Shulamith Firestone, leading cyberfeminist, died at the age of 67
Shulamith Firestone, Canadian-born champion of cyberfeminism and the author of The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for a Feminist Revolution, died on August 28 in Manhattan at the age of 67 of natural causes.
In the widely influential Dialectic of Sex, which she wrote when she was 25, Firestone presented a radical feminist theory synthesized from the ideas of, among others, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx and Simone de Beauvoir, arguing that gender equality was a result of patriarchal social structures that persisted due to the biological disadvantage of women vis-à-vis pregnancy, childbirth and child-rearing. The work became a classic of second-wave feminism.
To level the playing field, she advocated the replacement of gender-specific biological processes with cybernetics (i.e., the combination of artificial systems with biological systems), such as artificial wombs.
In The Dialectic of Sex, she wrote:
"The reproduction of the species by one sex for the benefit of both would be replaced by (at least the option of) artificial reproduction: children would born to both sexes equally, or independently of either, however one chooses to look at it; the dependence of the child on the mother (and vice versa) would give way to a greatly shortened dependence on a small group of others in general…The division of labour would be ended by the elimination of labour altogether (through cybernetics). The tyranny of the biological family would be broken."
Firestone believed that cybernetics had the power to radically change humanity on a fundamental level, not only in terms of biological reproduction, but also on work and play. She also saw the traditional setup of the nuclear family as a hurdle for social equality, advocating instead larger cybernetic communities:
"The two issues, population control and cybernetics, produce the same nervous superficial response because in both cases the underlying problem is one for which there is no precedent: qualitative change in humanity's basic relationships to both its production and its reproduction. We will need almost overnight, in order to deal with the profound effects of fertility control and cybernation, a new culture based on a radical redefinition of human relationships and leisure for the masses. To so radically redefine our relationship to production and reproduction requires the destruction at once of the class system as well as the family. We will be beyond arguments about who is 'bringing home the bacon'—no one will be bringing it home, because no one will be 'working'. Job discrimination would no longer have any basis in a society where machines do the work better than human beings of any size or skill could. Machines thus could act as the perfect equalizer, obliterating the class system based on exploitation of labour."
After Dialectic was published in 1970, Firestone withdrew from politics, moved to Saint Mark's Place in Manhattan's East Village and worked as a painter. In the late 80s, she became mentally ill, publishing in 1998 Airless Spaces, an insider account of life in psychiatric hospitals and her own struggle with schizophrenia.
"Modern feminists have largely turned a blind eye to Firestone and the role of technology in feminist discourse," writes George Dvorsky on io9.com, "but her influence can still be seen today in such things as transhumanism and the rise of postgenderist theory."