Starting the Fire: Reconsidering Dialectic of Sex

Shulamith Firestone’s book titled, The Dialectic of Sex is a stirring piece worthy of additional investigation. Firestone’s central thesis is that womanhood is an economic class. Written when she was only a quarter of a century old, twenty-five, Firestone breaks down the true issues of radical feminism: biology. If women are unable to work due to reproduction, then reproduction must be done away with. No longer will women be physically and emotionally prevented from the workforce. In her own words, “The biological family is an inherently unequal power distribution.” The family breaks down communities into select units. “The patriarchal family was only the most recent in a string of 'primary' social organizations, all of which defined woman as a different species due to her unique childbearing capacity. The term family was first used by the Romans to denote a social unit the head of which ruled over wife, children, and slaves - under Roman law he was invested with the rights of life and death over them all; famulus means domestic slave, and familia is the total number of slaves belonging to one man.” Therefore, within modern society we are still operating under the concept that the family, over socio-communal organizations, is the best option. The divisions of the family unit, when broken down into two separate genders, the self is naturally halved. Feminists today forget why women began organizing in the first place: they had no legal rights.

Firestone’s work encompasses different aspects of life, specifically childhood. As long as biological reproduction continues, women will be forced to have physical and economic dependence on men. Firestone’s gripping criticism then concentrates on the child. In her viewpoint, childhood is limiting. Children must appear like constant happy clichés, if children are unhappy, no one will love them. Within childhood too is the vital issue of education. Children are forced to only interact with those within their small age group, isolating them from their humanity and the rest of the world.

Now that overpopulation is a crucial issue, we are no longer needed to produce children. Women’s lives can take other directions. Alternatively, within Firestone’s words, “...childbirth is at best necessary and tolerable. It is not fun. (Like shitting a pumpkin, a friend of mine told me when I inquired about the Great-Experience-You-Are-Missing.”) Firestone breaks down the deification of pregnancy, labor and delivery into the true meaning: a degrading experience that the world feels women must wear as a badge of entitlement in true womanhood. Within Biblical times, there was no choice and no control, now women can actively choose not to have children. Yet, the cultural shame is still tantamount, proving the Firestone’s work is just as radical as it was in 1970.

Veronica Popp is an Organizer for the United Academics Campaign, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. Popp serves on the Modern Language Association Committee for Contingent Labor in the Profession and believes the feminization of adjunct labor is a growing concern. Popp is currently writing a novel about cranberry walnut loaf, J.D. Salinger, and Christmas in August and considers Chicago to be a character in all of her works. Find her tweeting about precarity at @veronicapopp.

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