Kate Millett

Prominent influence on second-wave feminism

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"Katherine Millett (September 14, 1934 – September 6, 2017) was an American feminist writer, educator, artist, and activist. She attended Oxford University and was the first American woman to be awarded a degree with first-class honors after studying at St Hilda's College, Oxford. She has been described as "a seminal influence on second-wave feminism", and is best known for her book Sexual Politics (1970), which was based on her doctoral dissertation at Columbia University. Journalist Liza Featherstone attributes previously unimaginable "legal abortion, greater professional equality between the sexes, and a sexual freedom" being made possible partially due to Millett's efforts.

 

The feminist, human rights, peace, civil rights, and anti-psychiatry movements were some of Millett's principal causes. Her books were motivated by her activism, such as woman's rights and mental health reform, and several were autobiographical memoirs that explored her sexuality, mental health, and relationships. In the 1960s and 1970s, Millett taught at Waseda University, Bryn Mawr College, Barnard College, and the University of California, Berkeley. Some of her later written works are The Politics of Cruelty (1994), about state-sanctioned torture in many countries, and Mother Millett (2001), a book about her relationship with her mother. Between 2011 and 2013, she won the Lambda Pioneer Award for Literature, received Yoko Ono's Courage Award for the Arts, and was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

 

Millett was born and raised in Minnesota, and then spent most of her adult life in Manhattan and the Woman's Art Colony, established in Poughkeepsie, New York, which became the Millett Center for the Arts in 2012. Millet came out as a lesbian in the year the book Sexual Politics was published. She was married to a sculptor Fumio Yoshimura (1965 to 1985) and later, until her death in 2017, she was married to Sophie Keir…

 

Millett graduated in 1956 magna cum laude from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature; she was a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. A wealthy aunt paid for her education at St Hilda's College, Oxford gaining an English literature first-class degree, with honors, in 1958. She was the first American woman to be awarded a degree with first-class honors having studied at St. Hilda's. 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. While there, she championed student rights, women's liberation, and abortion reform. She completed her dissertation in September 1969 and was awarded her doctorate, with distinction, in March 1970…

 

Millett taught English and exhibited her works of art at Barnard College beginning in 1964. She was among a group of young, radical and untenured educators who wanted to modernize women's education; Millett wanted to provide them with "the critical tools necessary to understand their position in a patriarchal society." Her viewpoints on radical politics, her "stinging attack" against Barnard in Token Learning, and a budget cut at the college led to her being dismissed on December 23, 1968. Her artwork was featured in an exhibit at Greenwich Village's Judson Gallery. During these years Millett became interested in the peace and Civil Rights Movement, joined the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and participated in their protests.

 

In 1971, Millett taught sociology at Bryn Mawr College. She started buying and restoring property that year, near Poughkeepsie, New York; this became the Women's Art Colony and Tree Farm, a community of women artists and writers and Christmas tree farm. Two years later she was an educator at the University of California, Berkeley…

 

Millett was a leading figure in the women's movement, or second-wave feminism, of the 1960s and 1970s. In 1966, Millett became a committee member of National Organization for Women and subsequently joined the New York Radical Women, Radicalesbians, and Downtown Radical Women organizations…

 

She became a spokesperson for the feminist movement following the success of the book Sexual Politics (1970), but struggled with conflicting perceptions of her as arrogant and elitist, and the expectations of others to speak for them, which she covered in her 1974 book, Flying.

 

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.

 

Millett wrote several books on women's lives from a feminist perspective. For instance, in the book The Basement: Meditations on a Human Sacrifice (1979), completed over four years, she chronicled the torture and murder of Indianapolis teenager Sylvia Likens by Gertrude Baniszewski in 1965 that had preoccupied her for 14 years. With a feminist perspective, she explored the story of the defenseless girl and the dynamics of the individuals involved in her sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Biographer Roberta M. Hooks wrote, "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." 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".

 

Millett and Sophie Keir, a Canadian journalist, traveled to Tehran, Iran in 1979 for the Committee for Artistic and Intellectual Freedom to work for Iranian women's rights. Their trip followed actions taken by Ayatollah Khomeini's government to prevent girls from attending schools with boys, to require working women to wear veils, and not to allow women to divorce their husbands. Thousands of women attended a protest rally held at Tehran University on International Women's Day, March 8. About 20,000 women attended a march through the city's Freedom Square; many of whom were stabbed, beaten, or threatened with acid. Millett and Keir, who had attended the rallies and demonstrations, were removed from their hotel room and taken to a locked room in immigration headquarters two weeks after they arrived in Iran. They were threatened that they might be put in jail and, knowing that homosexuals were executed in Iran, Millett also feared she might be killed when she overheard officials discuss her lesbianism. After an overnight stay, the women were put on a plane that landed in Paris. Although Millett was relieved to have arrived safely in France, she was worried about the fate of Iranian women left behind, "They can't get on a plane. That's why international sisterhood is so important." She wrote about the experience in her 1981 book Going to Iran…

 

Millett won the Best Books Award for Mother Millett from Library Journal in 2001. In 2012, she was awarded one of that year's Courage Award for the Arts by Yoko Ono, which Ono created to "recognize artists, musicians, collectors, curators, writers—those who sought the truth in their work and had the courage to stick to it, no matter what" and "honor their work as an expression of my vision of courage". Between 2011 and 2012, she was also awarded the Lambda Pioneer Award for Literature and a $25,000 visual arts grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. She was honored in the summer of 2011 at a Veteran Feminists of America gala; attendees included feminists such as Susan Brownmiller and Gloria Steinem.


In March 2013, the U.S. National Women's Hall of Fame announced that Millett was to be among the institution's 2013 inductees. Beverly P. Ryder, board of directors co-president, said that Millett was a "real pillar of the women's movement". The induction ceremony took place on October 24, 2013, at the National Women's Hall of Fame headquarters in Seneca Falls, New York.” (1)

From Wikipedia



Her Works