Let's Talk Firestone!
Updated: Sep 2, 2022
This blog post is inspired by Dr. Weinbaum's presentation which is available on the Women's Declaration International (WDI) YouTube page.
A biography for those who, like I once was, are unaware of who she was. Shulamith Firestone was a radical feminist writer and activist. She was Canadian-American and was born in 1945 to a German-Jewish mother and an assimilated Jewish father who was a traveling salesman. She grew up in a post-war period where the characteristic of womanhood was sifting and more women were speaking up against patriarchal systems that denied women basic citizenship rights. One of her memories involved her questioning her father about why she had to be the one to make her brother's bed. She was of course told that it's because she's female. Firestone's view of femininity was dictated by what she saw Jewish women do at the time. She died on August 28, 2012.
She was involved in many women's activism efforts, some of which are New York Radical Women, Redstockings, and New York Radical Feminists. Apart from this, she is a published writer, and one of her writings is the popular book, The Dialect of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution (1970). This book was influenced by the work of Simone de Beauvoir. Firestone asserted that gender equality cannot be achieved in society until women's identity is separated from their biology. She also said that the nuclear family was based on gender inequality and is, therefore, the training ground for more progression of inequality.
Her book, Airless Spaces (1998), is a collection of short stories where she wrote about her brother's death, poverty, mental illness, lovers and dreams, her experience with her schizophrenia diagnosis, and so on. By the time she published Airless Spaces, she had withdrawn from politics and became more of a recluse. Her sister stated that one of the things that contributed to her reclusion is the attention she got from The Dialect of Sex book, which was both positive and negative.
Firestone had a difficult life, like many feminist women of her time. She lived in a time when women were beginning to break free, more and more, from the restrictions of patriarchy. She had ideas that were seen as scandalous at the time. One of her ideas was to liberate women from the constraints of pregnancy by means of artificial reproduction outside the womb. She also supported the idea of granting children the right to be immediately removed from the care of abusive adults.
She had a lot of ideas that would not have gained favor with many at the time because many would have thought it went against their religious beliefs and legalities. Even though this was decades ago, the chances are that her ideas would still be opposed by many in the 2020s.
Firestone's mental state, despite hospitalization, deteriorated. She was also diagnosed with Capgras Syndrome, which according to PubMed is "characterized by a false belief that an identical duplicate has replaced someone significant to the patient".
After she died, her family refused an autopsy due to religious beliefs, even though there was suspicion that she had starved herself to death. She was buried in a traditional orthodox funeral and none of her feminist allies were invited. During her eulogy, her brother Ezra expressed regret that she never got married or had children. Throughout her life, she expressed her beliefs regarding female identity and even suggested separating women from biological functions. Yet, her brother's eulogy disregarded all of that by insinuating that perhaps she was incomplete without those marks of "womanhood."