On the first page of The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, the author, Shulamith Firestone, warns women, “Feminists have to question, not just all of Western culture, but the organization of culture itself, and further, even the very organization of nature. Many women give up in despair: if that's how deep it goes they don't want to know.”
What Shulamith understood is that the one of the obstacles for making the case for feminist revolution were women themselves.
It was, in 1920, when American women won the vote, that they also lost their emancipation from the male domain. By given the vote in a man’s world, many men and women thought equal rights were thereafter redundant.
The masterstroke of the two-party system was to divide and conquer women along political party lines. Has anyone ever wondered why we have Women’s Democratic Clubs and Women’s Republican Clubs, when you’ll never find a Men’s Republican or Democratic Club? It’s because men are the “club.” Has anyone ever wondered why we have the Women’s League of Voters but not a Men’s League of Voters? Because men are the “league.”
The male preserve is long established. The Election of 2016 only reinforced the idea that women still have a long way to go. The fact that American men hide behind a self-styled two-party system in each of the 50 states does not in any way diminished men’s role as a unified force of the master gender. Unquestionably, from Genesis to this very day, the assigned roles of women remain, as Shulamith described in 1970, “secondary status” to men.
Shulamith Firestone went on to say, “This is painful, no matter how many levels of consciousness one reaches, the problem always goes deeper.” What Shulamith understood, that even most women today do not, is, as she wrote, “the family contained within itself in embryo, all the antagonisms that later develop on a wide scale within the society and state, and that, unless revolution uproots the basic social organization, the biological family, the tapeworm of exploitation will never be annihilated.” Obviously, the exploitation she was referring to are the many parasitic menfolk.
The traditional (patriarchal) man-centered family, and by extension, the social, cultural and political dominion controlled by men, has always been at the core of women’s oppression. With unusual candor for the time, Shulamith laid it out. She revealed that when she asked a friend what childbirth was like, her friend said, “Childbirth is like shi*ting a pumpkin,” she wrote. Shulamith believed that childhood is a “supervised nightmare.” There is no question that she was way ahead of the social and psychoanalytical icons that preceded her.
In helping to define the etymology of family, she wrote, the “term family was first used by the Romans to denote a social unit the head of which ruled over wife, children, and slaves - under Roman law he was invested with the rights of life and death over them all; famulus means domestic slave, and familia is the total number of slaves belonging to one man.”
Shulamith Firestone foresaw that what is necessary for human survival is the radical reassessment of the “sexual substratum of the historical dialectic." Unlike Freud, she did not think or accept that socialized gender repression was immutable. Rather, she thought, “In the radical feminist view, the new feminism is not just the revival of a serious political movement for social equality. It is the second wave of the most important revolution in history. Its aim: the overthrow of the oldest, most rigid class/caste system in existence, the class system based on sex - a system consolidated over thousands of years, lending the archetypal male and female roles and undeserved legitimacy and seeming permanence.”
The real art of the dialectic, as Shulamith understood it, is the examining and deliberating the truth of opinions and facts, not entertaining traditional male defensive protection, which merely regurgitate the tired-old dogma of the past. She saw the sincerity behind recognizing our past and present conditions for what they really are.
Unfortunately, her thought-provoking proposals in The Dialectic of Sex triggered more outrage than fresh thought.
If the current renascence of women does not revive the future of humanity, then the “reawakening” of women may not catch up in time to ride the “third feminist wave” of the most important revolution in history.
But when the blue flame of Shulamith Firestone from our past beats us to our present, maybe that is a good time to listen to a woman’s voice crying out from the wilderness of fifty years ago. These draining seconds of time is all we have.