Second-wave feminism is dying (slowly)

Shulamith Firestone radical feminist and author of Dialectic of Sex, died last week. And, it appears she died having lived her last years quite isolated and miserable.

The accounts of her death remind me of the latest film by Carol Morley, Dreams of A Life. More than a “true story,” Dreams… is a documentary about a British woman who, like Shulamith, was found dead in her flat. But not days or weeks after she died. This young woman was not discovered till THREE YEARS later.

Shulamith is part of a generation, which happens to be my parents’ generation, which is on its way out. My stepfather died eighteen months ago. My Dad goes to more funerals than weddings. I feel death hanging over me in a way I never did before.

And with the demise of this generation, comes the demise of its ideologies and politics. Shulamith joins a growing roster of ‘dead feminists’ that includes Marilyn French, Andrea Dworkin and Mary Daly.



These women were part of what we call “second wave” feminism, which was at its peak in the late sixties, early seventies. I have a very strong, VERY ambivalent relationship with second-wave feminism, because I was born into it. My mum did not go to yummy mummy cafes and pilates classes in her spare time when I was little, she went to Women’s Liberation conferences and “consciousness raising” groups. I am still recovering, literally, from childhood trauma that I can’t separate in my psyche from that period of feminist history. And when I was still a feminist I was often lonely and isolated, even when surrounded by my “sisters.”  Shulamith’s life and death reminds me that feminism is not a “cure all” or a guarantee of being  successfully integrated into a group who share an ideology. It isn’t a guarantee of anything at all.

I am not celebrating individual deaths. Unlike feminists such as Cath Elliott, who cheered when Sebastian Horsley, who she believed was a “misogynist” died, I feel sad when anyone shuffles off this mortal coil. At the risk of mixing my quotes up too much, do not ask for whom the bell tolls and all that.

But I am glad that second wave feminism is a dying creed. The “sisters” who in my view invented concepts such as “patriarchy” and “all men are rapists” and the idea that one solution to gender inequalities is eugenics, have a lot to answer for.

A couple of years ago I might have finished this piece on a positive note, saying that the new generation of “third wave” feminists are changing things, and making feminism into a more positive, more diverse, less man-hating movement. But as most readers will know, I won’t do that now.

Third wave feminism in some ways takes the basic, misandrous tenets of second wave feminism and turns them into “memes.” Any thought or philosophy is removed and all we are left with is a bunch of white women screaming “RAPE CULTURE!” and “STREET HARASSMENT!” and “MISOGYNY!” Technologies producing social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr have meant political campaigns become very simplified and do not allow for intellectual debate. All you have to show your support is press the “Like” button. This “dumbing down” of feminism makes it particularly crude and lacking in rigour.

On some particularly dark days I even miss Andrea Dworkin!

However there are positive aspects to our contemporary world, in which radical feminism is seen by many as a joke. It does not have quite the power it did when I was a kid. But its younger, more manicured, less well-read sisters are dangerous. And I am stuck with them till I die.

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