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Study Notes

Kate Millett (1934 − 2017)

A-Level, IB
AQA, Edexcel, IB

Last updated 2 Jun 2020

Kate Millett was a second-wave feminist best-known for her book ‘Sexual Politics’, widely viewed to be the movement’s manifesto.

In ‘Sexual Politics,’ Millett offers a critique of patriarchy within Western literature. In her words, sex-based oppression is both political and cultural. To substantiate her position, Millett identified the role of both sexism and heterosexism within modern novelists. The portrayal of women (particularly lesbian women) was therefore largely degrading. Millett concludes that patriarchy demands a revolution in the domestic division of labour with radical alterations towards personal and family lifestyles. As a solution, she advocates undoing the traditional family unit. For her, this holds the path towards true sexual revolution. This line of argument was prevalent amongst many other second-wave feminists such as Germaine Greer (who once predicted that “women will [only] be free when they have a positive definition of female sexuality”) and contemporary writers like Nikki Gemmell (author of ‘The Bride stripped bare’).

As something of a spokesperson for second-wave feminism, Millett has been politically active in terms of campaigns to end the oppression of women. Millett has also raised awareness of how females who experience sexual, physical and emotional abuse face a set of power dynamics. That said, her concerns have gone beyond feminism with a consideration of human rights, anti-psychiatry and civil rights. She has also been active in several feminist campaigns such as the pressure group NOW and Radicalesbians. This is a somewhat unusual combination in that both organisations pursue different strategies in terms of securing the objectives of the feminist movement. The former is located within the liberal feminist traditional whereas the latter offers a more radical and exclusive approach.

On a final note, Kate Millett also claims that “patriarchy's greatest psychological weapon is ... its universality and longevity.” Millett fully recognised the ability of patriarchy to reinvent itself from one generation to the next. Each distinct wave of feminism has broken down barriers that hold women back only to find that more exist. In a modern setting, sexism may be less overt than the past but there is still a considerable amount of covert sexism and misogyny that blight women’s lives.

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