Shulamith Firestone, author of the highly influential The Dialectic of Sex, has died at the age of 67. A major figure in the development of cyberfeminism, Firestone will be remembered for her promotion of artificial wombs and other reproductive technologies as a means for women to liberate themselves from biological impositions and patriarchal oppression. She died on August 28 in her Manhattan apartment of natural causes.
Top image by Mondolithic Studios.
Born in Ottawa on January 7, 1945, Firestone was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family in St. Louis, Missouri. During the 1960s she studied fine arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and moved to New York City in 1967 where she co-founded New York Radical Women, the Redstockings group, and New York Radical Feminists.
In 1970, at the age of 25, Firestone wrote The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution — a book that effectively kickstarted the cyberfeminist movement, influencing later thinkers like Joanna Russ (author of "The Female Man"), sci-fi author Joan Slonczweski, and of course, Donna "I'd rather be a cyborg than a goddess" Harraway, author of "The Cyborg Manifesto." To come up with her unique feminist philosophy, Firestone took 19th and 20th century socialist thinking and fused it with Freudian psychoanalysis and the existentialist perspectives of Simone de Beauvoir.
Essentially, Firestone argued that gender inequality was the result of a patriarchal social structure that had been imposed upon women on account of their necessary role as incubators. She argued that pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing imposed physical, social, and psychological disadvantages upon women. Firestone believed that the only way for women to free themselves from these biological impositions would be to seize control of reproduction.
To that end, she advocated for the development of cybernetic and assistive reproductive technologies, including artificial wombs, gender selection, and in vitro fertilization (the latter two now being in existence). In addition, she also advocated for the dissemination of contraception, abortion, and state support for child-rearing. It would be through these "revolts" and transformations that women could eliminate the presence of sexual classes. Firestone wrote:
[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 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 labor (and labor altogether) would be ended through cybernetics, she argued, so that the "tyranny of the biological family would be broken."
Not a fan of traditional biological human reproduction, Firestone described pregnancy as "barbaric," and noted how a friend of hers described labor to "shitting a pumpkin."
Modern feminists have largely turned a blind eye to Firestone and the role of technology in feminist discourse, but her influence can still be seen today in such things as transhumanism and the rise of postgenderist theory.
Soon after the publication of Dialectics, Firestone excused herself from public life and largely disappeared from the scene. In 1998 she published her book, Airless Spaces, in which she detailed her struggles with schizophrenia. Firestone became reclusive in her later years, dying alone in her apartment. She is survived by her mother, two brothers, and two sisters.