Thursday, April 11, 2013

Shulamith Firestone: There But for the Grace of My Social Support System, Go I

The New Yorker published this amazing tribute to radical feminist writer Shulamith Firestone, who was found dead face-first on her tenement floor last August.  Crazy.  Starved.  Alone.

How could this happen?  Where was her family?  Where were her friends?  How could someone who influenced social change have ended her life with such shitty social support?

I read the story, thinking the whole time, there but for the grace of my social support system, go I.  

I am so thankful for Will.  I am so thankful for Katie.  I am so thankful for my loving family, my supportive friends.  Sisters...and brothers.  I am thankful for you.  You have no idea how easily I could be this woman--crazy, starved, alone.  Dead,  flat on my face, forgotten.

This last part, referring to Firestone's funeral, kills me:

Firestone was buried, in a traditional Orthodox funeral, in a Long Island cemetery, where her maternal grandparents are interred. Ten male relatives made up a minyan. None of her feminist comrades were invited. “At the end of the day, the old-time religion asserted itself,” Tirzah said. Ezra gave a eulogy. He lives in Brooklyn, where he works as an insurance salesman, but he hadn’t spoken to Shulamith in years, and he broke down several times as he told how she, more than anyone else in the family, had tended to him as a child and taught him compassion. He recalled a story she told him when he was a boy, about a man on a train who realized that he had dropped a glove on the platform and, as the train left the station, dropped the other glove from the window, so that someone could have a pair. Then he lamented Shulamith’s “tragic” failure to make a “good marriage” and have children “who would be devoted to her.”

When Tirzah’s turn came to give a eulogy, she addressed Ezra. “I said to him, ‘Excuse me, but with all due respect, Shulie was a model for Jewish women and girls everywhere, for women and girls everywhere. She had children—she influenced thousands of women to have new thoughts, to lead new lives. I am who I am, and a lot of women are who they are, because of Shulie.’ ”

We are who we are because of the people who love us.  Shulie won't be forgotten.  Firestone left behind her creation, her writing, for us to absorb and pass on to the next generation.

Bless you, Shulamith!  Rest in peace.