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 80)
St. Paul, Minnesota
Nationality United States
Occupation Feminist writer, artist, activist

Katherine Murray Millett, commonly known as Kate Millett (born September 14, 1934), is an American feminist writer, artist and activist. A seminal influence on second-wave feminism, Millett is perhaps best known for her 1970 book Sexual Politics, which was her doctoral dissertation at Columbia University, prior to that she attended Oxford University and was the first American woman to be awarded a postgraduate degree with first-class honors by St. Hilda's.

She has been an educator, artist, activist and a writer. Her books were motivated by her activism for woman's rights and mental health reform and several were autobiographical memoirs.

Early life[edit]

Katherine Murray Millett was born on September 14, 1934 to James Albert and Helen Feely Millett in Saint Paul, Minnesota. According to Millett she was afraid of her father, an engineer, who administered beatings.[1] He was an alcoholic who abandoned the family when she was 14, "consigning them to a life of genteel poverty."[2][3] Her mother was a teacher,[3] insurance saleswoman.[4] and the subject of her book Mother Millett.[1] Her sister Mallory was one of the subjects of Three Lives[5] and her older sister is Sally.[6]

Of Irish Catholic heritage,[3] she attended parochial schools in Saint Paul throughout her childhood.[1][2]


Millett received her B.A. with magna cum laude honors in 1956 at the University of Minnesota,[1][3] where she was a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority.[7] Funded by a wealthy aunt,[nb 1] she attended St Hilda's College, Oxford and obtained a first-class degree, with honors, in 1958.[1][7] She was the first American woman to be awarded a postgraduate degree with first-class honors by St. Hilda's.[8] After spending about 10 years as an educator and artist, Millett entered the graduate school program for English and comparative literature at Columbia University in 1968, during which she taught English at Barnard.[1][3] While there, she championed student rights, women's liberation, and abortion reform.[3] She completed her dissertation in September 1969 and was awarded her doctorate, with distinction, in March 1970.[3]


Early career as an artist and educator[edit]

Old East.jpg Okuma1.jpg
Barnard College, NYC IMG 0961.JPG Entrance Bryn Mawr.JPG
Clockwise from upper left:

Millett taught English at the University of North Carolina after graduating from St. Hilda's,[3][9] but she left mid-semester to study art.[3] In New York City she worked as a kindergarten teacher and learned to sculpt and paint from 1959 to 1961, when she moved to Japan. There, she continued her study of sculpture and met fellow sculptor Fumio Yoshimura,[1][7] had her first one-woman show at Tokyo's Minami Gallery,[3] and taught English at Waseda University.[7]

In 1963 Yoshimura and Millett left Japan and moved to New York's Lower East Side in the Bowery district.[10] In 1965 the two married[nb 2] and remained so until 1985 when they divorced "amicably".[7] During their marriage she said that they were "friends and lovers".[4]

She taught English and exhibited her works of art at Barnard College[7] beginning in 1964. Millett was among a group of young, radical and untenured educators who wanted to modernize women's education; She wanted to provide them with "the critical tools necessary to understand their position in a patriarchal society."[10] Her viewpoints on radical politics, her "stinging attack" against Barnard in Token Learning, and a budget cut at the college led[11] to her being dismissed on December 23, 1968.[3]

Her artwork was featured in an exhibit at Greenwich Village's Judson Gallery.[7] During these years she became interested in the peace[1] and Civil Rights Movements, joined the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and participated in their protests.[1][7]

In 1971 Millett taught sociology at Bryn Mawr College.[3] Two years later she was an educator at the University of California, Berkeley.[12]

Feminism and sexuality[edit]

Millett is considered "an acknowledged leader of the modern women's movement",[3] or second-wave feminism, of the 1960s and 1970s. She is well known for her book, Sexual Politics,[8][13] considered the movement's manifesto.[3]


In 1966, she became a committee member of National Organization for Women[8] and subsequently joined the New York Radical Women,[7] Radicalesbians, and Downtown Radical Women organizations.[10] She became a spokesperson for the movement following the success of Sexual Politics, but struggled with conflicting conceptions of her as an arrogant, elitist and the expectations from others to speak for them, which she covered in her 1974 book, Flying.[3]

Biographer Gayle Graham Yates said that "Millett articulated a theory of patriarchy and conceptualized the gender and sexual oppression of women in terms that demanded a sex role revolution with radical changes of personal and family lifestyles." Betty Friedan's focus, by comparison, was to improve leadership opportunities socially and politically and economic independence for women.[4]

Jenny Fay Likens watches the proceedings of the Baniszewski trial. It was she who acted as the catalyst for the investigation and case against her sister Sylvia's torturers and murderers by notifying the police.

She wrote several books of women's lives from a feminist perspective. The torture and murder of teenager Sylvia Likens by Gertrude Baniszewski in 1965 from Indianapolis that had "haunted" Millett for 14 years. She chronicled the case in the book The Basement: Meditations on a Human Sacrifice (1980), which she worked on over a four year period. With a feminist perspective she explored the to story of the "powerless" girl and the dynamics of the individuals involved in her sexual, physical and emotional abuse. "Quite apart from any feminist polemics, The Basement can stand alone as an intensely felt and movingly written study of the problems of cruelty and submission."[3][14] Millett said of the motivation of the perpetrator: "It 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."[14]

In 1979, Millett went to Iran to work for women's rights, was soon deported by Komeini's government, and wrote about the experience in Going to Iran.[15]

Sexual Politics[edit]

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. The bestselling book,[1] 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.[16] 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.[17][18]

Millett, considered a symbol of the women's liberation movement, was featured in a Time cover story, "The Politics of Sex",[19] which called it a "remarkable book" that provided a coherent theory about the feminist movement.[1] Alice Neel created the depiction of Millett for the August 31, 1970 cover.[20]

Sexism and sexuality[edit]

While speaking about sexual liberation at Columbia University, a woman in the audience asked her, "Why don't you say you're a lesbian, here, openly. You've said you were a lesbian in the past." Millett hesitantly responded, "Yes, I am a lesbian".[19] A couple of weeks later, Time's December 8, 1970's article "Women's Lib: A Second Look" reported that Millett admitted she was bisexual, which it said would likely discredit her as a spokesperson for the feminist movement because it "reinforce[d] the views of those skeptics who routinely dismiss all liberationists as lesbians."[19][21] In response, two days later a press conference was organized by feminists Ivy Bottini and Barbara Love in Greenwich Village in which they spoke of their "solidarity with the struggle of homosexuals to attain their liberation in a sexist society" to Kate Millett and other attendees.[19]

Millett's 1971 film Three Lives is a 16mm documentary made by an all-woman crew,[3][22] including co-director Susan Kleckner, cameraperson Lenore Bode, and editor Robin Mide, under the name Women's Liberation Cinema.[nb 3] 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. Vincent Canby, New York Times art critic, wrote: "Three Lives is a good, simple movie in that it can't be bothered to call attention to itself, only to its three subjects, and to how they grew in the same male-dominated society that Miss Millett, in her Sexual Politics, so systematically tore apart, shook up, ridiculed and undermined—while, apparently, tickling it pink."[5] It received "generally excellent reviews" following its premiere at a New York City theater.[3]

Two autobiographical books were published in 1974 and 1977 that explored her sexuality, including Flying (1974),[3] a "stream-of-consciousness memoir about her bisexuality",[24] and Sita (1977), in which Millett wrote about her sexuality and its affect on her personal and private life.[3]


Women's Art Colony[edit]

Millett started buying and restoring fields and buildings in 1971 near Poughkeepsie, New York, that became the Women's Art Colony/Tree Farm,[8][25] a community of women artists and writers and Christmas tree farm.[25] In 2012, The Farm became a 501c3 non-profit organization and changed its name to the Millett Center for The Arts.[8]

Art exhibitions[edit]

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.[26]


Millett was a contributor to On the Issues magazine.[27] Aside from her other books, she wrote about state-sanctioned torture in The Politics of Cruelty (1994) to bring attention to the practice performed in many countries. Mother Millett (2001) was about her mother's final years,[1] in which her mother required round-the-clock care due to her health problems. Millett rescued her mother from "a 'bizarre, dark, awful place' in the habit of doping its residents and pinning them in their beds."[6]

Mental health[edit]

Mental illness has affected Millett's personal and professional life since 1973. She was said to have Bipolar disorder,[24][28] but Millett disputes the diagnosis. She has claimed that labels, like manic depression (bipolar disorder) and schizophrenia, are placed upon people who exhibit socially unacceptable behavior. "Many healthy people, she said, are 'driven to mental illness' by society's disapproval and by the 'authoritarian institution of psychiatry.'[24][nb 4]

She attempted suicide during several periods of depression.[29] Her bipolar disorder treatments included lithium therapy[30] and electroconvulsive therapy.[1] Her family had her involuntarily hospitalized in psychiatric wards,[29] and she won her own sanity trial in St. Paul.[31] Millett documented her experiences in the book The Loony Bin Trip (1990).[28]


Further information: Mad Pride

With her lawyer, they changed the State of Minnesota's commitment law so that a trial is required before a person is involuntarily committed.[31] Millett has been active in the anti-psychiatry movement.[6] 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).[32]

She has also been involved in prison reform and campaigns against torture. Journalist Maureen Freely wrote of Millett's viewpoint regarding activism in her later years: "The best thing about being a freewheeler is that she can say what she pleases because 'nobody's giving me a chair in anything. I'm too old, mean and ornery. Everything depends on how well you argue.'"[6]

Bowery development plan[edit]

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.[33]

Awards and Honors[edit]

In 2012, Millett was awarded one of that year's Courage Awards for the Arts from Yoko Ono.[34]

In March 2013, the U.S. National Women's Hall of Fame announced that Millett was to be among the institution's 2013 inductees.[35] The induction ceremony took place on October 24, 2013, at the National Women's Hall of Fame headquarters in Seneca Falls, New York.[36]


According to biographer Peter Manso, The Prisoner of Sex was written by Norman Mailer in response to Millett's Sexual Politics.[37] "The Prisoner of Sex is structured as a contest. His rhetoric against her prose, his charm against her earnestness, his polemic rage against her vitriolic charges. The aim is to convert the larger audience, the stronger presence as the sustaining truth. The Prisoner of Sex combines self parody and satire...", said Andrew Wilson, author of Norman Mailer: An American Aesthetic.[38]

Scholar Camille Paglia has described Millett's scholarship as deeply flawed, declaring that "American feminism’s nose dive began" when Millett achieved prominence.[39] 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.[40]



  • Kate Millett; Kathy O'Dell; Maurice Berger, University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Fine Arts Gallery (April 1997). Kate Millett, sculptor: the first 38 years. University of Maryland, Baltimore County. ISBN 978-0-9624565-9-6. 


  • "Out of the Loop". On The Issues Magazine. Summer 1998. 
  • Peter Stastny & Peter Lehmann, ed. (2007). "The Illusion of Mental Illness". Alternatives Beyond Psychiatry. Peter Lehmann Publishing. pp. 29–38. ISBN 978-0-9788399-1-8. 


  • Three Lives (documentary). Womens Liberation Cinema Company. 1971. "Producer" 
  • Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography (documentary). National Film Board of Canada (NFB). 1981. "Herself, writer, artist" 
  • Bookmark: Daughters of de Beauvoir (1 episode) (biography). British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Union Pictures Productions. 1989. "Herself" 
  • Playboy: The Story of X' (documentary). Calliope Films, Playboy Entertainment Group. 1998. "Herself" 
  • The Real Yoko Ono (television). 2001. "Herself" 
  • Des fleurs pour Simone de Beauvoir (documentary short) (in French). France. 2007. "Herself" 


  1. ^ Her aunt provided funding for her education at Oxford was "a gesture that had less to do with her aunt's respect for Kate's intellectual gifts than with the family's discovering that she was in love with another woman"[2] and / or due to her aunt's annoyance with Millett's "tendency to defy convention".[3]
  2. ^ Author Rosalind Rosenberg said that the couple married to prevent Yoshimura from being deported.[10]
  3. ^ After the film was released, three women from the film crew sued Millett for violating the profit-sharing terms of their contract. Millett represented herself in court, with emotional outbursts. The judge ruled in the plaintiffs favor, but Millett reluctantly paid portions of the earnings to the women.[23]
  4. ^ Her family, though, has claimed that she has gone up to five nights without sleep and has talked non-sensibly for hours. During a screening of one of her films at University of California, Berkeley, she "began talking incoherently". According to her sister, Mallory Millett Danaher, "There were pained looks of confusion in the audience, then people whispered and slowly got up to leave."


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Neil A. Hamilton (1 January 2002). American Social Leaders and Activists. Infobase Publishing. p. 267. ISBN 978-1-4381-0808-7. 
  2. ^ a b c Rosalind Rosenberg (13 August 2013). Changing the Subject: How the Women of Columbia Shaped the Way We Think About Sex and Politics. Columbia University Press. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-231-50114-9. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Frank N. Magill (5 March 2014). The 20th Century Go-N: Dictionary of World Biography. Routledge. pp. 2536–2537. ISBN 978-1-317-74060-5. 
  4. ^ a b c Justin Wintle (28 November 2008). The Concise New Makers of Modern Culture. Routledge. p. 532. ISBN 978-1-134-02139-0. 
  5. ^ a b Vincent Canby (November 5, 1971). "Movie Review: Three Lives (1971) Kate Millett's Film of and by Women Begins Run". New York Times. Retrieved September 4, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c d Maureen Freely (June 18, 2001). "Return of the troublemaker: Her Sexual Politics took the world by storm in 1970 and now Kate Millett is making the personal political again". The Guardian. Retrieved September 4, 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Paul D. Buchanan (31 July 2011). Radical Feminists: A Guide to an American Subculture. ABC-CLIO. p. 125. ISBN 978-1-59884-356-9. 
  8. ^ a b c d e "Dr. Kate Millett". St Hilda's College, Oxford University. Retrieved September 4, 2014. 
  9. ^ Rosalind Rosenberg (13 August 2013). Changing the Subject: How the Women of Columbia Shaped the Way We Think About Sex and Politics. Columbia University Press. pp. 224–225. ISBN 978-0-231-50114-9. 
  10. ^ a b c d Rosalind Rosenberg (13 August 2013). Changing the Subject: How the Women of Columbia Shaped the Way We Think About Sex and Politics. Columbia University Press. p. 225. ISBN 978-0-231-50114-9. 
  11. ^ Rosalind Rosenberg (13 August 2013). Changing the Subject: How the Women of Columbia Shaped the Way We Think About Sex and Politics. Columbia University Press. pp. 225–226. ISBN 978-0-231-50114-9. 
  12. ^ Christina Robb, Globe Staff (May 31, 1990). "Kate Millett: Free at Last The Noted Feminist Escapes from 'The Loony-Bin Trip'". The Boston Globe (accessed via HighBeam Research, a subscription service (Boston, Massachusetts: The New York Times Company). Retrieved September 11, 2014. 
  13. ^ Normal Mailer (March 1971). "The Prisoner of Sex". Harper’s Magazine. Retrieved 2009-09-13. 
  14. ^ a b Pat H. Broeske (January 14, 2007). "A Midwest Nightmare, Too Depraved to Ignore". The New York Times. Retrieved September 4, 2014. 
  15. ^ Robert Benewick; Philip Green (11 September 2002). The Routledge Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Political Thinkers. Routledge. p. 176. ISBN 978-1-134-86467-6. 
  16. ^ Jonathan D. Culler (2007). On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism After Structuralism. Cornell University Press. pp. 47–49. ISBN 0-8014-7405-1. 
  17. ^ Pattock, Mary (Winter 2012). "Sexual Politics". Reach. Archived from the original on April 10, 2013. Retrieved March 15, 2013. 
  18. ^ Jane Gerhard (20 August 2013). Desiring Revolution: Second-Wave Feminism and the Rewriting of Twentieth-Century American Sexual Thought. Columbia University Press. pp. 92–95. ISBN 978-0-231-52879-5. 
  19. ^ a b c d Dudley Clendinen; Adam Nagourney (30 July 2013). Out For Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in Ame. Simon and Schuster. p. 99. ISBN 978-1-4767-4071-3. 
  20. ^ "Time magazine cover - Kate Millett portrayed by Alice Neel, August 31, 1970". Time magazine. Retrieved September 4, 2014. 
  21. ^ Paul D. Buchanan (31 July 2011). Radical Feminists: A Guide to an American Subculture. ABC-CLIO. p. 39. ISBN 978-1-59884-356-9. 
  22. ^ James L. Limbacher (1979). Feature Films on 8mm, 16mm, and Videotape. Bowker. p. 306. 
  23. ^ New York Media, LLC (8 April 1974). New York Magazine. New York Media, LLC. p. 68. ISSN 00287369. 
  24. ^ a b c Edward Iwata (June 13, 1990). "In a Mind Field: Kate Millett attacks psychiatry in 'The Loony-Bin Trip'". LA Times. Retrieved September 5, 2014. 
  25. ^ a b Barbara J. Love (2006). Feminists who Changed America, 1963-1975. University of Illinois Press. p. 315. ISBN 978-0-252-03189-2. 
  26. ^ Cornelia H. Butler; Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles, Calif.) (2 April 2007). WACK!: art and the feminist revolution. Museum of Contemporary Art. p. 494. 
  27. ^ Mother Jones (September 1992). Mother Jones Magazine. Mother Jones. p. PT53. ISSN 03628841. 
  28. ^ a b Frank N. Magill (5 March 2014). The 20th Century Go-N: Dictionary of World Biography. Routledge. pp. 2537–2538. ISBN 978-1-317-74060-5. 
  29. ^ a b Paul D. Buchanan (31 July 2011). Radical Feminists: A Guide to an American Subculture. ABC-CLIO. p. 126. ISBN 978-1-59884-356-9. 
  30. ^ Gail A. Hornstein. Agnes's Jacket: A Psychologist's Search for the Meanings of Madness. Rodale. p. 307. ISBN 978-1-60529-671-5. 
  31. ^ a b Marcia Cohen (2009). The Sisterhood: The Inside Story of the Women's Movement and the Leaders who Made it Happen. Sunstone Press. p. 253. ISBN 978-0-86534-723-6. 
  32. ^ "Freedom from Torture or Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment". MindFreedom. Retrieved September 5, 2014. "A piece by Kate Millett, read at the United Nations Ad Hoc Committee on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in New York City on January 18, 2005." 
  33. ^ "Author Millett leaves Bower". The Villager 74 (15). August 11–17, 2004. 
  34. ^ Edward M Gomez. "Music, art, innovation, peace: Yoko Ono presents 2012 Courage Awards for the Arts". Veteran Feminists of America. Retrieved March 13, 2014. 
  35. ^ Mary Reinholz (March 8, 2013). "Kate Millett, ‘Pillar of the Movement,’ Inducted into Women’s Hall of Fame". The Local: East Village. Retrieved March 15, 2013. 
  36. ^ "Induction Weekend 2013". National Women's Hall of Fame. Retrieved March 15, 2013. 
  37. ^ S. Paige Baty (1995). American Monroe: The Making of a Body Politic. University of California Press. p. 97. ISBN 978-0-520-08805-4. 
  38. ^ Andrew Wilson (2008). Norman Mailer: An American Aesthetic. Peter Lang. pp. 184–185. ISBN 978-3-03911-406-1. 
  39. ^ Camille Paglia (1992), Sex, Art and American Culture: New Essays, New York: Vintage, p. 243, ISBN 978-0-679-74101-5 
  40. ^ Camille Paglia (July 25, 1997). "Feminists Must Begin to Fulfill Their Noble, Animating Ideal". The Chronicle of Higher Education. p. B4. 

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