Kate Mil­lett

The Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

Writer and ac­tivist

por­tray­als of women as dis­rupters of par­adise in the Bi­ble and Greek mythol­ogy.

She also la­belled tra­di­tional mar­riage an arte­fact of pa­tri­archy and con­cluded with chap­ters con­demn­ing the misog­yny of au­thors Henry Miller, DH Lawrence and Nor­man Mailer, but also ex­press­ing faith in the re­demp­tive power of women’s lib­er­a­tion. “It may be that a se­cond wave of the sex­ual rev­o­lu­tion might at last ac­com­plish its aim of free­ing half the race from its im­memo­rial sub­or­di­na­tion – and in the process bring us all a great deal closer to hu­man­ity,” she wrote.

While count­less women were rad­i­calised by her book, Mil­lett had bit­ter­sweet feel­ings about Sex­ual Pol­i­tics, which later fell out of print and re­mained so for years.

She was un­happy with its “man­darin mid-At­lantic” prose and over­whelmed by her sud­den trans­for­ma­tion from grad­u­ate stu­dent and artist to a fem­i­nist celebrity whose im­age ap­peared on the cover of Time mag­a­zine.

Amused at first by her fame, she was worn down by a “ruin of in­ter­views, ar­ti­cles, at­tacks”.

“Soon it grew te­dious, an in­dig­nity,” she wrote in the mem­oir Fly­ing, pub­lished in 1974.

She was dubbed by Time “the Mao Tse-tung of Women’s Lib­er­a­tion”, and was at­tacked by Mailer in his book The Pris­oner Of Sex, in which he mocked her as “the Bat­tling An­nie of some new prud­ery”.

Mean­while, she faced taunts from some fem­i­nists for say­ing she was bi­sex­ual (she was mar­ried at the time), but not gay.

Mil­lett’s books af­ter Sex­ual Pol­i­tics were far more per­sonal and self­con­sciously lit­er­ary, whether Fly­ing, or Sita, a mem­oir about her sex­u­al­ity in which she wrote of a les­bian lover who com­mit­ted sui­cide, or The Loony Bin Trip, an ac­count of her strug­gles with manic de­pres­sion and time spent in psy­chi­atric wards.

The daugh­ter of Ir­ish Catholics, Mil­lett was born in St Paul, Min­nesota, and was long haunted by her fa­ther, an al­co­holic who beat his chil­dren and left his fam­ily when Mil­lett was 14.

She at­tended parochial schools as a child and stud­ied English lit­er­a­ture at the Univer­sity of Min­nesota and St Hilda’s Col­lege, Ox­ford, from which she grad­u­ated with hon­ours. For a cou­ple of years, she lived in Ja­pan, where she met her fu­ture hus­band and fel­low sculp­tor Fu­mio Yoshimura (they di­vorced in 1985).

They moved to Man­hat­tan in 1963 and Mil­lett em­braced the po­lit­i­cal and artis­tic pas­sions of the city. She joined the Na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Women and be­gan at­tract­ing a fol­low­ing for her sculp­ture, which ap­peared in Life mag­a­zine and has been ex­hib­ited world­wide.

Mil­lett taught at sev­eral schools, in­clud­ing the Univer­sity of North Carolina and New York Univer­sity.

In 1968, she was fired from her job as an English lec­turer at Barnard Col­lege, a de­ci­sion stemmed at least in part from her sup­port of stu­dent protests against the Vietnam War. The free time al­lowed her to com­plete Sex­ual Pol­i­tics, which be­gan as her doc­toral the­sis at Columbia Univer­sity. Mil­lett was in­ducted into the Na­tional Women’s Hall of Fame in 2013.

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