Kate Murray Millett, Ph.D. (1934 - 2017)

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Katherine Murray 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),[1] 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.[2]
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[3] 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.
Early life and education
Katherine Murray Millett was born on September 14, 1934 to James Albert and Helen (née Feely) Millett in Saint Paul, Minnesota. According to Millett, she was afraid of her father, an engineer, who beat her.[4] He was an alcoholic who abandoned the family when she was 14, "consigning them to a life of genteel poverty".[5][6] Her mother was a teacher[6] and insurance saleswoman.[7] She had two sisters, Sally and Mallory; the latter was one of the subjects of Three Lives.[8][9][nb 1] Of Irish Catholic heritage,[6] Kate Millett attended parochial schools in Saint Paul throughout her childhood.[4][5]
Millett graduated in 1956 magna cum laude from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Arts degree[4][6] in English literature;[11] she was a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority.[12] A wealthy aunt paid for her education at St Hilda's College, Oxford[nb 2] gaining an English literature first-class degree, with honors, in 1958.[4][12] She was the first American woman to be awarded a degree with first-class honors having studied at St. Hilda's.[13] 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.[4][6] 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.[6]
Millett taught English at the University of North Carolina after graduating from Oxford University,[6][14] but she left mid-semester to study art.[6]
In New York City she worked as a kindergarten teacher and learned to sculpt and paint from 1959-61. She then moved to Japan and studied sculpture. Millett met fellow sculptor Fumio Yoshimura,[4][12] had her first one-woman show at Tokyo's Minami Gallery,[6] and taught English at Waseda University. She left Japan in 1963 and moved to New York's Lower East Side.[15]
Millett taught English and exhibited her works of art at Barnard College[12] 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."[15] Her viewpoints on radical politics, her "stinging attack" against Barnard in Token Learning, and a budget cut at the college led[16] to her being dismissed on December 23, 1968.[6] Her artwork was featured in an exhibit at Greenwich Village's Judson Gallery.[12] During these years Millett became interested in the peace[4] and Civil Rights Movement, joined the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and participated in their protests.[4][12]
In 1971, Millett taught sociology at Bryn Mawr College.[6] She started buying and restoring property that year, near Poughkeepsie, New York; this became the Women's Art Colony and Tree Farm,[13][17] a community of women artists and writers and Christmas tree farm.[17] Two years later she was an educator at the University of California, Berkeley.[18]
Feminism and sexuality
Feminism
Millett was a leading figure in the women's movement,[6] or second-wave feminism, of the 1960s and 1970s.[19] In 1966, Millett became a committee member of National Organization for Women[13] and subsequently joined the New York Radical Women,[12] Radicalesbians, and Downtown Radical Women organizations.[15]
She contributed the piece "Sexual politics (in literature)" to the 1970 anthology Sisterhood Is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the Women's Liberation Movement, edited by Robin Morgan.[20]
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.[6]
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.[7]
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.[6][21] 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."[22] 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".[21]
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."[23] She wrote about the experience in her 1981 book Going to Iran.[24]

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on at Paris, in Paris, Île-de-France France
Cause of death: Heart failure

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Heart failure

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Timeline

1934 - In the year that Kate Murray Millett, Ph.D. was born, on June 6th, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was formed as a response to the stock market crash of 1929 and the continuing Great Depression. Previously, the states regulated the offering and sales of stocks - called "blue sky" laws. They were largely ineffective. Roosevelt created a group (one member was Joseph Kennedy, father of the future President Kennedy) who knew Wall Street well and they defined the mission and operating mode for the SEC. The new organization had broad and stringent rules and oversight and restored public confidence in the stock market in the United States.

1938 - When she was only 4 years old, on October 30th, a Sunday, The Mercury Theatre on the Air broadcast Orson Welles' special Halloween show The War of the World's. A clever take on H.G. Wells' novel, the show began with simulated "breaking news" of an invasion by Martians. Because of the realistic nature of the "news," there was a public outcry the next day, calling for regulation by the FCC. Although the current story is that many were fooled and panicked, in reality very few people were fooled. But the show made Orson Welles' career.

1949 - At the age of merely 15 years old, Kate was alive when on April 4th, NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) was established. Twelve nations originally signed the North Atlantic Treaty - the United States, Great Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Iceland, Canada, and Portugal. Greece, Turkey, and West Germany later joined. Today, there are 26 nations in NATO.

1969 - At the age of 35 years old, Kate was alive when in August, a previously planned small concert turned into a (free) more than 400,000 strong gathering of attendees and bands at Max Yasgur's farm in upstate New York - now called Woodstock. Just some of the 32 acts: Richie Havens, Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Joan Baez, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe, Santana, The Band, and Sly and the Family Stone.

1990 - She was 56 years old when after 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, the leader of the movement to end South African apartheid was released on February 11th 1990.

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Kate Millett, Ground-Breaking Feminist Writer, Is Dead at 82
The New York Times
By Parul Sehgal and Neil Genzlinger
Sept. 6, 2017
Kate Millett’s first and most famous book, “Sexual Politics” (1970), is credited with inciting a Copernican revolution in the understanding of gender roles, but it began life somewhat unobtrusively, as a doctoral thesis. And its author was a somewhat reluctant standard-bearer for the new feminism.
Ms. Millett, who died on Wednesday in Paris at 82, was freshly out of a job, fired from her teaching position at Barnard College for her role in organizing student protests in 1968, and she worked furiously to develop her arguments into a book. She passed with distinction (although one adviser complained that reading her work was like “sitting with your testicles in a nutcracker”), and the book, published by Doubleday, became a sensation.
“Sexual Politics” sold 10,000 copies in a fortnight. Time magazine called Ms. Millett “the Mao Tse-tung of Women’s Liberation” and featured her on the cover, with a portrait by Alice Neel. Along with Ti-Grace Atkinson and Shulamith Firestone, she became a defining architect of second-wave feminism.
“Sexual Politics” combined literary criticism, historical analysis and passionate polemic. In close readings of writers like D. H. Lawrence and Henry Miller — the so-called champions of sexual liberation — Ms. Millett traced contempt and outright hatred of women.
Freud’s theory of “penis envy” came in for withering critique; so too did Norman Mailer and his anxious regard for masculinity. (“Precarious spiritual capital in need of endless replenishment and threatened on every side,” Ms. Millett called it.)
Some of her targets fired back. Mailer lampooned her in “The Prisoner of Sex” as “the Battling Annie of some new prudery.”
The “Sexual Politics” project, Ms. Millett told Time, “got bigger and bigger until I was almost making a political philosophy.” From depictions of the sexes in literature, she examined how women were socialized to accept, even defend, their lower status in society, a process she called “interior colonization.”
“It is interesting,” she wrote in “Sexual Politics,” “that many women do not recognize themselves as discriminated against; no better proof could be found of the totality of their conditioning.”
She examined how patriarchy had been developed and then defended, by law, medicine, science, schools.
“Patriarchy’s chief institution is the family,” she wrote. “It is both a mirror of and a connection with the larger society; a patriarchal unit within a patriarchal whole.”
She added: “As the fundamental instrument and the foundation unit of patriarchal society, the family and its roles are prototypical. Serving as an agent of the larger society, the family not only encourages its own members to adjust and conform, but acts as a unit in the government of the patriarchal state, which rules its citizens through its family heads.”
The New York Times called the book “the Bible of Women’s Liberation” and “a remarkable document because it analyzes the need and nature of sexual liberation while itself displaying the virtues of intellectual and emotional openness and lovingness.”
But it was also met with fierce criticism, notably by Irving Howe, who, in Harper’s Magazine, described it as “a figment of the Zeitgeist, bearing the rough and careless marks of what is called higher education and exhibiting a talent for the delivery of gross simplicities in tones of leaden complexity.”
The book displayed such scant interest in children, he wrote, that “there are times when one feels the book was written by a female impersonator.”
Ms. Millett died while on vacation with her spouse, Sophie Keir, with whom she had had a relationship of many years; they recently married. Ms. Keir said by email that the cause was cardiac arrest. The two had been going to Paris annually to celebrate their birthdays, she said, adding that Ms. Millett had had long ties to the women’s movement in France.
Ms. Millett was an artist as well as a writer and had established an art colony at a farm in LaGrange, N.Y., splitting time between that home and an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Besides Ms. Keir, she is survived by two sisters, Sally Millett Rau and Mallory Millett Danaher.
Ms. Millett was born on Sept. 14, 1934, in St. Paul. Her mother, the former Helen Feely, sold insurance to support the family after her father, James, had left.
Ms. Millett graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1956 and then went to Oxford. She pursued her art career in Japan and New York, and married the Japanese sculptor Fumio Yoshimura in 1965. (They divorced in 1985.)
The attention that came with “Sexual Politics” was not something she adjusted to easily.
“Kate achieved great fame and celebrity, but she was never comfortable as a public figure,” Eleanor Pam, another leading feminist, said by email. “She was preternaturally shy. Still, she inspired generations of girls and women who read her words, heard her words and understood her words.”
The success of the book provoked a backlash among feminists that Ms. Millett found devastating. She came out as a lesbian the year the book was published, but lesbians in the feminist movement denounced her for not coming out sooner.
The personal stayed political for Ms. Millett, who in later years would write memoirs about her career and sudden fame (“Flying”, 1974), her sexuality (“Sita,” 1977), her mental health (“The Loony Bin Trip,” 1990) and her relationship with her mother (“Mother Millett,” 2001).
But her reputation and footing in the world were never secure. “Sexual Politics” stayed out of print for years. In 1998, she wrote an essay in The Guardian titled “The Feminist Time Forgot.” She described her difficulty finding work and the suicides of other prominent feminists of the time. We “haven’t been able to build solidly enough to have created community or safety,” she wrote.
Since the publication of a new edition of “Sexual Politics” last year, there has been renewed appreciation for Ms. Millett and how her work has shaped cultural studies and criticism.
“Her book exploded the tidy conceit in which I had been schooled: that literary criticism and social politics were things apart from one another,” Rebecca Mead wrote in an afterword to the new edition.
Writers like Rebecca Solnit and Maggie Doherty have shown how debates about the sexist depictions of characters owe much to Ms. Millett’s thinking.
“‘Sexual Politics’ may have its intellectual and political flaws, like any text that documents a way of thinking proper to the past,” Ms. Doherty wrote in The New Republic last year. “But what Millett’s work showed were the ways that political action and cultural expression interpenetrate. Both sites of struggle were necessary to bringing about the ‘altered consciousness’ that, for Millett, would mark a sexual revolution and bring ‘a world we can bear out of the desert we inhabit.’
“We’re not out of this desert yet; in some ways we are more lost than ever,” Ms. Doherty continued. “But culture, Millett taught us, may help us find our way to a better land.”
Gloria Steinem said that Ms. Millett and “Sexual Politics” had sounded a call.
“Kate was brilliant, deep, and uncompromising,” she said in an email. “She wrote about the politics of male dominance, of owning women’s bodies as the means of reproduction, and made readers see this as basic to hierarchies of race and class. She was not just talking about unequal pay, but about woman-hatred in the highest places and among the most admired intellectuals. As Andrea Dworkin said, ‘The world was asleep, but Kate Millett woke it up.’ ”
Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

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