Rest in peace Shulamith Firestone
By Wendy Forrest.
On August 28th Shulamith Firestone Radical Feminist -author of the Dialectic of Sex - The Case for a Feminist Revolution died at the age of 67. Though many found her analysis of the politics of reproduction , critique of the biological family and the failure of traditional Marxists to account for and analyse the role of reproductive labour in Marxist economic theory , she was and remains an inspiration for radical Marxists everywhere.
Hearing about her premature death and reading the last post on this blog led me to my bookshelves to find her book, collecting dust for well over a decade. The following are quotes that in the best of worlds will pique the interest of readers and many socialist and "Marxist " men.
In a chapter entitled The Culture of Romance she writes
For the exclusivity of the beauty ideal serves a clear political function. Someone-mostly women will be left out.And left scrambling , because as we have seen, women have been allowed to achieve individuality only through their appearance -looks being defined as "good" not out of love for the bearer , but because of her more or less successful approximation to an external standard. This image defined by men...becomes the ideal. What happens? Women everywhere rushing to to squeeze into the glass slipper, forcing and mutilating their bodies with diets and beauty programs, clothes and makeup, anything to become the punk prince's dream girl. But they have no choice. If they don't the penalties are enormous: their social legitimacy is at stake.
Shulamith like many radical feminist readers critiques traditional Marxist theory for being unable to account for the role of reproductive labour and the duality inherent in reproductive functions . Her readers do not have to agree with every aspect of her work but the insight she provides into ways in which women are oppressed, exploited and even brutalized physically and psycholgically are invaluable.
Unfortunately or maybe on purpose too many men , willing to read volumes of social and political theory , ignore the need even to research a reading list for themselves to investigate the reality of sexism, misogyny and the ubiquitous, pervasive oppresssion of women.
The post that precedes this one is revealing and should horrify every reader. That horror however need not leave readers petrified in the correct sense of the word.
One of Shulamith's demands was :
The freeing of women from the tyranny of reproduction by every means possible, and the diffusion of the child -rearing role to the society as a whole, men as well as women. Brilliantly she goes beyond the usual "progressive" social and political remedies and does not stop at demands like day-care centres stating that "day care centres buy women off. They ease the immediate pressure without asking why that pressure is on women."
Shulamith's biggest contribution in my mind is the radical ideas she puts forward re freeing women form their biology. She acknowledges that there are dangers when we think so radically stating ;
To free women thus from their biology would be to threaten the social unit that is organized around biological reproduction and the subjection of women to their biological destiny, the family.
While many thought her demands in the area of freeing women from the all encompassing burden of reproducing the class too radical her strength like that of several women radical Marxist theorists is to force readers to examine seriously womens role in reproductive labour in all its global manifestions. Writers like Margaret Meis (Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale,) , Silvia Federici
Martha E. Giminez and many others strive to make links between women's oppression, reproductive and domestic labour, violence against women and the struggles of the working class -51 percent of which are women. Shulamith states clearly that "because the work of women is not part of the modern economy. its function as the very basis of that conomy is overlooked."
Wendy Forrest is a socialist, trade Unionist and feminist. She works as a nurse in Toronto.
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