Cover of the first edition
|Subject||Gender role, literary criticism|
|Publisher||Doubleday and Co., 1970 (US)
Rupert Hart-Davis, 1971 (UK)
Virago, 1977 (UK)
University of Illinois Press, 2000 (US)
|Media type||Print (hardcover and paperback)|
Millett argues that "sex has a frequently neglected political aspect" and goes on to discuss the role that patriarchy plays in sexual relations, looking especially at the works of D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, and Norman Mailer. Millett argues that these authors view and discuss sex in a patriarchal and sexist way. In contrast, she applauds the more nuanced gender politics of homosexual writer Jean Genet. Other writers discussed at length include Sigmund Freud, George Meredith, John Ruskin, and John Stuart Mill.
Sexual Politics was largely influenced by Simone De Beauvoir's 1949 book The Second Sex, although De Beauvoir's text is known for being more intellectually-focused and less emotionally invigorating than Millett's text.
Sexual Politics has been seen as a classic feminist text, said to be "the first book of academic feminist literary criticism", and "one of the first feminist books of this decade to raise nationwide male ire", though like Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1963) and Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch (1970), its status has declined. Sexual Politics was an important theoretical touchstone for the second wave feminism of the 1970s. It was also extremely controversial. Norman Mailer, whose work, especially his novel An American Dream (1965), had been criticised by Millett, wrote the article “The Prisoner of Sex” in Harper's Magazine in response, attacking Millett's claims and defending Miller and Lawrence, and later extensively attacked her writings in his non-fiction book of the same name.
The psychoanalyst Juliet Mitchell argues that Millett, like many other feminists, misreads Freud and misunderstands the implications of psychoanalytic theory for feminism. Christina Hoff Sommers writes in Who Stole Feminism? (1994) that, by teaching women that politics is "essentially sexual" and that "even the so-called democracies" are "male hegemonies," Sexual Politics helped to move feminism in a different direction, toward an ideology that Sommers calls "gender feminism." Richard Webster writes in Why Freud Was Wrong (1995) that Millett's "analysis of the reactionary character of psychoanalysis" was inspired by Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex (1949). The critic Camille Paglia called Sexual Politics an "atrocious book", which "reduced complex artworks to their political content". She accused it of spawning what she sees as the excesses of women's studies departments, especially for attacks on the alleged pervasive sexism of the male authors of the Western canon.
The historian Arthur Marwick described Sexual Politics as, alongside Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex (1970), one of the two key texts of radical feminism. Doubleday's trade division, although it declined to reprint it when it went out of print briefly, said Sexual Politics was one of the ten most important books that it had published in its hundred years of existence and included it in its anniversary anthology.
The New York Times published a review of the book in 1970 that predicted it would become "the Bible of Women's Liberation." The article, titled "De Beauvoir Lessening--Now, Kate Millett" was written by Marcia Seligson and praised the book as "a piece of passionate thinking on a life-and-death aspect of our everyday lives."
Editions (incomplete list)
- Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1970)
- Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (London: Rupert Hart-Davis Ltd., 1971)
- Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (London: Virago, 1977)
- Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000)
- Warren, Mary Anne (1980). The Nature of Woman: An Encyclopedia and Guide to the Literature. Edgepress. p. 330.
- P. T. Clough (1994). The Sociological Quarterly, vol 35 no 3, page 473 The Hybrid Criticism of Patriarchy: Rereading Kate Millett's "Sexual Politics"
- Rossi, Alice S. (1997). The Feminist Papers: From Abigail Adams to Simone de Beauvoir. Boston: Northeastern University Press. p. 673. ISBN 1555530281.
- Norma Willson (1974). The English Journal vol 63 no 6 page 15 "Majority Report: A Liberated Glossary: Guide to Feminist Writings"
- Mailer, Norman (March 1971). "The Prisoner of Sex". Harper’s Magazine. Retrieved 2009-09-13.
- Mailer, Norman (1971). The Prisoner of Sex. Boston: Little Brown. ISBN 9780917657597.
- Mitchell, Juliet (2000). Psychoanalysis and Feminism: A Radical Reassessment of Freudian Psychoanalysis. London: Penguin Books. pp. xxix, 303–356. ISBN 0-14-027953-9.
- Sommers, Christina Hoff (1995). Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 23. ISBN 0-684-80156-6.
- Webster, Richard (2005). Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis. Oxford: The Orwell Press. p. 22. ISBN 0-9515922-5-4.
- Chronicle of Higher Education 25 July 1997 C. Paglia "Feminists Must Begin to Fulfill Their Noble, Animating Ideal"
- Marwick, Arthur (1998). The Sixties: Cultural Revolution in Britain, France, Italy, and the United States, c. 1958–c.1974. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 687. ISBN 0-19-210022-X.
- Millett, Kate, 1970 (2000). Sexual Politics. University of Chicago Press. pp. ix–x.
- Seligson, Marcia. "De Beauvoir Lessening--Now, Kate Millett". The New York Times. The New York Times. Retrieved March 24, 2017.