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Kate Millett

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Title: Kate Millett  
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Kate Millett

Kate Millett
Kate Millett in 1970
Born Katherine Murray Millett
(1934-09-14) September 14, 1934
St. Paul, Minnesota
Nationality United States
Occupation Feminist writer, artist, activist

Katherine Murray "Kate" Millett (born September 14, 1934) is an American feminist writer, educator, artist, and activist. 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 described as "a seminal influence on second-wave feminism", and is best known for her 1970 book Sexual Politics,"[1] which was 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.[2]

The feminist, human rights, peace, civil rights, and anti-psychiatry movements have been some of Millett's key 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. Mother Millett and The Loony Bin Trip, for instance, dealt with family issues and the times when she was involuntarily committed to a nursing home. Besides appearing in a number of documentaries, she produced Three Lives and wrote Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography. In the 1960s and 1970s, Millett taught at Waseda University, Bryn Mawr College, Barnard College, and University of California, Berkeley.

Millett was raised in Minnesota and has spent most of her adult life in Manhattan and the Woman's Art Colony, which became the Millett Center for the Arts in 2012, that she established in Poughkeepsie, New York. Self-identified as bisexual, Millett was married to sculptor Fumio Yoshimura from 1965 to 1985 and had relationships with women, one of whom was the inspiration for her book Sita. She has continued to work as an activist, writer and artist. Some of her later written works are The Politics of Cruelty (1994), about state-sanctioned torture in many countries, and a book about the relationship with her mother in Mother Millett (2001). Between 2011 and 2013 she has 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.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Career and activism 2
    • Early career as an artist and educator 2.1
    • Feminism and sexuality 2.2
      • Feminism 2.2.1
      • Sexual Politics 2.2.2
      • Sexism and sexuality 2.2.3
    • The 1980s through 2000s 2.3
    • Mother Millett 2.4
    • Millett Center for the Arts 2.5
  • Personal life 3
    • Interpersonal relationships 3.1
    • Marriage 3.2
    • Mental health 3.3
      • Views on mental illness 3.3.1
      • Activism 3.3.2
    • Bowery redevelopment 3.4
  • Scholarship 4
  • Awards and honors 5
  • Works 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10

Early life and education

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 beat her.[3] He was an alcoholic who abandoned the family when she was 14, "consigning them to a life of genteel poverty."[4][5] Her mother was a teacher[5] and insurance saleswoman.[6] She has two sisters, Sally and Mallory; the latter was one of the subjects of Three Lives.[7][8] Of Irish Catholic heritage,[5] Kate Millett attended parochial schools in Saint Paul throughout her childhood.[3][4]

Millett graduated in 1956 magna cum laude from University of Minnesota with a BA degree[3][5] in English literature;[9] she was a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority.[10] A wealthy aunt paid for her education at St Hilda's College, Oxford,[nb 1] where she majored in English literature and obtained a first-class degree, with honors, in 1958.[3][10] She was the first American woman to be awarded a postgraduate degree with first-class honors by St. Hilda's.[11] 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.[3][5] While there, she championed student rights, women's liberation, and abortion reform.[5] She completed her dissertation in September 1969 and was awarded her doctorate, with distinction, in March 1970.[5]

Career and activism

Early career as an artist and educator

Clockwise from upper left:

Millett taught English at the University of North Carolina after graduating from St. Hilda's,[5][12] but she left mid-semester to study art.[5] In New York City she worked as a kindergarten teacher and learned to sculpt and paint from 1959 to 1961. She then moved to Japan and studied sculpture. Millett met fellow sculptor Fumio Yoshimura,[3][10] had her first one-woman show at Tokyo's Minami Gallery,[5] and taught English at Waseda University.[10] She left Japan in 1963 and moved to New York's Lower East Side.[13]

Millett taught English and exhibited her works of art at Barnard College[10] 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."[13] Her viewpoints on radical politics, her "stinging attack" against Barnard in Token Learning, and a budget cut at the college led[14] to her being dismissed on December 23, 1968.[5] Her artwork was featured in an exhibit at Greenwich Village's Judson Gallery.[10] During these years Millett became interested in the peace[3] and Civil Rights Movements, joined the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and participated in their protests.[3][10]

In 1971 Millett taught sociology at Bryn Mawr College.[5] She started buying and restoring property that year, near Poughkeepsie, New York; this became the Women's Art Colony and Tree Farm,[11][15] a community of women artists and writers and Christmas tree farm.[15] Two years later she was an educator at the University of California, Berkeley.[16]

Feminism and sexuality

Millett is acknowledged as a leader of the modern women's movement,[5] or second-wave feminism, of the 1960s and 1970s. She is known for her book Sexual Politics,[11][17] considered the movement's manifesto.[5]


In 1966, Millett became a committee member of

External links

  • Crawford, Leslie (June 5, 1999). "Kate Millett, The Ambivalent Feminist". Salon. 
  • Freely, Maureen (June 19, 2001). "Return of the troublemaker". The Guardian. 
  • "The Liberation of Kate Millett". Time Magazine. August 30, 1970. 
  • Sage, Lorna (1999). The Cambridge Guide to Women's Literature in English. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.  
  • Simmons, Will (interviewer) (December 1, 2011). "Conversations with Kate Millett". Harvard Independent. 
  • Sisters of Jam, ed. (2014). A Piece of Land: Voices, Photographs, Bits and Pieces from Kate Millett Farm. Mikaela & Moa Krestesen. 

Further reading

  1. ^ "Kate Millett". Woman's History Month. Maynard Institute. March 20, 2012. Retrieved October 7, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Liza Featherstone (June 10, 2001). "Daughterhood Is Powerful". The Washington Post (Washingtonpost Newsweek Interactive). Retrieved September 14, 2014 – via  
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Neil A. Hamilton (January 1, 2002). American Social Leaders and Activists. New York: Infobase Publishing. p. 267.  
  4. ^ a b c Rosalind Rosenberg (August 13, 2013). Changing the Subject: How the Women of Columbia Shaped the Way We Think About Sex and Politics. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 224.  
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Frank N. Magill (March 5, 2014). The 20th Century Go-N: Dictionary of World Biography. London: Routledge. pp. 2536–2537.  
  6. ^ a b c Justin Wintle (November 28, 2008). The Concise New Makers of Modern Culture. London: Routledge. p. 532.  
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ a b c 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. 
  9. ^ Marcia Cohen (2009). The Sisterhood: The Inside Story of the Women's Movement and the Leaders who Made it Happen. Santa Fe: Sunstone Press. p. 74.  
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Paul D. Buchanan (July 31, 2011). Radical Feminists: A Guide to an American Subculture. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. p. 125.  
  11. ^ a b c d e "Dr. Kate Millett". St Hilda's College, Oxford University. Retrieved September 4, 2014. 
  12. ^ Rosalind Rosenberg (August 13, 2013). Changing the Subject: How the Women of Columbia Shaped the Way We Think About Sex and Politics. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 224–225.  
  13. ^ a b c d e Rosalind Rosenberg (August 13, 2013). Changing the Subject: How the Women of Columbia Shaped the Way We Think About Sex and Politics. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 225.  
  14. ^ Rosalind Rosenberg (August 13, 2013). Changing the Subject: How the Women of Columbia Shaped the Way We Think About Sex and Politics. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 225–226.  
  15. ^ a b Barbara J. Love (2006). Feminists who Changed America, 1963–1975. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. p. 315.  
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Christina Robb, Globe Staff (May 31, 1990). "'"Kate Millett: Free at Last The Noted Feminist Escapes from 'The Loony-Bin Trip. The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts: The New York Times Company). Retrieved September 11, 2014 – via  
  17. ^  
  18. ^ "Sisterhood is powerful : an anthology of writings from the women's liberation movement (Book, 1970)". []. Retrieved 2015-05-08. 
  19. ^ a b Pat H. Broeske (January 14, 2007). "A Midwest Nightmare, Too Depraved to Ignore". The New York Times. Retrieved September 4, 2014. 
  20. ^ a b c d Frank N. Magill (March 5, 2014). The 20th Century Go-N: Dictionary of World Biography. London: Routledge. pp. 2537–2538.  
  21. ^ Pamela Andriotakis, Andrea Chambers (April 2, 1979). "In the Name of Sisterhood, Kate Millett Finds Herself in the Eye of the Storm in Iran" 11 (13). Retrieved October 7, 2014. 
  22. ^ Robert Benewick; Philip Green (September 11, 2002). The Routledge Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Political Thinkers. London and New York: Routledge. p. 176.  
  23. ^ Jonathan D. Culler (2007). On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism After Structuralism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. pp. 47–49.  
  24. ^ a b c d Pattock, Mary (Winter 2012). "Sexual Politics". Reach. Retrieved October 8, 2014. 
  25. ^ Jane Gerhard (August 20, 2013). Desiring Revolution: Second-Wave Feminism and the Rewriting of Twentieth-Century American Sexual Thought. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 92–95.  
  26. ^ a b c d Dudley Clendinen; Adam Nagourney (July 30, 2013). Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in Ame. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 99.  
  27. ^ magazine cover – Kate Millett portrayed by Alice Neel, August 31, 1970"Time". Time magazine. Retrieved September 4, 2014. 
  28. ^ S. Paige Baty (1995). American Monroe: The Making of a Body Politic. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 97.  
  29. ^ Andrew Wilson (2008). Norman Mailer: An American Aesthetic. Bern: Peter Lang. pp. 184–185.  
  30. ^ Paul D. Buchanan (July 31, 2011). Radical Feminists: A Guide to an American Subculture. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. p. 39.  
  31. ^ James L. Limbacher (1979). Feature Films on 8mm, 16mm, and Videotape. Bowker. p. 306. 
  32. ^ New York Media, LLC (April 8, 1974). New York Magazine. New York Media, LLC. p. 68.  
  33. ^ a b c d e Edward Iwata (June 13, 1990). "'"In a Mind Field: Kate Millett attacks psychiatry in 'The Loony-Bin Trip. LA Times. Retrieved September 5, 2014. 
  34. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Hillary Frey (July 23, 2001). "Mother Courage.(Review)". The Nation (The Nation Institute). Retrieved September 18, 2014 – via  
  35. ^ Cornelia H. Butler; Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles, Calif.) (April 2, 2007). WACK!: art and the feminist revolution. Museum of Contemporary Art. p. 494. 
  36. ^ Mother Jones (September 1992). Mother Jones Magazine. Mother Jones. p. PT53.  
  37. ^ a b c d e Pat Swift (September 23, 2001). "Her Mother, Herself". The Buffalo News (Buffalo, New York: Dialog LLC). Retrieved September 18, 2014 – via  
  38. ^ a b c d Marilyn Yalom (May 13, 1990). "Kate Millett's Mental Politics". The Washington Post (Washingtonpost Newsweek Interactive). Retrieved September 12, 2014 – via  
  39. ^ a b c d "Fumio Yoshimura, 76, Sculptor of Everyday". New York Times. August 10, 2002. Retrieved September 18, 2014. 
  40. ^ Estelle C. Jelinek (March 19, 2004). The Tradition of Women's Autobiography. Xlibris Corporation. p. 241.  
  41. ^ 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.  
  42. ^ Gail A. Hornstein. Agnes's Jacket: A Psychologist's Search for the Meanings of Madness. Rodale. p. 307.  
  43. ^ a b c Mary O'Connell (May 27, 1990). "How can one not be crazy here?". Chicago Sun-Times (Sun-Times News Group). Retrieved September 12, 2014 – via  
  44. ^ Paul D. Buchanan (July 31, 2011). Radical Feminists: A Guide to an American Subculture. ABC-CLIO. p. 126.  
  45. ^ "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. 
  46. ^ "Author Millett leaves Bower". The Villager 74 (15). August 11–17, 2004. 
  47. ^ a b c d e Kristan Poirot (June 22, 2004). "Mediating a Movement, Authorizing Discourse: Kate Millett, Sexual Politics, and Feminism's Second Wave". Women's Studies in Communication (Organization for Research on Women and Communication). Retrieved October 8, 2014 – via  
  48. ^ a b c Alice Henry (June 1977). "Sita (Review)". off our backs 7 (5): 14 – via  
  49. ^ Patricia J. Higgins (Autumn 1983). "Going to Iran (Review)". Signs (The University of Chicago Press) 9 (1): 154–156.  
  50. ^ Camille Paglia (1992), Sex, Art and American Culture: New Essays, New York: Vintage, p. 243,  
  51. ^ Camille Paglia (July 25, 1997). "Feminists Must Begin to Fulfill Their Noble, Animating Ideal". The Chronicle of Higher Education. p. B4. 
  52. ^ a b c d e "Millett, Kate 1934–". Concise Major 21st Century Writers. Gale Publishing. 2006. Retrieved October 8, 2014 – via  
  53. ^ a b Edward M Gomez. "Music, art, innovation, peace: Yoko Ono presents 2012 Courage Awards for the Arts". Veteran Feminists of America. Retrieved March 13, 2014. 
  54. ^ "Foundation for Contemporary Arts Announces 2012 Artist Grants". Artforum International Magazine. January 27, 2012. Retrieved October 7, 2014. 
  55. ^ 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. 
  56. ^ "Induction Weekend 2013". National Women's Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on October 8, 2014. Retrieved March 15, 2013. 
  57. ^ Geoffrey Hendricks (2003). Critical Mass: Happenings, Fluxus, Performance, Intermedia, and Rutgers University, 1958–1972. Rutgers University Press. p. 201.  
  58. ^ a b Laurel Jean Fredrickson (2007). Kate Millett and Jean-Jacques Lebel: Sexual Outlaws in the Intermedia Borderlands of Art and Politics. ProQuest. p. xi, 76.  
  59. ^ J.G. Murphy (October 31, 1998). Character, Liberty and Law: Kantian Essays in Theory and Practice. Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 119, 123, 125, 137–.  
  60. ^ Louis P. Masur (August 1, 2010). The Soiling of Old Glory: The Story of a Photograph That Shocked America. Bloomsbury Publishing.  
  61. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Kate Millett papers" (PDF). Duke University. Retrieved October 9, 2014. 
  62. ^ Naked Ladies' Exhbit Celebrates Fat"'". The Pittsburg Press. May 26, 1977. Retrieved October 9, 2014. 
  63. ^ John Dean (January 1, 1999). The Indiana Torture Slaying: Sylvia Likens' Ordeal and Death. Borf Books. p. 187.  
  64. ^ Laurel Jean Fredrickson (2007). Kate Millett and Jean-Jacques Lebel: Sexual Outlaws in the Intermedia Borderlands of Art and Politics. ProQuest. pp. 67, 358.  
  65. ^ "Kate Millett, Sculptor: The First 38 Years". Center for Art Design and Visual Culture, University of Maryland. Retrieved October 8, 2014. 
  66. ^ Edward Rubin (September 22, 2009). "Black Madonna (feminist art exhibit at the HP Garcia Gallery in New York)". ArtUS (The Foundation for International Art Criticism). Retrieved October 8, 2014 – via  


  1. ^ Her aunt paid for her education at Oxford, which was considered "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"[4] and / or due to her aunt's annoyance with Millett's "tendency to defy convention".[5]
  2. ^ After its release, 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 only a portion of the earnings to the women.[32]
  3. ^ Of Millett's frankness about people close to her, Marilyn Yalom said in her Washington Post article, "What right did she have, I wondered (recalling what Rousseau's Confessions" for disclosures made at other people's expense), to "confess" so many others as she confessed herself?"[38] Liza Featherstone wondered in her review of Mother Millett, "how Kate's sisters would tell this story."[2]
  4. ^ Yoshimura sculpted in wood, first in unfinished linden wood, having taught himself how to work with the medium while in New York. Known for his "painstaking technique", he made life-like depictions of plants, machines, and other objects, like bicycles and kites. Yoshimura was an adjunct professor at Dartmouth College for 11 years.[39]
  5. ^ Author Rosalind Rosenberg said that the couple married to prevent Yoshimura from being deported.[13]
  6. ^ He was married to his third wife, Carol Yoshimura, when he died in 2002 at the age of 76 of complications from pancreatic cancer.[39]
  7. ^ She did not oppose "supportive, inquiring and sensitive psychotherapy."[16]


  • Three Lives (documentary). Women's 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 


  • Millett, Kate (Summer 1998). "Out of the Loop". On The Issues Magazine. 
  • Millett, Kate (2005), "Theory of Sexual Politics", in  
  • Millett, Kate (2007), "The Illusion of Mental Illness", in Stastny, Peter;  

Articles or book chapters

  • Millett, Kate; O'Dell, Kathy; Berger, Maurice (1997). Kate Millett, Sculptor: The First 38 Years. Catonsville, Maryland: Fine Arts Gallery.  
  • Millett, Kate (1970).  
  • Millett, Kate (1971). The Prostitution papers: A Candid Dialogue. Falmouth: Paladin.  
  • Millett, Kate (1974).  
  • Millett, Kate (1976). Sita. London: Virago. 
  • Millett, Kate (1979). The Basement: Meditations on a Human Sacrifice. New York: Simon & Schuster.  
  • Millett, Kate (1981). Going to Iran. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan.  
  • Millett, Kate (1990). The Loony-Bin Trip. New York: Simon & Schuster.  
  • Millett, Kate (1993). The Politics of Cruelty: An Essay on the Literature of Political Imprisonment. New York, London: Norton.  
  • Millett, Kate (1995). AD, a Memoir. W.W. Norton.  
  • Millett, Kate (2001). Mother Millett. London: Verso.  


  • 1963 – Minami Gallery, Tokyo[52]
  • 1967 – Group exhibition, 12 Evenings of Manipulation, Judson Gallery, New York City[52][57]
  • 1968 – Situations, Brooklyn Community College, New York[58]
  • 1970 – The American Dream Goes to Pot, The People's Flag Show, Phoenix Art Museum;[59] Judson Memorial Church, New York[60]
  • 1972 – Terminal Piece, Women's Interart Center, New York[58]
  • 1973 – Small Mysteries, Womanstyle Theatre Festival, New York[61]
  • 1977 – Naked Ladies, Los Angeles Women's Building, California[52][61][62]
  • 1977 – Solo exhibition, Andre Wauters Gallery, New York[61]
  • 1977 – The Lesbian Body, Chuck Levitan Gallery, New York[61]
  • 1978 – The Trial of Sylvia Likens, Noho Gallery, New York[63][64]
  • 1979 – Elegy for Sita, Noho Gallery, New York[61]
  • 1979 – Women's Caucus for Art[61]
  • 1980 – Group exhibition, Great American Lesbian Art Show, Los Angeles[61]
  • 1980 – Solo exhibition, Lesbian Erotica, Galerie de Ville, New Orleans; Second Floor Salon[61]
  • 1981 – Solo exhibition, Lesbian Erotica, Galerie des Femmes, Paris[61]
  • 1986 – Group exhibition, Feminists and Misogynists, Center on Contemporary Art, Seattle[61]
  • 1988 – Fluxus, Museum of Modern Art, New York[61]
  • 1991–1994 – Courtland Jessup Gallery, Provincetown, Massachusetts[52]
  • 1992 – Group exhibition, Body Politic, La MaMa La Galleria[61]
  • 1991 – Solo exhibition, Freedom from Captivity, Courtland Jessup Gallery, Provincetown, Massachusetts[61]
  • 1997 – Kate Millett, Sculptor: The First 38 Years, Fine Arts Gallery, University of Maryland, Catonsville[65]
  • 2009 – Black Madonna, multimedia show of 41 artists, HP Garcia Gallery, New York[66]

Some of her exhibitions and installations are:



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".[55] The induction ceremony took place on October 24, 2013, at the National Women's Hall of Fame headquarters in Seneca Falls, New York.[56]

Millett won the Best Books Award for Mother Millett from Library Journal in 2001.[52] In 2012, she was awarded one of that year's Courage Award for the Arts by Yoko Ono,[53] 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".[53] Between 2011 and 2012, she was also awarded the Lambda Pioneer Award for Literature[24] and a $25,000 visual arts grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts.[24][54] 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.[24]

Awards and honors

Scholar Camille Paglia has described Millett's scholarship as deeply flawed, declaring that "American feminism's nose dive began" when Millett achieved prominence.[50] 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.[51]

Millett recorded her visit to Iran and the demonstrations by Iranian feminists against the fundamentalist shift in Iran politics under Khomeini's government. Her book Going to Iran (1979) is "a rare and therefore valuable eyewitness account of a series of important developments in the history of Iranian women", albeit told from the perspective of a feminist from the western world.[49]

Millett wrote her autobiographical books Flying (1974) and Sita (1977) about coming out as gay, partly an important consciousness-raising activity. She realized beginning an open dialogue is important to break down the isolation and alienation that hiding in privacy can cause.[48] She wrote in Flying what Alice Henry calls in her off our backs review of Sita an "excruciating public and political 'coming out'" and its effect on her personal, political, and artistic lives.[48] While she discussed some of her love affairs in Flying, in Sita she provides insight into a lesbian love affair and her fears of being alone or inadequate. Henry writes, "Kate's transparent vulnerability and attempts to get to the root of herself and grasp her lover are typical of many women who love women."[48]

She contributed the piece "Sexual politics (in literature)" to the 1970 anthology The Feminine Mystique Although there were other important moments in the movement, like the founding of the [47] (1970) was a pivotal event in the second wave of the feminist movement.Sexual Politics, says that the release of Millett's Mediating a Movement, Authorizing Discourse Kristan Poirot, author of


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 other tenants held out, but ultimately lost their battle. Their building was demolished, and the residents were re-located.[46]

Bowery redevelopment

Millett has been active in the anti-psychiatry movement.[8] 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).[45]

Angered by institutional psychiatric practices and lenient involuntary commitment processes,[nb 7] Millett became an activist.[16] With her lawyer, she changed the State of Minnesota's commitment law so that a trial is required before a person is involuntarily committed.[41]


Feminist author and historian Marilyn Yalom wrote that "Millett refuses the labels that would declare her insane", continuing "she conveys the paranoid terror of being judged cruelly by others for what seems to the afflicted person to be a reasonable act."[38]

Millett disputes diagnoses and labels like manic depression (bipolar disorder) and schizophrenia, which she claims 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.'[33] She attributed her own depression to her diagnosis, and not the other way around, writing, "When you have been told that your mind is unsound, there is a kind of despair that takes over".[16] Millett documented her experiences in the book The Loony Bin Trip (1990).[20]

Views on mental illness

At one point, listening to others talk about her "freaking out," Millett muses, "How little weight my own perceptions seem to have," and goes on: "Depression is the victim's dread, not mania. For we could enjoy mania if we were permitted by the others around us ... A manic person permitted to think ten thousand miles a minute is happy and harmless and could, if encouraged and given time, perhaps be productive as well. Ah, but depression – that is what we all hate. We the afflicted. Whereas the relatives and shrinks ... they rather welcome it: You are quiet and you suffer.[43]

Millett's depression caused her to attempt suicide several times.[44] She has said that she thought that the depression was due to grief and feeling broken. She said, "When you have been told that your mind is unsound, there is a kind of despair that takes over..."[16] In The Loony Bin Trip, Millett wrote that she dreaded her depressed periods:

After several days, she was found by her friend Margaretta D'Arcy. With the assistance of an Irish parliament member and a therapist-psychiatrist from Dublin, Millett was declared competent and released[16] within several weeks.[43] She returned to the United States, became severely depressed, and began taking lithium again. In 1986, Millett stopped taking lithium without adverse reactions. After one lithium-free year, Millett announced the news to stunned family and friends.[16]

[Millett] describes with loathing the days of television-induced boredom, nights of drug-induced terror, people deprived of a sense of time, of personal dignity, even of hope. What crime justifies being locked up like this, Millett asks. How can one not be crazy in such a place?
— Journalist Mary O'Connell[43]

Millett visited Ireland in the fall of 1980 as an activist. Upon her intended return to the United States, there was a delay at the airport and she extended her stay in Ireland. She was involuntarily committed in Ireland after airport security determined from someone in New York that she had a mental illness and had stopped taking lithium.[16] While confined, she was heavily drugged. To combat the aggressive pharmaceutical program of "the worst bin of all", she counteracted the effects of Thorazine and lithium by eating a lot of oranges or hid the pills in her mouth for later disposal. She said of the times when she was committed, "To remain sane in a bin is to defy its definition," she said.[38]

In 1980, with support of two friends and photojournalist Sophie Keir, Millett stopped taking lithium to improve her mental clarity, relieve diarrhea and hand tremors, and better uphold her philosophies about mental health and treatment. She began to feel alienated and was "snappish" as Keir watched for behavioral changes.[16] Her behavior was that of a bipolar high, including "mile-a-minute" speech, which turned her peaceful art colony to "a quarrelsome dystopia."[38] Mallory Millett, having talked to Keir, tried to get her committed but was unsuccessful due to New York's laws concerning involuntary commitments.[16]

Following the two involuntary confinements, Millett became depressed, particularly disturbed about having been confined without due process. While in the mental hospitals, she was given "mind-altering" drugs or restrained, depending upon whether she cooperated or not. She was stigmatized for having been committed and diagnosed with manic depression (now commonly called bipolar disorder). The diagnosis affected how she was perceived by others and her ability to attain employment.[16][20][33] In California doctors had recommended that she take lithium to manage wide manic and depression swings. Her depression became more severe when her housing in the Bowery was condemned and Yoshimura threatened divorce. To manage the depression, Millett again began taking lithium.[16][42]

Mental illness has affected Millett's personal and professional life since 1973,[20][33] when she lived with her husband in California and was an activist and teacher at the University of California, Berkeley. Yoshimura and Sally, Kate's eldest sister, became concerned about Kate's mental stability.[16] Her family claimed that she went for as many as five consecutive nights without sleep and could talk nonsensically for hours. During a screening of one of her films at University of California, Berkeley, Millett "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."[33] Sally, who was a law student in Nebraska, signed papers to have her younger sister involuntarily committed. Millett was forcefully taken and held in mental hospitals for ten days. She signed herself out using a release form intended for voluntary admissions. During a visit to St. Paul, Minnesota, a couple of weeks later, her mother asked Kate to visit a psychiatrist and, based upon the psychiatrist's suggestion, signed commitment papers for Kate. She was released within three days,[16] having won a sanity trial,[41] due to the efforts of her friends and pro bono attorney.[16]

Mental health

In 1961, Millett moved to Japan and met fellow sculptor Fumio Yoshimura,[3][10] the widower of a woman named Yoshiko. A Japanese native, Yoshimura studied painting at Tokyo University of the Arts.[39][nb 4] In 1963 Yoshimura and Millett left Japan and moved to New York's Lower East Side in the Bowery district.[13] In 1965 the two married[nb 5] and during their marriage Millett said that they were "friends and lovers".[6] She dedicated her book Sexual Politics to him.[39] During their marriage, author Estelle C. Jelinek says that he "loves her, leads his own creative life, and accepts her woman lovers".[40] In 1985, the couple divorced.[10][nb 6]


Millett focused on her mother in Mother Millett, a book about how she was made aware by her sister Sally of the seriousness of Helen Millett's declining health and poor nursing home care. Kate removed her mother from the home and returned her to an apartment, where caregivers managed her health and comfort.[34] In the book, "Millett writes about the situation—her mother's distance and imperiousness, her family's failure to recognize the humanity of the old and the insane—with brutal honesty. Yet she also describes moments of forgiveness, humility and admiration."[2] During this time, she developed a close relationship, previously inconceivable, with her mother, which she considered "a miracle and a grace, a gift." Her relationships with her sisters were troubled during this time, but they all came to support their mother's apartment-living. The suggestion of her role as the heroine in Mother Millett, however, may have been "at the expense of her two siblings".[37]

Millett was not the "polite, middle-class girl" that many parents of her generation and social circle desired: she could be difficult, brutally honest, and tenacious. Liza Featherstone, author of "Daughterhood Is Powerful" says that these qualities helped to make her "one of the most influential radical feminists of the 1970s". They could also make for difficult interpersonal relationships.[2] Millett wrote several autobiographical memoirs, with what Featherstone calls "brutal honesty", about herself, her husband, lovers, and family.[2][34][nb 3] Her relationship with her mother was strained by her radical politics, domineering personality, and unconventional lifestyle.[37] Helen was particularly upset about examination of her lesbianism in her books.[34] Family relationships were further strained after she was involuntarily committed to psychiatric wards and again when she wrote The Loony Bin Trip.[37]

Interpersonal relationships

Personal life

In 2012, The Women's Art Colony became a 501c3 non-profit organization and changed its name to the Millett Center for the Arts.[11]

Millett Center for the Arts

Aware of the efforts her mother made to give her life, support her and raise her, Millett became a care-giver and coordinator of many daily therapies, and pushed her mother to be active. She wanted to give her "independence and dignity".[34] In the article "Her Mother, Herself", Pat Swift wrote: "Helen Millett might have been content to go "gently into that good night"—she was after all more afraid of the nursing home than dying—but daughter Kate was having none of that. Feminist warrior, human rights activists, gay liberationist, writer and artist, Kate Millett has not gone gently through life and never hesitates to rage at anyone—friend or foe, family or the system—to right a perceived wrong. When the dignity and quality of her ailing mother's life was at stake, this book's unfolding tale became inevitable."[37] Even though Helen played a role in having her daughter committed to the University of Minnesota's Mayo wing,[34] Kate had her mother removed from the nursing home and returned to her apartment, where attendants managed her care. During this period, Millett could also "bully" her mother for her lack of cultural sophistication and the amount of television she watched and could be harsh with caregivers.[2]

Kate wrote Mother Millett (2001) about her mother who in her later years developed several serious health problems, including a brain tumor and hypercalcaemia.[2][34] Made aware of her mother's declining health, Millett visited her mother in Minnesota; their visits included conversations about their relationship and outings to baseball games, museums, and restaurants.[37] When her mother was no longer able to care for herself in her apartment, she was placed in a nursing home in St. Paul, Minnesota,[2][34] which was one of Helen Millett's greatest fears.[34] Kate visited her mother and was disturbed by the care she received and her mother's demoralized attitude. Nursing home residents who were labeled as "behavioral problems", as Helen was, were subject to forcible restraint. Helen said to Kate, "Now that you're here, we can leave."[2]

Mother Millett

Millett 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.'"[8]

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 in Los Angeles.[35] Millett was a contributor to On the Issues magazine,[36] and continued writing into the early 2000s. She discussed state-sanctioned torture in The Politics of Cruelty (1994), bringing attention to the use of torture in many countries.[3]

The 1980s through 2000s

In 1974 and 1977, respectively, Millett published two autobiographical books. Flying (1974),[5] a "stream-of-consciousness memoir about her bisexuality",[33] explored her life after the success of Sexual Politics in what was described in The New York Times Book Review as an example of "dazzling exhibitionism". Millett captured life as she thought, experienced and lived it, in a style like a documentary film.[34] Sita (1977) explores her sexuality, particularly her lesbian lover who committed suicide[34] and the effect on Millett's personal and private life.[5]

Flying book cover

Millett's 1971 film Three Lives is a 16mm documentary made by an all-woman crew,[5][31] including co-director Susan Kleckner, cameraperson Lenore Bode, and editor Robin Mide, under the name Women's Liberation Cinema.[nb 2] 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, The 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."[7] It received "generally excellent reviews" following its premiere at a New York City theater.[5]

While speaking about sexual liberation at Columbia University, a woman in the audience asked Millett, "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".[26] A couple of weeks later, Time‍‍ '​‍s December 8, 1970 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."[26][30] 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.[26]

Sexism and sexuality

According to biographer Peter Manso, The Prisoner of Sex was written by Norman Mailer in response to Millett's Sexual Politics.[28] "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.[29]

Considered a symbol of the women's liberation movement, Millett was featured in a Time cover story, "The Politics of Sex",[26] which called Sexual Politics a "remarkable book" that provided a coherent theory about the feminist movement.[3] Alice Neel created the depiction of Millett for the August 31, 1970 cover.[27]

Sexual Politics originated as Millett's PhD dissertation and was published in 1970, the same year that she was awarded her doctorate from Columbia University. The bestselling book,[3] 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.[23] 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.[24][25] In its first year on the market, the book sold 80,000 copies and went through seven printings.[5]

Sexual Politics book cover

Sexual Politics

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 Komeini'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."[21] She wrote about the experience in Going to Iran.[22]

Millett wrote several books of women's lives from a feminist perspective. For instance, in the book The Basement: Meditations on a Human Sacrifice (1980), 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.[5][19] 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."[20] 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".[19]

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.[6]

She became a spokesperson for the feminism movement following the success of the book Sexual Politics, 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.[5]

[18] by Betty Friedan, it was in 1970 that the media gave greater attention to the feminist movement, first with a front page article in The New York Times and coverage on the three network's news programs about the Women's Strike for Equality event that summer.[47] Millett used psychology, anthropology, the sexual revolution, and literary criticism to explain her theory of sexual politics,[47] which is that western societies have been driven by a belief that men are superior to women.[3] According to Poirot, the book, which received widespread media coverage, "was considered to be the first book-length exposition of second wave radical feminist theory."[47] Published accounts of Millett's lesbianism played a part in the fracture in the feminist movement over lesbians' role within the movement and reduced her effectiveness as a women's rights activist.[47]


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