Shulamith Firestone

Shulamith Firestone

Firestone c. 1970
Born Shulamith Bath Shmuel Ben Ari Feuerstein
January 7, 1945
Ottawa, Canada
Died August 28, 2012(2012-08-28) (aged 67)
New York City
Alma mater School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Subject Feminism, cyberfeminism
Literary movement Second-wave feminism
Notable works The Dialectic of Sex

Shulamith Firestone (/ʃˈlɑːmɪθ/; January 7, 1945 – August 28, 2012[1])[2] (also called Shulie, or Shuloma) was a Canadian-born feminist. She was a central figure in the early development of radical feminism, having been a founding member of the New York Radical Women, Redstockings, and New York Radical Feminists. In 1970, she authored The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, an important and widely influential feminist text.[3]

Life and career

Shulamith Bath Shmuel Ben Ari Feuerstein was the second of six children of Orthodox Jewish parents born in Ottawa and raised in Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri. Her family Americanized its surname to Firestone when Shulamith was a child. She pronounced her first name shoo-LAH-mith but was familiarly known as Shuley or Shulie. She attended Yavneh of Rabbinical College of Telshe, near Cleveland, and Washington University in St. Louis before transferring to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received a BFA degree in painting.[4] During her studies at the Art Institute, she was the subject of a documentary film which was never released. The film was rediscovered in the 1990s by experimental filmmaker Elisabeth Subrin, who did a frame-for-frame reshoot of the original documentary, with Kim Soss playing Firestone. It was released in 1997 as Shulie, winning the 1998 Los Angeles Film Critics Association award, Experimental 1999 US Super 8, a Film & Video Fest-Screening Jury Citation 2000 New England Film & Video Festival and Best Experimental Film Biennial 2002.[5]

In October 1967, Firestone moved to New York City and co-founded New York Radical Women (NYRW), during which time she wrote three essays: "Women and the Radical Movement," "The Jeanette Rankin Brigade: Woman Power?" and "The Women's Rights Movement in the U.S.A.: New View."[6] Also in 1967, the first and only national convention of the National Conference for New Politics was held, which Firestone attended; a woman's caucus was formed there, and led by Firestone and Jo Freeman, it tried to present its own demands to the plenary session.[7] However, the women were told their resolution was not important enough for a floor discussion, and when through threatening to tie up the convention with procedural motions they succeeded in having their statement tacked to the end of the agenda, it was never discussed.[8] When the National Conference for New Politics Director Willam F. Pepper refused to recognize any of the women waiting to speak and instead called on someone to speak about the American Indian, five women, including Firestone, rushed the podium to demand to know why.[8] But Pepper patted Firestone on the head and said, "Move on little girl; we have more important issues to talk about here than women's liberation," or possibly, "Cool down, little girl. We have more important things to talk about than women's problems."[7][8] Jo Freeman and Firestone called a meeting of the women who had been at the “free school” course and the women’s workshop at the conference; this became the first Chicago women’s liberation group. It was known as the Westside group because it met weekly in Freeman’s apartment on Chicago’s west side. After a few months Freeman started a newsletter, Voice of the Women’s Liberation Movement. It circulated nationwide (and in a few foreign countries), giving the new movement its name. Many of the women in the Westside group went on to start other feminist organizations, including the Chicago Women's Liberation Union.

When NYRW formed 'consciousness raising groups', Firestone and Ellen Willis co-founded the radical feminist group Redstockings, named after the Blue Stockings Society, a women's literary group founded by Elizabeth Montagu in the mid-18th century. Firestone left Redstockings to co-found New York Radical Feminists (NYRF) with Anne Koedt.[4] In late 1968 she edited Notes from the First Year, followed by Notes from the Second Year (1970), and Notes from the Third Year (1971).[4] By the time The Dialectic of Sex was published in 1970, she had largely ceased to be politically active. Firestone withdrew from politics in the early seventies, moved to Saint Marks Place,[9] and worked as a painter. In the late eighties she became mentally ill. In 1998 she published a haunting account of life in and out of psychiatric hospitals entitled Airless Spaces.[10]

Firestone was the older sister of Rabbi Tirzah Firestone.[11]


Firestone was found dead in her New York apartment on August 28, 2012, by the building's owner. Alerted by neighbors, who had smelled a strong odor from her apartment, her superintendent peered in through a window from the fire escape and saw her body on the floor. Her landlord, Bob Perl, said she had probably been dead about a week.[12] According to her sister, Laya Firestone Seghi, she died of natural causes.[13] Her death was confirmed by the New York City Medical Examiner's Office; according to reports, she lived in a reclusive fashion and had been in ill health.[2][12] The New Yorker magazine, in a commemorative essay published several months after Firestone's death, further detailed the circumstances of her demise, citing her decades-long struggle with schizophrenia, along with speculation of self-induced starvation, as probable contributing factors.[14]

The Dialectic of Sex

In The Dialectic of Sex, Firestone synthesized the ideas of Sigmund Freud, Wilhelm Reich, Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, and Simone de Beauvoir into a radical feminist theory of politics.[15] Firestone also acknowledged the influence of Lincoln H. and Alice T. Day's Too Many Americans (1964) and the 1968 best-seller The Population Bomb by Paul R. Ehrlich. It became a classic text in second-wave feminism in the United States.

Firestone argued that gender inequality originated in the patriarchal societal structures imposed upon women through their biology; the physical, social and psychological disadvantages imposed by pregnancy, childbirth, and subsequent child-rearing.[16][17] She advocated the use of cybernetics to carry out human reproduction in laboratories as well as the proliferation of contraception, abortion, and state support for child-rearing to enable them to escape their biologically determined positions in society. Firestone described pregnancy as "barbaric", and writes that a friend of hers compared labor to "shitting a pumpkin". Among the reproductive technologies she predicted were sex selection and in vitro fertilization.

Firestone explored a number of possible social changes that she argued would result in a post-patriarchal society, including the abolition of the nuclear family and the promotion of living in community units within a socialist society.[18]

So that 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. And 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, so the end goal of feminist revolution must be, unlike that of the first feminist movement, not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself: genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally. (A reversion to an unobstructed pansexuality - Freud's 'polymorphous perversity' - would probably supersede hetero/homo/bi-sexuality.) The reproduction of the species by one sex for the benefit of both would be replaced by (at least the option of) artificial reproduction: children would be born to both sexes equally, or independently of either, however one chooses to look at it; the dependence of the child on the mother (and vice versa) would give way to a greatly shortened dependence on a small group of others in general, and any remaining inferiority to adults in physical strength would be compensated for culturally. The division of labour would be ended by the elimination of labour altogether (through cybernetics). The tyranny of the biological family would be broken.
Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex



  1. Recorded date of death; she had probably died several days before that date - see "Death" above.
  2. 1 2 Butnick, Stephanie (August 30, 2012). "Shulamith Firestone (1945-2012): Leading feminist thinker and activist has died at 67". Tablet Magazine. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  3. Benewick, Robert and Green, Philip, Shulamith Firestone 1945–, The Routledge dictionary of twentieth-century political thinkers (2nd Edition), Routledge, 1998, pp. 84–86. ISBN 0-415-09623-5
  4. 1 2 3 Martha Ackelsberg. "Shulamith Firestone". Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved 24 June 2010.
  5. "Elisabeth Subrin Trilogy". Video Data bank. Retrieved 24 June 2010.
  6. "Women and Marxism: Shulamith Firestone". 1968. Retrieved 24 June 2010.
  7. 1 2 Simon Hall (6 June 2011). American Patriotism, American Protest: Social Movements Since the Sixties. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 61–. ISBN 0-8122-0365-8.
  8. 1 2 3 "On the Origins of Social Movements". Retrieved 18 April 2015.
  9. Millet, Kate. "Airless Spaces". The MIT Press. Retrieved 24 June 2010.
  10. Firestone, Shulamith (March 1, 1998). Airless Spaces. Semiotext(e). p. 457. ISBN 1-57027-082-1.
  11. Shulamith Firestone (biography)
  12. 1 2 Anderson, Lincoln (August 30, 2012). "Shulamith Firestone, radical feminist, wrote best-seller, 67". The Villager.
  13. Fox, Margalit (August 30, 2012). "Shulamith Firestone, Feminist Writer, Dies at 67". The New York Times.
  14. Faludi, Susan (April 15, 2013). "Death of a Revolutionary". The New Yorker.
  15. Rich, Jennifer, Modern Feminist Theory, Humanities-Ebooks LLP, pp. 18-20. ISBN 978-1-84760-023-3
  16. Political Ideologies: An Introduction, Andrew Heywood, 2003, Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 0-333-96178-1, p. 272.
  17. Sydie, R. A., Natural women, cultured men: a feminist perspective on sociological theory, University of British Columbia Press, 1994, pp. 143-148. ISBN 0-7748-0491-2
  18. The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/21/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.