So, she argued, we need to devise ways to reproduce artificially. And until then, women ought to be celibate.
Though an ideology that opposes sex might seem unlikely to catch on, many of Firestone's ideas did prove influential. She presaged some of today's thinking on reproduction and childhood, helping pave the way for the acceptance of, for instance, non-traditional child-rearing arrangements. She may have been the first feminist to argue systematically and scientifically that the traditional heterosexual married pair is not the only structure capable of raising well-adjusted children. "No matter how many cases" we see, she wrote, "of sex-role reversal, male housewifery, or even empathetic labor pains, these facts prove only one thing: the amazing flexibility of human nature." (She was refuting arguments that more empathetic and helpful husbands were the key to women's liberation.)
And she wasn't a lone voice. The year after her book appeared, The Atlantic published an article suggesting that pregnancy might soon become obsolete through the invention of artificial wombs. Some of Firestone's ideas are shared by futurists (like transhumanists) who want to vastly extend the human lifespan. As Firestone wrote:
We are no longer just animals. And the kingdom of nature does not reign absolute. ... Thus the 'natural' is not necessarily a 'human' value. Humanity has begun to transcend Nature: we can no longer justify the maintenance of a discriminatory sex class system on grounds of its origins in nature.
Her most radical suggestion -- that procreative sex, sexual attraction, and reproduction are not central to what makes us human -- has a fair amount of currency at this point. When The Atlantic's Kate Bolick wrote about the growing power of the single, childless woman, she was in many ways, consciously or not, echoing Firestone.
Self-privation and the Joan of Arc school of feminism
Firestone didn't confine her radicalism to her writing. In 1969, while she was living in New York and writing Dialectic of Sex, she co-founded a women's organization called Redstockings that published manifestos, ran consciousness-raising meetings, and organized activism on behalf of a number of feminist causes. Their values included leftist beliefs that we don't today associate with feminism, like a commitment to socialist revolution. But they also believed deeply in, and campaigned for, the right to safe and legal abortions.
Redstockings was one of the nation's prominent radical women's organizations, and one of the earliest, but for a few years after Firestone's book -- and partly owing to converts she won -- the host grew and strengthened. Essentially all major American cities - and even mid-sized ones like St. Paul, Minnesota -- had at least one and usually several radical feminist groups in the 1970s. (That's in addition to chapters of more moderate feminist organizations). As feminism splintered according to race, sexuality, and class, so did the organizations. But when Firestone's book was published, the movement was new, and her work infused radical feminism with purpose during its most inspired, fervent, and productive phase.