Kate Millett’s loony-bin trip just got over

The author of Sexual Politics, one of the defining works of the feminist movement, died recently at the age of 82

Photo courtesy: Twitter
Photo courtesy: Twitter

Pragati Saxena

Kate Millett, a prominent writer, activist and artist died at the age of 82 in Paris. She is best known for her work, Sexual Politics, published in the 70s. The doctoral work took the world by storm because it criticised authors who were supposedly the proponents of sexual liberation- Sigmund Freud, DH Lawrence, Henry Miller and Jean Gene.

In her book, Millett demonstrated how the male-dominated culture has produced writers and literary works that are degrading to women and hurtful to efforts at reforming and alleviating the condition of women. Sexual Politics is recognised as a classic work of the feminist movement and is the most brilliant and forceful statement on the tyranny of sexual stereotypes to appear in 20th century North America.

Her keen observations and analysis ring true in our society too. We too have our share of feminists and acquired/self-proclaimed ones. But very few follow it as a normal, natural set of belief system.

Considered to be the pioneer of the second wave of feminism, Millett strongly put forth her belief that sex pervades all political questions and it is necessary to bring it forth so that it could be remedied. As a theorist, she was once called ‘Mao Tse tung of Women’s Liberation’.

It cannot be denied that she was right when she said that women are helpless because men control the basic mechanisms of the society. She brought forth the subtle nuances through which literary criticism and the socio-political are woven together. Hence, she contended that they should be studied in connection with each other.

She lived by her beliefs and openly criticised the hypocrisy of political decisions related to abortion and the rights of transgenders and gays. She emphasised that the origin of patriarchy is political and cultural. It is a socially conditioned belief system which is falsely believed to be ‘natural’. And she asserted that sexual revolution relied on breaking down the traditional heteronormative family.

Diagnosed as manic-depressive, Millett not only fought the disorder but also fought against the way society tries to lock up patients and then forget about them.

The Loony-Bin Trip is a powerful and moving personal story of Kate Millett’s struggle to regain control of her life after she was diagnosed with manic-depression. She had the courage to not only collect the shreds of her scattered life but also wrote about it candidly.

The writer, whose work many consider a milestone in the fight for legal abortion, gender equality in the workplace, and sexual freedom, was clear that she should not be considered a ‘spokesperson’ for the feminist movement. She remained her own person and tirelessly championed the cause of freedom of choice for women. She founded the Women's Art Colony Farm in New York which she ran with the income from growing Christmas trees.

Once asked by The Guardian about feminism in today’s society, she said “You see, there are two sides of feminism. There are women’s rights and there is social feminism.” Social feminism is all the other social issues you notice once you begin to think about women’s rights. Not because you are intrinsically more caring but because “the very mechanisms of powerlessness” become visible. “Feminism is a very transformative thing, whether intended or not. And that is when society loses its patience.”

Our society too seems to have lost its patience, when it comes to women. And there is hope that it will lead to positive changes in our broad outlook. And in this hope for equality and freedom of choice, Kate Millett will continue to live within us.

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