Belfry at 5:15 AM on April 9, 2013

This article was so, so sad, and the subject matter nearly operatic.

I seem to have been exposed to the Dialectic of Sex when I was a kid; I don't have a specific recollection of reading it but the passages cited in the article made me look for more excerpts and it was universally as if I was rereading something familiar and beloved.

Some things that Faludi did not draw explicit lines between are the book's absolutist radicalism with regard to the idea of the family unit; the clearly unhappy family unit that formed Firestone; and the fragile, temporary existence of Firestone's late-in-life support group. I'm sure Faludi was aware of the thematic relationships and decided it was best to leave the connections and deductions up to the reader.
posted by mwhybark at 10:30 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

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