What Happened to Shulamith Firestone and the Movement She Helped Create?

Illustration for article titled What Happened to Shulamith Firestone and the Movement She Helped Create?

Susan Faludi's lengthy New Yorker piece on Shulamith Firestone, the brilliant feminist pioneer who authored The Dialectic of Sex and founded the first major radical-feminist groups in the country before she was in her late 20s, is a heartbreaking must-read. Firestone withdrew from feminism almost as quickly as she helped shape the second-wave movement, and lived a life of solitude and bouts of schizophrenia until she died alone in her apartment last August.

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“When I think back on Shulie’s contribution to the movement, I think of her as a shooting star," Jo Freeman, a feminist writer and activist who worked with Firestone early on, once said. "She flashed brightly across the midnight sky, and then she disappeared.”

The essay covers how Firestone's successes eventually led to her demise, as well as her familial struggles — her younger brother lamented her failure to make a "good marriage" even at her funeral — her mental illness, and the "trashing" that her former cohorts believe forced Firestone into self-exile. Of a Memorial Conference, Faludi writes, "It was hard to say which moment the mourners were there to mark: the passing of Firestone or that of a whole generation of feminists who had been unable to thrive in the world they had done so much to create."

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I think a VERY (very!!!) important thing to understand, as is mentioned in the New Yorker article, we still know very little about schizophrenia but it may be a symptom of societal disease, more so than an individual disorder. For example: depression. If you are able to not be depressed in circumstances that warrant extreme mental disturbance, that ~itself~ is a sign of disorder. So my question that I am posing to you is: Was she schizophrenic, or is society???

In an insane world can a sane (wo)man survive? I think it's a valid question to ask. If you've ever done any research into schizophrenia, you would see that it isn't a cut and dried disease of psychosis. The psychosis is (conceivably) brought on by extreme alienation, much like being in solitary confinement would. You saying that you left the feminist "movement" behind is pretty rich. What movement? There is no cohesive feminism or "feminist movement", beyond your typical "smart girls/women who understand that they are still marginalized due to their gender in this day and age" vs. people who think gender is no longer a barrier, and so doesn't need to be considered anymore. (I'll leave out those religious fanatics who are all "man ruler of the house/family" as outliers.... although in many cultures that's actually still the "norm").

Feminism, as a brand, (or movement to get all old-schooley,) is pretty bland and non-specific beyond a general idea that women should be treated fairly, which, as I said divides into two groups, those people who think they already are, and those who think that there are still significant discrepancies in the way the female gender is held back as a hold-over from the oldskool (totally super sucky) way of doing things. (No vote, women as property, etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum).