Kate Millett

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Not to be confused with Catherine Millet.
Kate Millett
Kate millet 1.jpg
Millett in 1970
Born Katherine Murray Millett
(1934-09-14) September 14, 1934 (age 79)
St. Paul, Minnesota
Nationality United States
Occupation Feminist writer, artist, activist

Kate Millett (born Katherine Murray Millett; September 14, 1934) is an American feminist writer, artist and activist.[1] A seminal influence on second-wave feminism, Millett is perhaps best known for her 1970 book Sexual Politics.[2]


Millett received her B.A. at the University of Minnesota in 1956, where she was a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority.[3] She later obtained a first-class degree, with honors, from St Hilda's College, Oxford in 1958. She was the first American woman to be awarded a postgraduate degree with first-class honors by St. Hilda's.[1]

Millett moved to Japan in 1961, where she taught English at Waseda University and pursued a career as a sculptor.[3] Two years later, Millett returned to the United States with fellow sculptor Fumio Yoshimura, whom she married in 1965. The two divorced in 1985. She was active in feminist politics in late 1960s and the 1970s. In 1966, she became a committee member of National Organization for Women.

Sexual Politics originated as Millett's Ph.D. dissertation and was published in 1970, the same year that she was awarded her doctorate from Columbia University.[3] The book, a critique of patriarchy in Western society and literature, addressed the sexism and heterosexism of the modern novelists D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, and Norman Mailer and contrasted their perspectives with the dissenting viewpoint of the homosexual author Jean Genet. Millett questioned the origins of patriarchy, argued that sex-based oppression was both political and cultural, and posited that undoing the traditional family was the key to true sexual revolution.[4][5]

In 1971, Millett started buying and restoring fields and buildings near Poughkeepsie, New York. The project eventually became the Women's Art Colony/Tree Farm, a community of women artists and writers that was supported by the sale of Millett's silk-screen prints and Christmas trees that were hand-sheared by the artists in residence. In 2012, The Farm became a 501c3 non-profit organization and changed its name to the Millett Center for The Arts.[6] Millett serves as director of the organization, which continues to operates as an artists' colony and provides residencies for women "from every creative discipline."[6]

Millett's 1971 film Three Lives is a 16mm documentary made by an all-woman crew, including co-director Susan Kleckner, cameraperson Lenore Bode, and editor Robin Mide, under the name Women's Liberation Cinema. The 70-minute film focuses on three women, Mallory Millett-Jones (the director's sister), Lillian Shreve, a chemist, and Robin Mide, an artist, reminiscing about their lives.

Her book Flying (1974) tells of her marriage with Yoshimura and her love affairs with women. Sita (1977) is a meditation on Millett's doomed love affair with a female college administrator who was ten years her senior. In 1979, Millett went to Iran to work for women's rights, was soon deported, and wrote about the experience in Going to Iran. In The Loony-Bin Trip (1990), she describes her experience of being incarcerated in psychiatric facilities, her experience of being diagnosed as bipolar, and her decision to discontinue lithium therapy. She won her own sanity trial in St. Paul. On a dare with her lawyer, together they changed the State of Minnesota's commitment law.

In 1980, Millett was one of the ten invited artists whose work was exhibited in the Great American Lesbian Art Show at the Woman's Building, although she identifies as bisexual.

Millett was a contributor to On the Issues magazine and was interviewed at length for an article in the magazine by Merle Hoffman.

Millett is active in the anti-psychiatry movement. As a representative of MindFreedom International, she spoke out against psychiatric torture at the United Nations during the negotiations of the text of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2005).

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Millett was involved in a dispute with the New York City authorities who wanted to evict her from her home at 295 Bowery as part of a massive redevelopment plan. Millett and others held out, but ultimately lost their battle. Their building was demolished, and the residents were re-located.[7]

Awards and Honors[edit]

In 2012, Millett was awarded one of that year's Courage Awards for the Arts from Yoko Ono.[8]

In March 2013, the U.S. National Women's Hall of Fame announced that Millett was to be among the institution's 2013 inductees.[9] The induction ceremony took place on October 24, 2013, at the National Women's Hall of Fame headquarters in Seneca Falls, New York.[10]

Personal life[edit]

Millett is openly bisexual.[1] She came out in 1970, while on a panel at a conference on sexual liberation at Columbia University, when a woman in the audience confronted her, saying, "Why don't you say you're a lesbian, here, openly. You've said you were a lesbian in the past." [1] In response, Millett said that she was bisexual.[1] A Time magazine reporter taped the conference, and the December 8th, 1970, issue of Time included an article about Millet saying, among other things, that her statement would "reinforce the views of those skeptics who routinely dismiss all liberationists as lesbians."[1]

She was married to fellow sculptor Fumio Yoshimura from 1965 until 1985.[citation needed]


The Basement: Meditations on a Human Sacrifice, Millett's semi-fictional book about the 1965 torture and murder of American teenager Sylvia Likens by Gertrude Baniszewski, drew controversy for her defense of the crime. Millett argued for a feminist interpretation of the crime:[11]

[The murder of Sylvia Likens] is the story of the suppression of women. Gertrude seems to have wanted to administer some terrible truthful justice to this girl: that this was what it was to be a woman.

Scholar Camille Paglia has described Millett's scholarship as deeply flawed, declaring that "American feminism’s nose dive began" when Millett achieved prominence.[12] According to Paglia, Millett's Sexual Politics "reduced complex artworks to their political content and attacked famous male artists and authors for their alleged sexism," thereby sending serious academic literary appreciation and criticism into eclipse. Paglia also wrote that "while I was a graduate student, [Millet's influence] drove every talented, young, intellectual woman I knew away from the women's movement."[13]

In a 2014 essay, Millett's younger sister (and collaborator on the film Three Lives) Mallory Millett wrote that Kate Millett had "had serious mental health issues" throughout her entire life, and called her "a brutal sadist" and "a violent bully" with a "genius for chaos". She also blamed her sister in part for the deinstitutionalization movement of the 1970s in the United States, which she wrote "culminated in the depositing on the streets of NYC thousands of confused, terrified and seriously disturbed persons left to fend for themselves".[14]





  • Three Lives, 1971, Producer
  • Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography, 1981
  • Bookmark ...., 1989, 1 episode, Daughters of de Beauvoir
  • Playboy: The Story of X, 1998, archive footage
  • The Real Yoko Ono, 2001, television
  • Des fleurs pour Simone de Beauvoir, 2007


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Millett, Kate". Glbtq.com. Retrieved 2013-12-05. 
  2. ^ Mailer, Norman (March 1971). "The Prisoner of Sex". Harper’s Magazine. Retrieved 2009-09-13. 
  3. ^ a b c "Kate Millett". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved March 15, 2013. 
  4. ^ Pattock, Mary (Winter 2012). "Sexual Politics". Reach. Retrieved March 15, 2013. 
  5. ^ Millett, Kate (1969). Sexual Politics. New York: Ballantine. pp. 31–81. 
  6. ^ a b "History". Millett Center for the Arts. Retrieved March 15, 2013. 
  7. ^ Thevillager.com The Villager, Vol. 74, Number 15, August 11–17, 2004
  8. ^ Edward M Gomez. "Music, art, innovation, peace: Yoko Ono presents 2012 Courage Awards for the Arts". Veteran Feminists of America. Retrieved March 13, 2014. 
  9. ^ Reinholz, Mary (March 8, 2013). "Kate Millett, ‘Pillar of the Movement,’ Inducted into Women’s Hall of Fame". The Local: East Village. Retrieved March 15, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Induction Weekend 2013". National Women's Hall of Fame. Retrieved March 15, 2013. 
  11. ^ Broeske, Pat H. "A Midwest Nightmare, Too Depraved to Ignore." The New York Times. 14 January 2007.
  12. ^ Paglia, Camille (1992) Sex, Art and American Culture : New Essays, NY: Vintage, ISBN 978-0-679-74101-5, p. 243
  13. ^ Camille Paglia, "Feminists Must Begin to Fulfill Their Noble, Animating Ideal", "The Chronicle of Higher Education", July 25, 1997, p. B4
  14. ^ Millett, Mallory (June 2, 2014). "No Gun Ever Killed Anyone". Truth Revolt. 
  15. ^ "reviewed by Martha Bridegam". Bad.eserver.org. 2001-07-05. Retrieved 2013-12-05. 

Further reading[edit]

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