Shulamith Firestone. How far has feminism come? Is it any closer to understanding sex?
We at Scarriet have a lot on our mind: feminism, sex, conception, and how it all connects to poetry.
Shulamith Firestone, author of “The Dialectic of Sex,” (1970)—the book proposed to separate sex from conception and to erase gender distinction—is dead at 67, after initial fame, flight from fame, and mid-life hospitalization for schizophrenia.
First a bit about sex.
George Santayana said, “Life is neither a feast nor a spectacle; it is a predicament.”
Sex, more than anything, is a predicament. It is supposed to be the most pleasurable thing there is, and yet it is probably the greatest cause of moral and mental derangement, long-lasting misery and emotional pain there is.
Sex is bi-part: on one hand, necessary for conception, child-bearing and the furthering of human life, the foundation of gender differences and intimacy in traditional marriage; and, on the other, mad, illicit, jealous-invoking, fun.
Ms. Firestone—who theorized conception should happen in test tubes and believed that the “the end goal of feminist revolution must be … not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself”—took on the predicament of sex’s bi-part nature—and ended up suffering from schizophrenia.
This is a single, unproven example—but just too mythic to ignore.
Feminism is correct in one important sense: sex oppresses women.
Forget the usual feminist argument: which ‘has it worse,’ men or women.
Sex oppresses women more than men, because women are more involved and conscious of the dilemma of sex’s bi-part nature.
The woman is confused by sex and its role in society as vulgarity, half-truths, and do’s and don’t's come thronging to her consciousness from a young age. When she is actually confronted with potential mates as a young woman, she finds either clueless dweebs or frat-type jerks. Physically attractive men are gay or unreliable. The more attentive heterosexuals tend to be physically repulsive or just plain weird. One wonders sometimes how marrige and reproduction even happens. And, on top of this, almost overnight the attractive men become aged and pot-bellied. For men, sex almost seems to exist on a superficial fantasy level only—and yet it seems very important to men; and the poor woman is supposed to play some kind of role in all this? How can she, without becoming repulsive to herself? The dignified alternative for the woman is to focus on sex not as sex, but as a means to conception and birth, a partnership that produces children—but feminists and intellectuals frown on this alternative more than any other, for it bespeaks of the terribly old-fashioned, and it would seem to run straight into the arms of self-denying, patriarchal oppression.
So, when it comes to sex, how can a woman win? Men themselves surely don’t help; nature doesn’t help; nor do any of the expectations advertised by the various religious and anti-religious philosophies, help. The modern woman lives her whole life on the horns of a dilemma.
Shulamith Firestone went for the radical solution: let’s have babies in test tubes and separate the female gender from the burden of child-bearing, in order to make the genders truly equal. Fix nature, which is unfair. It’s what humans do.
Plato suggested child-rearing be done by the state and not families.
These practical considerations are just that—practical. But how can sex ever be practical? Is that even the point?
And further, what of love? We haven’t mentioned that yet. (did you notice?)
Will taking sex away from conception make sex all about love? Is this what Ms. Firestone, the theorist, wanted? Is this what Ms. Firestone, the person, wanted? Is this what we want?
But are sex and love even the same thing? And, if so, is this the same thing as equating beauty and love? Surely sexy and beautiful are close? Or perhaps they are very different, depending on the person? But if sex no longer leads to children (and how will that other technology actually work?) and is merely recreational, and sex is no longer a means to an end, it will certainly lose a certain power and come to signify a means by which a sexy person is enjoyed—but now, notice that now sex and love have become more selfish and objectified than ever before. Is this what feminists like Firestone, in theorizing to make the world better, really want?
In a coldly materialistic world, how is sexiness and beauty and, most importantly, love, best realized and expressed?
This is where poetry comes in.
Poetry expresses love, and it is safe to say, can do so, no matter what the sexual or feminist or political landscape happens to be. Love needs to be expressed, and poetry expresses love best. Sex’s bi-part nature can mentally and morally afflict the best of us. Poetry has the scope, expressiveness and the ability to create love and romance between two people, and since it belongs to words, it is accessible to many. Poetry can lift love above material vulgarity; it can intelligently navigate the landmines of politics and change; it can bond two human beings over time and distance; it can heal the moral and mental rifts which afflict all those curious about sex and love; and poetry itself borrows from other important arts: music, painting, and rhetoric.
What if Ms. Firestone had been a love poet?