Wednesday, September 22, 2021

My hero / Shulamith Firestone by Joanna Biggs

Shulamith Firestone. Photograph: Lori Hiris


My hero: 

Shulamith Firestone by Joanna Biggs

A 1960s activist who set up the first radical feminist groups in New York, her book The Dialectic of Sex is back in print for the first time in 45 years


Saturday 9 May 2015

A

t the 1967 National Conference for New Politics in Chicago, Shulamith Firestone and Jo Freeman submitted a resolution that would still be controversial today: they wanted marriage and property laws to be more equal, women to have control over their own bodies and to be represented to the strength of 51% on the conference floor. “Cool down, little girl,” the chairman said, and, as Freeman remembered, “literally patted Shulie on the head”. Firestone didn’t cool down: at 22, she would set up the first radical feminist groups in New York; at 24, she would organise the first abortion speak-out in America; at 25, she would write The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, now brought back into print by Verso after 45 years.

The Dialectic of Sex is dedicated to Simone de Beauvoir, “who endured”, and it borrows her method from The Second Sex. Firestone tears through Freud, Marx, Hemingway and Mailer, showing how their work has upheld ideas about femininity she wants to sweep away. The family traps women and hobbles children; contemporary forms of romance demean women; current feminism has failed them. While the world is as it is, she wearily admits, there is nothing to do but play along. But what if society were organised differently? If contraceptives and robots freed us to organise in household units of 10 to 12, children could be brought up communally, chores shared and people freed to do the work they choose. At the end of The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan proposed letting someone else make the bread; Firestone imagines a new society.

Firestone abdicated her position at the centre of radical feminism after her book’s publication. She worked as a painter and spent periods in psychiatric hospitals, before writing a book of short stories, Airless Spaces, about the experience. On her death in 2012, her life as an activist, short and fire-bright, was celebrated by everyone from Kathleen Hanna to Kate Millett. With a name like Shulamith Firestone, how could you not change the world?

THE GUARDIAN





2009
001 My hero / Oscar Wilde by Michael Holroyd
002 My hero / Harley Granville-Barker by Richard Eyre
003 My hero / Edward Goldsmith by Zac Goldsmith
004 My hero / Fridtjof Nansen by Sara Wheeler 
005 My hero / Mother Mercedes Lawler IBVM by Antonia Fraser

007 My hero / Ernest Shepard by Richard Holmes
008 My hero / JG Ballard by Will Self
009 My hero / Alan Ross by William Boyd
010 My hero / Ben the labrador by John Banville

011 My hero / Vicent van Gogh by Margaret Drabble
012 My hero / Franz Marek by Eric Hobsbawm

2010

017 My hero / Jack Yeats by Colm Tóibín
018 My hero / Francisco Goya by Diana Athill
019 My hero / Max Stafford-Clark by Sebastian Barry
020 My hero / Arthur Holmes by Richard Fortey

036 My hero / Robert Lowell by Jonathan Raban
037 My hero / Beryl Bainbridge by Michael Holroyd
038 My hero / Charles Schulz by Jenny Colgan
039 My hero / Oliver Knussen by Adam Foulds
040 My hero / Annie Proulx by Alan Warner

041 My hero / David Lynch by Paul Murray
042 My hero / Edwin Morgan by Robert Crawford
043 My hero / Anne Lister by Emma Donoghue
044 My hero / Jane Helen Harrinson by Mary Beard
045 My hero / Edmund Burke by David Marquand
046 My hero / Shelagh Deleaney by Jeanette Winterson
047 My hero / Christopher Marlowe by Val McDermid
048 My hero / Gwen John by Anne Enright
049 My hero / Michael Mayne by Susan Hill
050 My hero / Stanley Spencer by Howard Jacobson

051 My hero / William Beveridge by Will Hutton
052 My hero / Jean McConville by Amanda Foreman
053 My hero / Alexander Pushkin by Elaine Feinstein
054 My hero / Michael de Montaigne by Liyun Li
055 My hero / Michael Donaghy by Maggie O'Farrell
056 My hero / Richmal Crompton by Louise Crompton
057 My hero / Edward Thomas by David Constantine
058 My hero / Cy Twombly by Edmund de Waal
059 My hero / Sefton by Jilly Cooper

2011
079 My hero / Gene Wolfe by Neil Gaiman
087 My hero / Alberto Moravia by John Burnside
096 My hero / Isaac Babel by AD Miller
097 Lucian Freud by Esi Edugyan
100 Thomas Tranströmer by Robin Robertson
102 My hero / David Hockney by Susan Hill

2012

190 My hero / Iris Murdoch by Charlotte Mendelson
194 My hero / René Descartes by James Kelman
199 My hero / Albert Camus by Geoff Dyer

2015
250 My hero John Bayley by Richard Eyre

2016




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