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The Dialectic of Sex The Case for Feminist Revolution
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The Dialectic of Sex The Case for Feminist Revolution

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  822 ratings  ·  48 reviews
“No one can understand how feminism has evolved without reading this radical, inflammatory second-wave landmark.” —Naomi Wolf

Originally published in 1970, when Shulamith Firestone was just twenty-five years old, and going on to become a bestseller, The Dialectic of Sex was the first book of the women’s liberation movement to put forth a feminist theory of politics.

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Paperback, 224 pages
Published 1979 by Women's Press (first published 1970)
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Megan
Firestone, part of the Women's Liberation Movement and a founder of the Redstockings, is an oft-quoted source of inspiration for one of my favorite blogs, I Blame the Patriarchy (IBTP). So when I ran across her book in a thrift store, I thought it a lucky find, as I could finally see what the big fuss over Firestone is all about.

There are aspects of Firestone's analysis of gender inequalities that I found quite compelling. She sees women's oppression as a class issue (thus the regular statement...more
Paul
My first serious girlfriend was a feminist and through her I started to read and think about feminist arguments. Generally it is usual to start with De Beauvoir's The Second Sex or Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch. Not me. I started with this one! One of the more radical feminists, this really challenged my learnt behaviours and learnt ideas. I liked the way she used Marx's "means of production" argument and used it in relation to the "means of reproduction". I went on to read books by Dworkin...more
Ben
A wonderful combination of Marxism & Feminism. A radical (sometimes to the point of absurdity?), powerful, honest, dated, and frequently very funny work.

Pregnancy is barbaric. I do not believe, as many women are now saying, that the reason pregnancy is viewed as not beautiful is due strictly to cultural perversion. The child's first response, "What's wrong with that Fat Lady?"; the husband's guilty waning of sexual desire; the woman's tears in front of the mirror at eight months -- all are...more
Sharmeen
Writing this because I'm thinking a lot of Shulamith Firestone's death tonight. A professor in media studies lent me his copy of Dialectic of Sex when I was 18 and i remember how it fundamentally changed my thinking. As a young feminist reading a lot of Marx and thinking of socialism, it really brought home the concept of reproductive labour. And I referenced the book a lot both in school and personally.

Plus, I really liked how she characterized childbirth and pregnancy as a completely dehumani...more
Luann
I can't say what the relative merits of this book are -- I can only say that when I read it as a teenager I couldn't begin to understand half of what she was saying and yet it somehow changed the direction of my life. I wanted to understand. I wanted to respond to the anger, the power, the independence portrayed within its mass-market bindings. I hid it in my underwear drawer, next to the pilfered pack of Winstons I'd stolen from my Dad, so my mother wouldn't get that sad, nervous look on her fa...more
Jaime
A staple of second wave feminism, radical feminism (as defined by its proponents, not by haters) in particular. The basic idea is that we need to abolish the family, specifically the patriarchal nuclear family, to liberate women.

Combines ideas from Freud and Marx. Like Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, it relies too heavily on Freud (who was no friend of woman, if you ask me). Actually, it's worse than de Beauvoir, as de Beauvoir at least is sometimes ambivalent about accepting Freudian ideas...more
Mona Ohana
Shulie does what Freud, Marx, and Engels combined fell short in doing. She synthesizes a class analysis that incorporates the politics of sex. Firestone's Dialectic should be taught alongside primary philosophical texts, not buried in the reading lists of only women's studies. Her text is radical, socialist, feminist. Firestone breaks ground in a way that her male counterparts did not. She critically examines the past, present, and future of power dynamics and gender as a structure of inequality...more
peaseblossom
This book is total whiplash. Firestone is totally brilliant one moment, and totally ridiculous the next. Even though I agreed with many of her premises, and some of her conclusions, I was often bewildered by her thought process -- she really needed to lay off the Freud, and maybe go out and meet some actual children. Her tone, too, is hard to take. She reads like an out-of-touch guidance counselor or a hopelessly square academic.
Suzanne
Firestone argues that the fundamental dialectic of life is not economics, but sex. She makes a pretty compelling case.

Like most early feminist writing, it's depressing to contemplate, but also kind of exhilarating -- imagine all these women, slowly beginning to make connections internally, then with each other, to say "wait a minute, something's not right here."
Maya
Although I do not agree with some of the minutae of this book, it is impossible to overstate the importance (and relevance) of this book to Women's Liberation.

As with Kate Millett's "Sexual Politics", there is no feminism today worthy of the name that has not grown out of the seeds that Firestone planted.
Poppy
Simply a must read. I don't care who you are or what you think you think about sex differences or what you think about Marx. Shulamith will set your ass straight on key issues.
Duncan Robertson
The audacity of The Dialectic of Sex is to me its most outstanding feature. Firestone brilliantly expands on Marx and Engels’ ideas, fiddles with Freud’s theories to make them terrifyingly convincing, scathingly deconstructs art history, insults literary heroes, destroys myths of romanticism, presents a radical view of human reproduction and theorises on a post-patriarchal utopia. All in 240 pages of excellent but badly citated writing. She inevitably errs at a few points - including one entire...more
Shana
People don't understand this book, and it's easy to misinterpret it and label Firestone as a delusional antiquated radical feminist who disappeared into obscurity anyway, but the thing is this book is the best starting point for social change that I have ever come across. I intend to show the world how perceptive Shulamith Firestone really was. It's scary facing the possibility that truth doesn't lie in absolutes, and that freedoms can actually exist and be possible without everyone killing each...more
Lord Beardsley
After reading an interview in Bust magazine with Kathleen Hanna and Gloria Steinem, I put this on my reading list. This was in 2000. I recently went back through all my old Bust magazines (it used to be such a great magazine...what the eff happened?!) and re-read them all. Then I read the interview with Hanna name-dropping Shulamith Firestone and remembered that this was put on my reading list in 2000. So, now I finally read it.

It's interesting...it should be read with not so much a grain, but r...more
Mhairi Mcalpine
Fantastic book - a classic of the second wave, and before its time.

Chapters 1 and 2 in particular are fantastic.

In chapter 1 Firestone explores biology and gendering in the context of Marx, and starts to explore the critical issue of reproductive labour (not in the economic sense, but in the biological as in the creators of labour units). It also paves the way for third wave thinking

"...the end goal of feminist revolution must be not just the elimination of male privilage but of the sex distin...more
Melinda
Sep 21, 2014 Melinda rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Eszter
Shelves: feminism, nonfiction
A thought-provoking book with strong analysis in certain areas, but major flaws in others. Firestone is strongest in her analysis of the history of feminism, the failings of Freudian psychology, and the role of love and romanticism in heterosexuality (although she doesn't name it as heterosexuality), and she doesn't sugarcoat her critique of men's oppression of women. Despite being written over 40 years ago, her analysis is still very relevant. Her discussion of the social construction of childh...more
Kathleen
If I could give this more stars than five, I would.

There are so many things to recommend about this book, but one of the best is that almost every sentence is quotable, aphoristic even: "My 'dream' action for the women's liberation movement: a smile boycott, at which declaration all women would instantly abandon their 'pleasing' smiles, henceforth smiling only when something pleased them."

Also? "In a culture of alienated people, the belief that everyone has at least one good period in life fre...more
Denise
Although slightly dated, Firestone brings up issues still plaguing and relevant to women today. It is also the most in your face about several topics including the sexualization of women and the realities of childbirth. It is comprehensive in many ways covering topics from race relations to art to politics, but is called radical feminism for a reason. Most assuredly, installing a fleet of robot (or cybernetic) workers will not free anyone, nor will turning all women barren and installing birthin...more
Chai
Astonishing and amazing. Can't believe I hadn't read it earlier.
Maddi
Thought-provoking and imaginative in its exploration of arguments for feminism and its insight into the chauvanist's thought process, however I found it to be too simplistic in its view that females are in fact superior to men, as this counter-acts the very basis of feminist ideology, which is that men and women (and indeed simply 'people' in general) should be treated equally and with the same level of respect and integrity. Considering myself a feminist woman and an equality-loving human being...more
Itala T.
Best feminist theory tome from the 70s feminist wave... along with Germaine Greer's, perhaps. If feminism had followed this path, it would have made radical, systemic change in social and economic ways. We would not be praising CEO women as much as thinkers and intellectuals; we would have had a restructuring of society that would have affected the whole world. It is recommended for everyone to read!!
The failure we are living is due to lack of integrity on part of collective feminists, as well a...more
Shannon
This book was such an important text for launching the second wave of the feminist movement. Much of it has aged well--her criticism is valid and revolutionary--but Firestone doesn't go far enough in problematizing Freud, and also makes some SUPER RACIST arguments.
Sarah
Notes: It's an interesting book, if a little dated and just plain weird sometimes in the conclusion chapter - I don't think any radical feminist would advocate incest and inbreeding in 2012. I wish I had finished reading this last quarter like I intended to before getting bogged down in research - I probably could have used it for my Pasolini paper. I do wish there were sources listed, but the copy from my university's library is from the 1970s when the book was originally published.
Gayle
I took several woman's studies classes at the UW. This book was perhaps the most life altering. Shulasmith Firestone's book changed my life!
Bob
This book's virtue is its relentless consistency, which culminates in a kind of madness. It's the kind of theoretical book that's profitable to read even if you disagree with it because it will instruct you in the logical structure of the positions themselves. Firestone died recently. It is a noble thing to have written one good book in your life, if only one.
Susan
Dated, not all of it has aged well, but I just love how posthuman the first chapter is--calling for a revolution in reproductive technologies to free women from the special labor of child-bearing. How cyborg . . . was looking it over, thinking about assigning it in my class on bodies and technologies, but decided it would be better as lecture material.
Bria
Although I don't really buy all the Freudian stipulation, the point she makes still work, painfully so. Her ideas remind me of two of my favorite utopias, those of "The Dispossessed" by Ursula K Le Guin and "The Female Man" by Joanna Russ (hmm, both women). I would not be surprised if that was no coincidence.
Robin
While there are some valid ideas in this book (eliminating gender among them), many still remain impossible to implement given the limitations of science and lack of robots. I found many of her statements to be sweeping and poorly supported. Felt very outdated.
Anna
The argument that women will remain inferior forever to men until technology relieves women of the burden of giving birth is kind of obnoxiously simplistic to me. I have to admit that I couldn't even finish this book because it annoyed me so much.
Whoof
gave this 5 stars because firestone is about as radical as possible which makes for a fun read

Childhood is hell???? Men can't love???? The nuclear family makes everyone neurotic b/c of the taboo against incest???

Holy shit, girl.
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Shulamith Firestone (also called Shulie) was a Jewish, Canadian-born feminist. She was a central figure in the early development of radical feminism, having been a founding member of the New York Radical Women, Redstockings, and New York Radical Feminists. In 1970, she authored The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, an important and widely influential feminist text.
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“a revolutionary in every bedroom cannot fail to shake up the status quo. And if it is your wife that is revolting, you can't just split to the suburbs. Feminism, when it truly achieves it's goals, will crack through the most basic structures of our society.” 16 likes
“...love is essentially a much simpler phenomenon--it becomes complicated, corrupted or obstructed by an unequal balance of power.” 16 likes
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