Our topic today is Shulamith Firestone’s radical feminist book The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, published in 1970.
But first a brief note on the death of Kate Millett, last Wednesday, September 6th. Listeners of Interchange will know we discussed Millett’s own radical feminist book, Sexual Politics, back in May with Maggie Doherty. Doherty wrote an obituary essay on Millett in the New Republic (The Courageous Radicalism of Kate Millett) and points out what a monumental year 1970 was for the feminist manifesto–a year which saw into print both Millett’s and Firestone’s books, Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch, Toni Cade’s anthology The Black Woman, and Robin Morgan’s anthology Sisterhood is Powerful (the last of which is out of print–someone out there fix that please). Doherty details the focus of these works:
Firestone described a world of women liberated from “the tyranny of reproduction.” In her feminist utopia, joy, and sexual pleasure were not eliminated but rather “rediffused,” breaking the constraints placed on them by patriarchy. Millett, too, believed that patriarchy could be destroyed; humanity depended upon it. “If we did not have these rigid sexual roles,” she once said, “we would all have so much more room for spontaneous behavior—for doing things that we feel like doing, for following our own instincts, for being imaginative, for being creative. The great thing about it all is that we could not only change this, but in the process, really improve everything else as well.” Patriarchy, she believed, would eventually become just one regrettable era in human history.
The Dialectic of Sex is widely considered the most influential book of Second Wave Feminism. In it Firestone argues that the biological sexual dichotomy is the root cause of male domination, economic class exploitation, racism, imperialism and ecological irresponsibility. Firestone insists that the cultural and technological preconditions now exist that make the elimination of sexual inequality possible and perhaps necessary for human survival.
Sexual inequality is “an oppression that goes back beyond recorded history to the animal kingdom itself”: in this sense, it has been universal and inevitable, but the cultural and technological preconditions now exist that make its elimination possible and perhaps necessary for human survival.
The Dialectic of Sex remains remarkably relevant today—a testament to Firestone’s startlingly prescient vision. The author died in 2012, but her ideas live on through this extraordinary book.
Kathi Weeks teaches in the Women’s Studies Program at Duke University. She studies feminist theory, political theory, the critical study of work, and utopian thought. Her books are The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics and Postwork Imaginaries (Duke University Press, 2011) and Constituting Feminist Subjects (Cornell University, 1998).
The Feminist Manifesto: Reading Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex by Nona Willis Aronowitz
Eulogy for a Sex Radical: Shulamith Firestone’s Forgotten Feminism by Emily Chertoff
In Praise of Being Daring (And Wrong) by Sady Doyle
Death of a Revolutionary by Susan Faludi
On Shulamith Firestone (reflections on her life and work by friends, critics, and fellow travelers)
Interchange – Dissecting Male Supremacy: Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics
by Peggy Seeger (Different Therefore Equal, 1979)
“I’m Going to Be an Engineer”
“What Do You Do All Day?” (with Ewan MacColl)
“Nine Month Blues”
“Talking Matrimony Blues”
“Different Therefore Equal”
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