An Obituary in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

(edited for length)

Shulamith Firestone, 67

Feminist author later battled mental illness

Writer Shulamith Firestone, who published her influential “The Dialectic of Sex” at age 25 and then retreated into isolation and mental illness, has died at age 67.  The death was from natural causes.

“The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution” was published in 1970 during the height of the women’s liberation movement.  Ms. Firestone applied Marxist analysis to the status of women and argued that true liberation would only come when women were freed from childbearing.  In Ms. Firestone’s utopian future, babies would be gestated outside the womb and raised by both sexes.  “The tyranny of the biological family would be broken,” she wrote.  The book joined works like Kate Millet’s “Sexual Politics” and Germaine Greer’s “The Female Eunuch” as a 1970s feminist standard and is still assigned in college courses.

Some feminists believed that Ms. Firestone “had found the solution” to sexual inequality, according to Ruth Rosen in “The World Split Open” (2000), a history of the modern women’s movement. But other feminists were incensed by her ideas because…”Firestone seemed to accept men as the normative human being, rather than demanding that society accommodate – and honor – women’s important biological contributions as the bearers and rearers of children.”

But Ms. Firestone retreated from public life after the book was published and was hospitalized with schizophrenia in the 1980s.  More recently she became so reclusive…she had been dead for about a week when her body was discovered.  Ms. Firestone was beloved despite her struggles, Mr. Perl (landlord) said.  People often called his office to volunteer to pay the rent on her East Village apartment.

When “Dialectic” was published in 1970, it won high praise from the New York Times, where critic John Leonard wrote: “A sharp and often brilliant mind is at work here.”  As the book rose on the best-seller lists, however, its author receded from public view.  She rejected the demands of celebrity and was in and out of psychiatric hospitals.

Ms. Firestone’s only other book was “Airless Spaces”, a fictionalized account of life in and out of psychiatric hospitals published in 1998.  Around this same time, Ms. Firestone reneged on an agreement to allow “Dialectic” to be reissued as part of a series of writings by major feminist thinkers.  Feminist writer Jennifer Baumgardner, who planned to oversee the series, was shocked.  “I sputtered something about how my generation should have access to the book, that it could change lives and consciousness, and she didn’t care about that?” Ms. Baumgardner wrote in Dissent magazine in 2002.  “If your generation really wants it,” Ms. Firestone told Ms. Baumgardner, “there are a few old copies on Amazon.com.  I don’t feel a responsibility to bring out the book just because you want it.  I’m very sorry.”

In addition to her sisters, survivors include her mother, two brothers, and another sister.

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