I didn’t know until I read the article from the Washington Post, that Millett had been outed as a lesbian in a particularly dramatic and cruel way. For women of her generation, as she is quoted as saying, the transition from conventional heterosexuality to open lesbian was slow, long and painful and often cost relationships and status. The same of course was true for men of that generation. Millett felt, at that crucial moment—and I honor her for it—that to answer the audience member’s question by saying that she was bisexual was a cop-out. I remember when lesbian friends of mine used to scoff that a woman who claimed she was bisexual always ended up with a man. I hope that presumption died with the period.
I also didn’t know that Millett had spent time in a “loony bin” and been smacked with one of those psychiatric labels that seems as disabling as it is meaningless. (They change all the time, just like skirt lengths.) She wrote movingly, openly and bravely about this experience in a narrative that, if things were equal, would have outshone One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with its cruel caricature of Nurse Ratched.
Now Millett is gone. And soon we will see the last few leaders of that great period in the 1970’s depart the scene, their dauntless efforts seeing now to have been of little avail. See the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos’, recent attack on the way colleges have, reluctantly and slowly, started to punish the perpetrators of sexual assault.
Sweet Honey in the Rock, whose music I love, has written a song titled, “They Are Falling All Around Me,” mourning the loss of our early leaders. One of them is and was Kate Millett.
But Sweet Honey also sings, “We Will Not Be Moved.”
From The Washington Post:
“Sexual Politics,” Dr. Millett’s debut book, emerged from her doctoral thesis at Columbia University. It posited that “every avenue of power within the society, including the coercive force of the police, is entirely in male hands,” and that “as the essence of politics is power, such realization cannot fail to carry impact.”
She traced the patriarchy from biblical presentations of women to Sigmund Freud’s concept of “penis envy” to inequitable marital arrangements that persisted even after the women’s movement took hold.
“She opened up the eyes and the minds of women to the possibilities of freedom, the urgency of freedom, and the fact that terrible things happen to women” — things “that few could look at [as] closely as she did,” said [Phyllis] Chesler, the author of books including “Women and Madness” (1972).
From “The Book That Made Us Feminists” by Carol J. Adams in The New York Times:
In 1963, Betty Friedan had called the “feminine mystique” the problem with no name. It was Ms. Millett who gave it a name — sexual politics — and explained its cause: patriarchal society. By introducing the concept of “patriarchy as a political institution,” she equipped her readers to become their own theorists of culture. Ms. Millett revolutionized our thought by helping us to perceive the power structures in what had previously been cast as apolitical terrain: the home; literature; romantic relationships.
It felt so liberating to realize that we could follow her lead. We could take this fundamental insight to our jobs, our schools, our marriages — and to politics itself. Theory mattered. It was capable of propelling real change.
[Also, from The New York Times “Kate Millett, Ground-Breaking Feminist Writer, Is Dead at 82”.]