The Feminist Manifesto
Reading Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex, I found the urgency today’s radicals lack
Of course, Firestone would tell me that these chill sessions are where it starts. In the days following her death, I had a hard time pinning down people who truly felt like they knew her. (At one point I felt passed around the radical feminist underworld like a hot potato—“She was best friends with her!” “No, she was.”) Still, it was clear that Firestone explicitly embraced the power of community in revolution. Atkinson outlined a scenario that echoes my mom and countless other radicals throughout history: “You come to New York, and you’re a weirdo, and you’re so happy to be with all the other weirdos who don’t think you’re weird,” she told me. “[I]t’s surprising, it’s thrilling, it’s like you’ve discovered your twin.”
Ultimately, one of the most radical things about Firestone, perhaps trumping even the Brave New World-like fantasies of reproduction without pregnancy, was the enormous intellectual generosity embedded in her fraught and solitary life. I picked up on this as I scrolled through the three-part Firestone memorial on n + 1. She wrote to Ann Snitow in 1970, in a copy of The Dialectic of Sex: “I, too, basked in your kindness and rare understanding all the long winter that I wrote this book,” even as she scolded such a default female setting. To Alix Kates Shulman, Firestone wrote a handwritten thank you in 1997 for “being a great role model” nestled in a copy of her second book, Airless Spaces, a memoir about her time in a mental hospital.
Reading these made me peek at the pristine copy of The Dialectic of Sex I’d found in my mother’s book collection when she died in 2006, and sure enough, there was a note written in 2002: “Dear Ellen, I’m sending you this complimentary copy of the reissue as I consider you the godmother of this book.” Firestone may have faded from the forefront of the movement, but she left a trail of clues, brief salutes to the relationships that enabled such rapid and radical change, the coalitions that created the improbable scene 43 years later of a father handing his daughter a prescient feminist polemic, lest she miss out on a classic. For people who don’t have dads like mine, there’s always the impetus of loss; a flurry of obituaries tends to breathe life into a fading figure in the form of a slow burn. (It happened to my mother, too.) This piece is itself part of that awakening—hopefully with a few chill sessions to follow.
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By giving a stranger a proper funeral, my community did a mitzvah. What if he wasn’t actually Jewish?