I still have my original paperback of Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex. I read it in the winter of 1972. The tagline on the cover read: Chapter Six Might Change Your Life. Chapter Six was about love. Here's what I remember.
I thought love (including heterosexual love) was personal, that it was about a relationship between two people. It never occurred to me that there could be a political component to an intimate relationship, but Shulamith Firestone showed me I was wrong. And that did change my life.
I last read Dialectic of Sex 15 or 20 years ago (I think...I do lose track of time....). I was preparing materials for a law school seminar on feminist theory in action. My students had externship placements in various government agencies and nonprofits, and once a week we got together and discussed feminist theory as it related to class readings and their work experiences. I wanted to give them some readings from before there was a field called "feminist jurisprudence." I thought about the readings that had radicalized me and went back through a lot of them to see what I might assign.
Some of what worked in 1972 held up very well. Dialectic of Sex didn't. If my goal was selecting readings that would speak to my students, then the readings had to be in a language they could relate to. Firestone's book wasn't it. The problem wasn't the content. I would not have minded letting them discuss whether reproduction outside the female body was a necessary component of feminist revolution. I don't think it was Marx and Engels either; I did choose something from socialist feminism for them to read (Zillah Eisenstein maybe...). I remember thinking it was the tone or the rhetoric, that it would distract them.
My copy of the book is right now over 2000 miles away from where I write this entry. So I can't refresh my memory. I had no idea Firestone suffered from paranoid-schizophrenia. The photo of her in all the obituaries looks well, a bit like how I looked in those days, with full, long hair and big eyeglasses. I had no idea she was so isolated that all the newspapers would have would be that 40 year old photo. But I do feel that she is getting the attention she deserves, a lengthy, serious New York Times obit, for example.
After all, she wrote something that changed my life. And I wasn't the only one.