Shulmith Firestone passed away a few years back, alone and mostly forgotten, after battling years of mental health issues. But I remember her writings from nearly fifty years ago and the white hot heat of Second Wave Feminism, how much strength it provided me with when I was coming out.
From Tikkun Magazine: https://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/missing-shulamith-and-the-dialectic-of-metoo
by Martha Sonnenberg
February 14, 2018
I was 24 years old in 1970, when I read Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex, a year younger than she was when she wrote the book. The book catapulted me from the limitations of the Left organization of which I was a member into the world of Women’s Liberation. There was no going back once I saw and felt the chauvinism of the Left, how women’s issues were seen as tangential to the more important priorities of “real” radical politics, rather than seeing feminism as “central and directly radical in itself.” Women in my organization typically played a supportive role to the men, the theorists, the writers, the speakers—we made coffee, mimeographed pamphlets, passed out the pamphlets, sometimes we spoke at meetings, and even had a women’s caucus within the organization, but, as Firestone told us, we were still “in need of male approval, in this case anti-establishment male approval, to legitimate (ourselves) politically”.
When Shulamith Firestone died, at the age of 67, in 2013, ravaged by mental illness and forgotten by many, her sister, Rabbi Tirzah Firestone said in her eulogy, “She influenced thousands of women to have new thoughts, to lead new lives. I am who I am, and a lot of women are who they are, because of Shulie.” I was one of those women.
Recently, I took my dog eared copy of The Dialectic of Sex down from my bookshelf as the #MeToo movement evolved, and was once again astounded by the incendiary brilliance of the book, now nearly 50 years old. Shulamith Firestone was the first, and maybe the only, to probe the depths to which a misogynistic patriarchy permeated our society, developing a concept of a “sexual class system” which ran deeper than economic, racial, or social divisions. With prescient analytical perspective, she placed the traditional family structure at the core of women’s oppression. She wrote, “Unless revolution uproots the basic social organization, the biologic family—the vinculum through which the psychology of power can always be smuggled—the tapeworm of exploitation will never be annihilated.” While the establishment press characterized her ideas as preposterous, many of her notions of how patriarchal social organization would be “uprooted” have come to realization—in vitro fertilization, how children are socialized, children’s rights, gay rights and the legalization of gay marriage, the whole LGBTQ movement, ending traditional marriage roles, the freeing of gender identity from biologic destiny. And it is within the context of these historical developments, upending the socio-economic buttress of traditional gender roles and identities that #MeToo has emerged. These factors have given #MeToo a power and force that previous “waves” of women’s liberation lacked, not because previous issues or efforts were any less important, but because they were unable to reach women in all levels of society, transcending class, race, profession, and age. #MeToo , with its revelations of the ubiquity of abuse and violence against women,has reached all these women. Importantly, too, it is a movement that began not with “leaders”, but from grass roots in communities all across the country, and, in fact, all across the world.
The history of #MeToo has been obscured by the media frenzy that concurrently emerged. Tarana Burke, an African American woman, created a non-profit organization called Me Too in 2006, to help women of color who had been sexually abused or assaulted. This was not about naming perpetrators or holding them accountable; it was only to give the affected women a voice. This, the media ignored. But in 2017 two things happened which did get media attention: The New York Times published revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse of Hollywood women, and following that, an actress, Alyssa Milano, who became aware of Tarana Burke’s work, wrote in social media, “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me Too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” What followed was the flooding of social media with stories of abuse and harassment, and a way for women to tell their experience and stand in solidarity with other abuse survivors. In the first 24 hours of Milano’s post, more than 12 million “MeToo” posts appeared. All these aspects of #MeToo, its mass base and its revelation of the pervasive and perverse alignment of misogyny and power, make it dangerous to the established power structure. Not surprisingly, that power structure has responded quickly in its attack on #MeToo.
Power and patriarchy defends itself
Efforts to maintain current power structures and cultures take multiple forms. One of the most insidious forms of preserving the current power relationships lies with the established media. While the “media” is not an autonomous entity, the individuals who contribute to it, the writers, the pundits, the “newsmakers”, promote in various ways the dominant culture of institutionalized sexism, and the undermining of #MeToo. It does so in the following ways:
Continue reading at: https://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/missing-shulamith-and-the-dialectic-of-metoo