Baruch dayan ha’emet (blessed is the true Judge). Shulamith Firestone is nifteret (deceased).
I learned this when I was on the phone with a friend, idly browsing through my Facebook news feed, and saw the update from the Jewish Women’s Archive about Ms. Firestone’s death. After I hung up with my friend, I had a crying session.
It is impossible for me to adequately express my deep admiration for Shulamith Firestone, and certainly not while I am this upset. However, I will try.
I got into women’s rights advocacy when I wrote a paper about Second Wave Feminism. When I did research for the paper and read Second Wave classics, those books really resonated with me, largely because the issues that women fought for then still need to be resolved now. While I credit reading Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique as my official feminist click moment, reading Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution was certainly a close runner-up, part of the overall realization.
Anyone well-versed in feminist literature knows that The Feminine Mystique and The Dialectic of Sex are two very different books; where The Feminine Mystique is very mainstream and complains about white middle class women’s problems more than anything else, The Dialectic of Sex is radical, demanding a scientific method for fetuses to mature outside of the womb in order to totally empower women and an upheaval of the nuclear family and society at large. While I did not understand or agree with everything in The Dialectic of Sex (I was only 14 when I read it), it really resonated with me in ways that most other radical feminist literature did not.
It also fascinated me that someone with a name as Jewish as Shulamith could be a feminist. I know it sounds a little silly, but when I thought of feminists (especially when I first heard of Firestone and was not yet familiar with most major feminists), I thought of white bread American names like Betty and Gloria, not Shulamith. When I read Firestone’s short bio on the back of the book and saw that she attended Yavneh of Telshe Yeshiva, a clearly Orthodox (possibly bordering on ultra-Orthodox) school, that fascinated me even more. While it wasn’t a conscious thought, it struck me as “if she can be so ethnic and such a classic feminist, why can’t I?”
Ever since I read The Dialectic of Sex, I have done sporadic research on Firestone and her life, trying to learn more about who she was as a person rather than what she accomplished. Knowing about her achievements only takes a quick Google search (although you learn something new every day - I never knew she reintroduced Alice Paul to the world until a I saw Jacqui Ceballos of the Veteran Feminists of America’s email about Firestone’s death). Learning about who she was is a whole different kind of research. I still have a lot of questions about her life. Sadly, I doubt that most of them will ever be answered. I wish that this wasn’t the case.
I just feel so bad that Firestone was alone at the end. I would have been there for her faithfully. She truly changed my life, influenced my views on feminism and the world at large; it would have been the least I could do in return. I’m sure all of the other women and men out there whose lives were impacted by her work feel the same way.
Shulamith, thank you for your contributions to this world. Feminism will not forget you.