By Chloe Cordon
The Dialectic of Sex – A Book I Wouldn’t Normally Read
So I just finished reading The Dialectic of Sex: The Case For Feminist Revolution by Shulamith Firestone. It’s been lauded as one of the clearest and boldest books ever written on radical feminism, and it makes some very controversial points. At times it was an effort to get through, full of -isms I’d never heard of, analysing female oppression through the eyes of Marx, Engels, and Freud. At others it was unputdownable, and upon finishing I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
In Firestone’s utopia, a world post-feminist revolution, the family model doesn’t exist, in either it’s common nuclear form, or even biologically. Reproduction happens artificially, taking the responsibility of carrying and bearing children away from women and dividing the labor of reproduction equally between both sexes. Because of this children wouldn’t be raised by their genetic parents. They wouldn’t even know who they are. Instead children would be raised in “households”; groups of roughly 10 consenting adults bound in a marriage-like contract that lasts around 7 years. You see, children raised by their genetic parents are ruined. The parents use the child in a selfish way. For the father, as an extension of his ego; the mother, as a “creative project” to make her more valuable and appealing to the male sex, who in our current society and family structure, hold all of the power. In Firestone’s world, within these households, children (another oppressed class) would have exactly the same rights as adults: politically, economically, and sexually. She expects children to be sexually active from around the age of 5, and as children wouldn’t know who their genetic parents are, she hopes the incest taboo would be eradicated. She’s a big fan of Freud’s Oedipus Complex, and Jung’s Electra Complex (although she does wrongly attribute this term to Freud).
In addition to the liberation of women and children from the current reproductive system, they would also be liberated economically. They would no longer have to rely on men to bring home the bacon and support them because, well, men wouldn’t be able to. She plans to get shut of work, handing over the reigns to the world of cybernetics. And with eradicating work, she eradicates the wage. Hey, no jobs, no gender pay gap. All people (including children, who would be classed as adults) would be given an equal wage, wiping out all social classes. Oh, and school? That would be done with too. It currently only exists to teach children discipline; not anything useful. I knew algebra was a waste of time. But with no work, and no school, people would only learn when they wanted to. Only when they were driven and passionate and curious, and I think that sounds kind of nice.
But society now, the oppression of women, children: it’s all pre-meditated and planned by the white man, to keep the rest of us in our place. Yesterday I found myself cycling down Chivalry Road in Clapham, explaining to my boyfriend that romance is just a mechanism used by men to trick us gals into thinking we hold an elevated position, and to stop us from revolting. He assured me that he doesn’t go to weekly meetings to discuss the next phase of plan “oppress all females”. I’m not sure I believe him. Of course that’s what he’d say.
Personally, I think the majority of Firestone’s book sounded crazy. Incest and paedophilia; the dissolution of family, childhood, marriage, and work; the great male conspiracy. However, it reminds me of the TV show Utopia, where a group of people hatch a plan to make 90% of the world’s population infertile in order to control the massive effect on the planet of the ever-rising number of people inhabiting it.
They’ve got a point. I mean, they’re not planning on killing anyone. Just stopping more from being born. That’s ok, right? Right? I felt the same polarity when reading The Dialectic of Sex. Firestone’s opinions sound ridiculous, but she has a point. Children have proven to be more creative, curious, intelligent (maybe not in the way schools measure today), when raised by a group of adults, rather than their parents. Take a look at Summerhill school. It’s a democratic, self-governing school where children and adults have equal status, and the results are great. Children are free to be curious and creative, and carry that through into their adulthood. Most of us grow up and lose our creativity, but in Firestone’s utopia that wouldn’t be the case.
And in our industry, isn’t that the ideal? To be in a playful child state; constantly curious and driven. So as far-fetched and unimaginable as are most of the rallying cries this book is full of, it gave me a lot to think about. Although I’m still not sure what dialectic means.