I was certain I still had my copy of the book on the same shelf as my long-untouched copies of The Second Sex, The Female Eunuch, and The Feminine Mystique. After learning of the death last week of Shulamith Firestone, author of 1970’s The Dialectic of Sex, I roused myself to search for the book, with its inexplicable cover (a Degas portrait…really?) but ended up with empty, if dusty, hands.
Her first and most important work is still required college reading, but unlike those of her second-wave feminist peers—Greer, Friedman, and Gloria Steinem—Firestone’s is not a familiar face. She never turned up on The Phil Donahue Show or in the gossip pages or on Henry Kissinger’s arm.
And yet in the photo accompanying her New York Times obituary, Firestone looks exactly like you’d expect. That “look”—the frizzy hair, the Lennon spectacles, the lipstick-free, unsmiling mouth—transcends eras. Firestone eerily resembles one of my old Reagan-era anarcho-peacenik comrades—also crazy, also brilliant—who helped me block consensus when some other chick in our women’s caucus proposed dropping the word “caucus” because “it has the word ‘cock’ in it.”
Firestone published her radical manifesto calling for the liberation of women from childbirth’s unfair burden—and from gender itself—at only 25. That’s around the age when schizophrenia tends to claim its victims, of which she was one.
The Dialectic of Sex proposed that, contra Marx, the key class struggle is between man and woman rather than owner and worker. Citing alleged discoveries by Professor John Money of Johns Hopkins, Firestone declared sexual identity a fluid and artificial construct. She declared:
[T]he end goal of feminist revolution must be…not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself: genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally.
Furthering those ends, communitarian daycare centers would replace the nuclear family. Marriage was a patriarchal trap and childbirth a cruel cosmic curse—as, she notes, even the Bible tells us.
Born to Orthodox Jewish parents, Firestone came by her Old Testament knowledge honestly. Whether or not her genetic heritage was also one of the sources of her schizophrenia—or, for that matter, whether the “schizophrenia” of the 1970s bears any relationship to the disease called by that name today—I’ll leave to those more knowledgeable.
What is obvious is that yesterday’s mental illness is today’s social policy.
Meet “John.” He now regrets his taxpayer-funded sex-change operation and the lengthy on-the-job “transition” his public-service union strongly supported. Everyone involved (except those hapless taxpayers) took it for granted that “genital difference between human beings” no longer mattered.
I’ve written here before about the Che Guevara-loving Toronto District School Board, whose teachers call themselves “co-parents” and conduct lessons in cross-dressing and gender stereotype awareness in primary school. Anyone who objects is the crazy one.
Progressives either don’t know or care that a key component of Firestone’s theories turned out to be junk science of the most tragic sort. The Dialectic of Sex holds up the aforementioned Dr. Money’s findings on gender “fluidity” based upon his work with a twin named Bruce Reimer, whose penis had been rendered “unrescuable” during circumcision.
Dr. Money spied a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to test his radical theories in the real world. He assured Reimer’s parents that babies are born genderless, counseling them to raise Bruce as “Brenda.” After a lifetime of anguish, including a sex change back to male again, Bruce committed suicide in 2004.
But while academics and “educators” forcibly incarnate the discredited musings of a troubled young woman from the Nixon era, it is pop culture that seems, in spite of itself, to instinctively recoil at all this “liberation.”
At the melancholy conclusion of 1975’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show, two underlings turn on their “sweet transvestite” leader and take him prisoner:
Frank-N-Furter, it’s all over
Your mission is a failure
Your lifestyle’s too extreme
Similarly, the “male” and “female” leads in Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) revert to their original gender in a sequence that’s nakedly redemptive, if not downright celebratory.
Is any film or play about drag queens complete without the lonely hero(ine) staring sadly into a theatrical makeup mirror?
Firestone’s friends, family, and feminist admirers duly posted effusive memorials all over the Internet, but none of them was with her when she passed away. She’d been dead for a week when her landlord discovered her decaying corpse.
So much for that “communitarian” spirit.
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