The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for a Feminist Revolution

In January 1969, a group of radical feminists calling themselves the Redstockings – a play on the word bluestocking (an 18th and 19th century term for a woman who had intellectual or literary interests) adapted to include red, a color long associated with revolution – erupted in the USA. The aim was to develop female class consciousness and to overturn the status of women as an oppressed class. One of the group’s founding members was Shulamith Firestone (1945-2012), a Jewish, Canadian-born feminist.

Originally published in 1970, when Shulamith Firestone was just twenty-five years old, ‘The Dialectic of Sex’, one of the most contentious and important books of feminist theory, was the first book of the women’s liberation movement to put forth a feminist theory of politics.

Firestone presents feminism as the key radical ideology, the missing link between Marx and Freud,  uniting their visions  of the political and the personal, Susie Orbach said in a discussion about the book in the Freud Museum in April 2015.

Firestone synthesizes and criticises the works of Freud, Marx, and Engels to create a strong argument for feminist revolution. She does not dismiss them; she says social revolution can’t happen until you go back to the source of original oppression, that of man over woman. “Women are an oppressed class”, she says, exploited as sex objects, breeders, domestic servants, and cheap labour.

"Freudianism subsumed the place of feminism as the lesser of two evils." It [Freudianism] was the perfect foil for feminism, because, though it stuck the same though it stuck the same nerve, it had a safety catch that feminism didn’t - it never questioned the given reality.”

The connection between sex and racism is much deeper that anyone has cared to go, says Firestone.

Racism is a sexual phenomenon. Like sexism in the individual psyche, we can fully understand racism only in terms of the power hierarchies of the family: in the Biblical sense, the races are no more than the various parents and siblings of the Family of Man; and as in the development of sexual classes, the physiological distinction of race become important culturally only due to the unequal distribution of power. Thus, racism is sexism extended.”

Sexually men and women were channelled into “a highly ordered – time, place, procedure, even dialogue – heterosexuality restricted to the genitals, rather than diffused over the entire physical being.”

Firestone submits four demands for an alternative system

1. – The freeing of women from the tyranny of reproduction by every means possible, and the diffusion of the child-rearing role to the society as a whole, men as well as women.

2. – The political autonomy, based on economic independence, of both women and children. (Women and children, Firestone argues, are always mentioned in the same breath; the nature of this special bond is no more than shared oppression). “Under, a cybernetic communism”, she says, “even during the socialist transition, work would be divorced from wages, the ownership of the means of production in the hands of all people, and wealth distributed on the basis of the need, independent of the social value of the individual’s contribution to the society.”

  " ....... while we still had a money economy, people might receive a guaranteed annual income from the state to take care of basic physical needs. These incomes, if distributed equitably to men, women and children, regardless of age, work, prestige, birth, could in themselves equalize in one blow the economic class system."

3. – The complete integration of women and children in the society.  …. “ All institutions that segregate the sexes, or bar children from adult society, must be destroyed (down with school)”

4.- The sexual freedom of all women and children. …. “humanity could finally revert to its natural polymorphous sexuality – all forms of sexuality would be allowed and indulged.”

Shulamith Firestone was written this book more than thirty years ago, but it is just as enlightening today as it was then.