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Tributes paid after death of radical feminist writer

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Jackie Gregory
WVoN co-editor

Tributes have been paid to Shulamith Firestone, a founder of radical feminism, after she was found dead in her Manhattan apartment last week.

Firestone wrote her polemic, The Dialectic of Sex: The case for Feminist Revolution, when she was just 25.

Using a Marxist analysis to argue that women would not gain total equality unless they were freed from the necessity of childbearing, Firestone recommended children be produced in laboratories and raised communally, breaking what she called “the tyranny of the biological family” reports CBCNews.

The book, published in 1970, led her to be regarded as one of the foremost second-wave feminists along with Germaine Greer, Betty Friedan and Kate Millett.

The New York Times notes that while some critics regarded her work as visionary, others damned it as quixotic.

Reviewing The Dialectic of Sex in The New York Times, John Leonard wrote: “A sharp and often brilliant mind is at work here.” But, he added, “Miss Firestone is preposterous in asserting that ‘men can’t love.’ ”

However, according to The Village Voice, Naomi Wolf said: “No one can understand how feminism has evolved without reading this radical, inflammatory, second-wave landmark.”

After the storm of controversy the book raised, Firestone, who was a painter by nature, retreated from public life. She suffered with mental illness and by the end of her life, at 67, had virtually cut herself off from the world.

Her only other published book came nearly 30 years later in 1998. Airless Spaces was a memoir but written as fiction.

An independent film called Shulie made by Elisabeth Subrin based on her life brought her back to some prominence in 1998 but it was attention which Firestone herself did not welcome.

Firestone was born into an Orthodox Jewish family in Ottowa, Canada but grew up in Kansas City and then St Louis. She was the second of six children.

She moved to New York in the 1960s and co-founded three feminist groups New York Radical Women, the Redstockings  and New York Radical Feminists to challenge some of the mainstream women’s groups.

Her landlord Bob Perl told Associated Press that people often called at his office and offered to pay her rent for her.

“Family, friends and strangers supported her because she so moved them with her work,” he said.

Her sister Laya Firestone Seghi, who said she had died of natural causes, described her in the Huffington Post as, “a brilliant mind and a totally creative person”.

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