Wednesday, September 2, 2020

#StayAtHome: The Dialectic of Sex


Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution was one of the first radical feminist manifestos - if not the first. She points out in her text that at the time of publication (1970), there were no radical feminist utopias from which to draw inspiration (or a plan), so in the final chapter of her book, she writes the blueprint for a radical feminist utopia. (Although written in 1970, Joanna Russ' The Female Man won't be published until 1975.)

Firestone draws inspiration from Marxism, and specifically from Engels' method in influential works like The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State. She critiques reformist "American Feminism" (suffrage, the right to participate in social fashions like being a flapper, etc.), Freudianism as a flawed feminism, the origins of inegalitarian gender roles and ideology, the notion of childhood as an ideological construct that become a specific stage of human life (ideology as lived experience and practice, as Althusser would later hold), racism as a subspecies of sexism, male gender ideology, and romance. 

Firestone covers a lot of ground in a fresh way. She has a theory of totality.

The Dialectic of Sex puts forward a stages theory of human society that owes a great deal to Engels - and I like Engels, so no complaints there. And since there weren't any existing radical feminist utopian blueprints when she wrote Dialectic, in the last chapter of the book, Firestone proposes what a non-sexist society would look like: households, not families; collective child-rearing rather than parents; free love within a society free of gender norms.  In short, a communist future, although perhaps not the one envisioned by many male Marxist-Leninists. 

One can argue with whether certain elements for the future society would actually work, but one thing seems pretty clear: this radical feminism has very little to do with the contemporary brand of essentialism and transphobia peddled as radical feminism by the likes of J.K. Rowling and others. Rather, it points towards some of the futures proposed by Samuel R. Delany (Triton, Dhalgren, The Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand) and Cecelia Holland (Floating Worlds). 

Science fiction, not fantasy. Pointing toward the future.

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