Too Radical to Function?

Reading excerpts of Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex was, admittedly, a shocking experience.  Her imagined “utopia” for a “feminist revolution” sounded more like a dystopia devoid of meaningful human contact to me.  I believe that she is distorting feminist and egalitarian ideals to support her extreme Marxist belief system.  Likewise, Firestone also completely dismisses the human need to create meaningful long-term connections and the natural bonds between children and their parents.  I realize, however, that I’m not really saying anything new with my assertion that Firestone’s work is exceedingly radical and, frankly, to use a more colloquial term, absolutely insane.  What I’m more interested in is whether her work has value to a more moderate feminist thinker and if her theories can or should inform modern discourse.  In many ways, she takes intriguing ideas about the over-emphasis on the family unit and the oppressive nature of sex roles and takes them to extremely disgusting and disturbing conclusions about childhood sexuality and the complete disintegration of any semblance of family units.  Is it valuable to examine her critiques of society and use them to construct our own ways of bettering the situation of women and children?  On the other hand, are her dangerous conclusions so out-of-line that they ultimately discredit her critiques of Western society?  Firestone currently holds a place in the feminist canon, but does she still deserve it?

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One Response to Too Radical to Function?

  1. emmettwynn says:

    I had a very different experience with Firestone’s essay. I adored it, and thought it more or less spot-on. Let’s outline what about your comment might make for an unfair reading of Firestone.
    The first thing is that Firestone would almost certainly redefine “meaningful human contact,” or at least question the validity of the current definition of it. The phrase is tied up in current familial standards: our culture has decided that raising people with small sets of parents in a nuclear household is the way to construct “meaningful human contact.” I have a similar problem with your postulation of our “need” to develop parent-child bonds. I doubt the necessity of the bond to be between consanguineous people; furthermore, I doubt that it need be for a small set of people. Indeed, would it not be nice for children raised in some kind of Firestonian society to sublimate their desire to bond with other humans to the state? Or to a larger set or more equally treated adults? I don’t see this to be that appalling.
    Similarly, your statement that Firestone’s vision is anti-egalitarian startles me. I find her vision to be the most egalitarian of all—children are absolutely freed from the tyranny of parenthood. Right now, parents in the house are afforded massive, sometimes (usually if I’m in a bad mood) influence over the choices of the parents. If this influence is diffused out into a more pluralistic setting, wouldn’t that be ultra-egalitarian? Merit and drive would be the only deciders for a child’s success, not the situation into which they were born or the possibly insidious influence of their parents. All in all, “insane” is a little strong.
    The idea of childhood sexuality might be viscerally terrifying, but it’s important to ask why they are so awful prima facie. As Firestone claims, this taboo serves the current system of familial relationships. If children are sexually liberated, their role as minors subject to a domineering entity will be diminished greatly, which I and Firestone think is good. One just has to get over the hump, as it were.
    Lastly, Firestone definitely deserves a place in the feminist canon, because of her willingness to question those cultural institutions that we may assume can be fixed without trashing them. Her proposal of the transitive connection between home and child, child and women, and then women to home is powerful in all the right ways. It can be critiqued, of course, but questioning the ability to fix things fully without a massive paradigm shift I think means she deserves a flagship position in the feminist canon (not that she’s the only one to do this).
    As far as what more moderate feminist thinkers can draw from Firestone, I think at least a willingness to question the ability of your proposed fixes that work within the current cultural paradigm is a worthwhile thing to take from this work.

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