From reading the article, it sounds like a lot of crazy behavior befitting crazy times, but Firestone did have some brilliant, original ideas:
“Firestone took Marx further and put women in the picture,” she said. “This was our oppression, all laid out.” And not just women’s oppression. The book’s longest chapter, “Down with Childhood,” chronicled the ways that children’s lives had become constrained and regulated in modern society. “With the increase and exaggeration of children’s dependence, woman’s bondage to motherhood was also extended to its limits,” Firestone wrote. “Women and children were now in the same lousy boat.” The argument drew the appreciation of one notable feminist, which must have pleased Firestone. Simone de Beauvoir told Ms. that only Firestone “has suggested something new,” noting how the book “associates Women’s Liberation with children’s liberation.”
The liberator for Firestone was the right to be loved for oneself, not as part of a patronage system “to pass on power and privilege.” She was trying to imagine a “home” where “all relationships would be based on love alone,” a world, to quote the last words of the book, that allows “love to flow unimpeded.”
A passage farther along in the article gave me the willies. It’s one of the things that I worried about living alone in L.A.– that if I ever slipped down a rabbit hole of delusional thinking there would be no one keeping tabs. Certainly one comes across a lot of that here. I also, admittedly, often have a sense of social defeat:
In 2005, when Jean-Paul Selten and Elizabeth Cantor-Graae, experts on the epidemiology of schizophrenia, reviewed various risk factors—foremost among them migration, racism, and urban upbringing—they found that the factors all involved chronic isolation and loneliness, a condition that they called “social defeat.” They theorized that “social support protects against the development of schizophrenia.”
Wow, great link! I hadn’t heard of her – fascinating article. What was so interesting/tragic was that she seemed to will herself to have “madness”; to be seen as crazy or insane as her fate. In her letters she seemed very much sane and able to recognise her situation; it was almost like she willed herself to a type of madness from pride. If I can’t change the world I will fail in myself completely kind of thing. I read some articles about madness/schizophrenia after finishing the NYTimes article, and from what they say it’s actually related to other issues (brain injury, hormonal imbalances – in men and women, bipolar disorders, degenerative diseases etc) but the type of “madness” Firestone
had seemed to be completely self-willed and not what I would consider “real” madness, e.g. where there is no choice. It seemed to be her one (misguided) way of being stubbornly true to her values.
I don’t doubt the veracity of the findings by Selton and Cantor-Graae, but I would also think that the “social support” is meant in terms of support to someone who already has mental disorders (e.g. support in terms of ensuring they receive medication, etc a but like Firestone had at some point and which did keep her “madness” at bay). I also think that the type of people more likely to succumb to “social defeat” – in terms of all encompassing loss of mental capacity and admittance to mental hospitals, dependence on mediation etc. – is not going to be loneliness, sadness of the garden variety, they mean real racism, real horror. A negation (by others) of one’s self; migration perhaps due to conflict or real horror/trouble/tragedy, real suffering. Or chronic isolation brought about by not having the social ability (e.g the newtown shoooter to name a recent example) to engage – which in itself, is in fact a form of mental inability/disability. My point – I wouldn’t let this give you “the willies” at all! The “loneliness” and social defeat they are referring to is something much deeper and darker than being lonely. It reminds me of this – years ago I experienced very short but extremely powerful depression (2 week in total, with 5 very very dark days) brought about by some malaria tablets I was taking for aid work (note: they are called Larium/mefloquine and have since banned in some countries – never take them!!) and for a day or two I glimpsed – and it’s just that “glimpsed” – not really saw or grasped or understood – the cavern of utter blackness that is real depression. It’s like a vacuum of the most extreme isolation and despair imaginable – or as one person once wrote “like the soul has been ripped in half and all that is left is a scream of blackness and nothingness that goes on forever” and afterwards I thought god! all those times I would say “oh, I am so depressed” (meaning down in the dumps, having a bad day, etc – trivial nothing stuff). The loneliness and social defeat Selton and Cantor-Graae refer to I think is like this – the word is the same (loneliness) but the type they are referring to is a completely different level; a completely different type. Loneliness where the self itself has been utterly discarded, not loneliness where it’s about a lack of company to stem boredom, or to feel socially accepted or busy, etc.
I also thought Firestone was far too radical and “threw the baby out with the bathwater” in terms of real choice for women (I think third wave feminism is closest to the goal of real equality) but she was clearly important to the overall movement. It’s funny, the first and second wave feminists have been so integral to what we as women take for granted now, yet – easy to forget (for me anyway). But, the upward fight they had was unbelievable, and was really brought home to me in this passage:
“Webb was three sentences into “the mildest speech you can imagine,” she said, when men in the audience began to shout, “Take her off the stage and fuck her!” and “Fuck her down a dark alley!” All the while, she recalled, “Shulie is on my right saying, ‘Keep going!’ ” Firestone tried to speak next, but was drowned out by a howl of sexual epithets. ”
Ok – sorry for such a long response, but I wanted to reply to this article – as your blog is part of the third wave of feminism in its own way – and a great discussion point.
Thanks for your reply and that’s very interesting about depression… I’ve met some people with severe depression in the past few years and it was eye-opening to me, how bad it can get.
* note that should be degenerative brain diseases.