A once-famous man-hating lunatic has gone on to her eternal reward:
Kate Millett, a feminist writer and artist who gave the women’s liberation movement its intellectual cornerstone with the 1970 tract “Sexual Politics,” and whose later works laid bare the subjugation of gay men and lesbians, the mentally ill, the elderly, and victims of political oppression, died Sept. 6 in Paris. She was 82.
Her death was confirmed by Phyllis Chesler, a feminist writer and psychotherapist who said she had corresponded with Dr. Millett’s spouse, Sophie Keir, and that the cause of death was cardiac arrest.
The mention of Millett’s lesbian partner highlights the essential dishonesty of Sexual Politics. At the time the book made Millett nationally famous, she was married to a man, but was carrying on clandestine affairs with women. This was not really much of a secret among her feminist comrades, who confronted her at an event a few months after her book was published, a scene described in Susan Brownmiller’s feminist history In Our Time:
Minutes into the panel a voice from the back of the hall rang out, “Bisexuality is a cop-out!”
Sidney Abbott, another panel member, peered into the audience and recognized Ann Sanchez, one of the Radicalesbians.
The persistent voice catcalled, “Are you a lesbian, Kate? What are you afraid of? You say it downtown, but you don’t say it uptown. Why won’t you say it?”
“Yes,” Millett wearily replied. “You think bisexuality is a cop-out, so yes, I’ll say it. I am a lesbian.
A reporter from Time was at her door the next morning. The story ran in December. Millett’s disclosure of her bisexuality, the magazine intoned, avoiding the word “lesbian,” was “bound to discredit her as a spokeswoman for the cause.”
Dolores Alexander and Ivy Bottini of [the National Organization for Women] urgently called a “Kate Is Great” press conference. Artemis March and Ellen Shumsky of the Radicalesbians composed a statement of solidarity that was read to the reporters. . . . Gloria Steinem firmly held Kate’s hand for a significant photo for the Times. . . But the show of support did little to calm the fraying nerves of the woman who stood at center of the media storm. . . .
Sexual Politics would never be dislodged from its place as feminism’s first book-length bombshell, but the making and breaking of Kate Millett as the movement’s high priestess had run its course in four months.
Why did this “discredit her as a spokeswoman for the cause”? Because in her book, Millett had hypocritically concealed her personal bias. “Her only mention of lesbianism was a single dismissive footnote near the end of the book,” as I wrote in my book Sex Trouble. While other feminists (notably Adrienne Rich) made interesting arguments about the social pressures that led lesbians into such shams as Millett’s marriage (her husband, Fumio Yoshimura, was a Japanese avant-garde sculptor), this wasn’t mentioned in the book that made Millett famous, nor did she disclose her lesbianism to Time magazine or in any of the other press coverage that accompanied publication of Sexual Politics. Millett’s anti-male arguments, which had been presented to the mainstream press as being made by a heterosexual woman with a husband, took on a whole new meaning in light of the revelation of her lesbianism. It was somewhat like the discovery that Rev. Ted Haggard was hooking up with rentboys.
If the personal is political, as feminist Carol Hanisch famously said, then Millett’s lesbianism was certainly relevant to her arguments. Her resentment of “male supremacy” was quite personal, and yet she deliberately concealed the circumstantial nature of her resentment.
When she condemned “our system of sexual relationship” as “a relationship of dominance and subordinance” (Sexual Politics, pp. 24-25), Millett presented this as a universal indictment of “patriarchy,” as though all women shared (or should share) her resentment. Yet the fact was (and is) that the vast majority of women have no political grievance against “our system of sexual relationship.” Whereas Kate Millett evidently never felt any authentic sexual desire toward males, most women do feel such desires, and feel no such sense of personal humiliation as Millett seemed to express in denouncing heterosexuality as “a relationship of dominance and subordinance.”
The biological reality of male-female differences, and the necessity of psychological adjustment to adult roles — as husbands and wives, mothers and fathers — can be analyzed rationally and objectively, without disparaging either men or women, and certainly without resorting to inflammatory rhetoric about male sexual “dominance.” However, the vast majority of people don’t analyze their own preferences and behaviors; they simply act on their feelings, without wondering too much why they feel the way they do. When a man experiences “a complex interaction of psychological, neural, vascular and endocrine factors . . . initiated by the parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system,” to quote Wikipedia’s description of the “physiological phenomenon,” he isn’t likely to subject his condition to critical analysis. “Me Tarzan, you Jane.”
If you don’t want to swing with the ape-man, stay out of the jungle.
This primitive understanding of human sexuality is perfectly acceptable to most people, but intellectuals always have to overthink everything. To examine sex from a perspective of politics — especially from a left-wing “social justice” perspective of radical egalitarianism — will inevitably give voice to the grievances of those who, for whatever reason, are discontented with their circumstances. People who are successful and happy with their lives, or who at least are able to cope with their disappointments, do not write radical manifestos denouncing “society,” nor do they join movements dedicated to revolutionary agendas.
This was the real issue with Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics — it was a lesbian’s indictment of heterosexuality, written from within the closet.
We might compare Kate Millett to another sexual revolutionary. Alfred Kinsey struck a public pose of a sensible Midwestern scientist, but in reality he was a voyeuristic pervert with all kinds of kinky fetishes.
It was not until decades after Kinsey’s influential “research” had normalized sexual deviancy that biographers revealed the startling truth of Kinsey’s perversity, along with the fact that much of Kinsey’s survey data was badly skewed, with reports obtained from serial child molesters cited as scientific “evidence” of childhood sexual responses.
Kinsey’s perversion obviously provided an ulterior motive for his advocacy of greater tolerance of deviant behavior, in the same way that Kate Millett’s attack on “our system of sexual relationship” was motivated by her discontent as a closeted lesbian unhappily married to a man.
Millett’s status as the “high priestess” of feminism (as some in the press had called her) was sabotaged by radical lesbians resentful of the high profile Millett had gained through her hypocrisy. In this, they were aided by a media establishment which wanted feminism to be “mainstream,” and believed that lesbianism would harm the movement. And the personal damage inflicted on Millett by “outing” her? This was considered irrelevant, both by her enemies within the feminist movement and by the media, for whom public figures are always more or less disposable. By the time it became apparent that Kate Millett was mentally ill — a story that her younger sister Mallory Millett told in 2014— the media generally ignored this evidence that the leaders of the feminist movement were lunatics. Millett’s bipolar disorder, like Shulamith Firestone’s schizophrenia, was scarcely a coincidence. Malcontents and deviants are always attracted to radical movements, and sociopathic personalities are by no means rare among the leaders of such movements, as any student of Joseph Stalin’s career must recognize.
Like most other famous feminists, Kate Millett never had children, so that her death is mourned only by her lesbian partner and by elderly comrades in the movement of which she was once “high priestess.” Most young feminists have little knowledge of the true history of their movement and, not knowing history, they are doomed to repeat it.