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.