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Firestone, Shulamith

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

(1945-2012) Canadian-born painter, activist and author, resident in the United States from childhood, who was a founding figure in radical Feminism, and a key thinker in the movement in late-1960s New York.

Firestone outlined her ideas in The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution (1970), which argued, among other points, that women would not be truly liberated until they were freed from the shackles of Biology. Playfully melding Marx and Freud, she argued that Sex was also a "means of production", and that revolutionary women should seize control of it. She approached this idea in several ways, including a "smile boycott" on what would now be called emotional labour, recalling, perhaps inadvertently, the sexual strike action of Aristophanes' Lysistrata (411 BC), but also a call for independence from pregnancy and childbirth, which she regarded as "barbaric" atavisms. Writing during the Media Landscape of the Apollo 11 lunar landings in 1969, Firestone turned openly to science fiction for inspiration, arguing that feminist revolution should invest in the creation of Technology for artificial wombs:

The imaginative construction precedes the technological though often it does not develop until the technical know-how is "in the air". For example, the art of science fiction developed, in the main, only a half-century in advance of, and now co-exists with, the scientific revolution that is transforming it into a reality – for example, (an innocuous one) the moon flight.

For Firestone, the major revolutionary thinkers of the preceding age had understandably failed to predict the changes to be wrought by Technology, and hence had visions that fell short of possibility. "[J]ust as Marx could not take fully into account the advent of Cybernetics," she wrote, "Freud then did not have the mindbending knowledge of technological possibility that we now have."

Disenchanted with factional in-fighting within the feminist movement, she had largely left activism behind by the time the book was published. However, the power of her work, ardent and visionary, would inspire many subsequent authors, including Marge Piercy, whose Woman on the Edge of Time (1976) can be considered a fictional response to Firestone's ideas, and Donna J Haraway, whose "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s" (1985 Socialist Review #80) translated her for the Cyberpunk generation.

Victoria Margree, in Neglected or Misunderstood: The Radical Feminism of Shulamith Firestone (2018) repositions Firestone within Women SF Writers as a leading figure in feminist Utopia, a prophet of in-vitro fertilization, egg-freezing and surrogacy, but also a voice that continues to question the attitudes of human society towards biology and gender. [JonC]

Shulamith bath Schmuel ben Ari Feuerstein

born Ottawa, Ontario: 7 January 1945

died New York: 28 August 2012

works (selected)

about the author


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