Posted on | September 1, 2014 | 71 Comments
“[A] disinterested examination of our system of sexual relationship must point out that the situation between the sexes now, and throughout history, is . . . a relationship of dominance and subordinance. What goes largely unexamined, often even unacknowledged (yet is institutionalized nonetheless) in our social order, is the birthright priority whereby males rule females. . . .
“This is so because our society, like all other historical civilizations, is a patriarchy.”
— Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (1970)
Kate Millett is a good prose stylist and also a sadistic perverted psychopath. On the latter subject, I will accept the testimony of Millett’s younger sister, Mallory Millett:
In the 1970’s I was alarmed to hear that my big sister, Kate Millett, who had serious mental health issues which had agonized my family and her friends for many years, was organizing a group called The Mental Patients’ Project in order to claim that the psychiatric community and society were “oppressing” people and “stigmatizing them with labels such as psychotic, bi-polar, schizophrenic, borderline personalities,” etc and unconstitutionally imprisoning them in hospitals thereby violating their civil rights. We, as a family, had struggled for years with Kate’s issues, many times attempting to hospitalize her so she could obtain the serious help she so obviously obviously needed. She was a brutal sadist, a violent bully at whose hands everyone about her suffered. Throughout my childhood I was menaced and immeasurably traumatized . . .
At one point, in 1973, I found myself alone with her in an apartment in Berkeley, California where she did not allow me to sleep for five days as she raged at the world and menaced me physically. . . .
And, speaking of the affected innocent victims: later, she wrote a book about her lesbian lover at that time. Sita was the title. This woman committed suicide in response to Kate’s “homage.” . . .
You really should read the whole thing. I had known that Kate Millett was a bisexual weirdo, but until somebody called my attention to this firsthand account by her sister, I hadn’t previously realized what a certified raving lunatic she was.
Psychosis and feminism are, often enough, two words that describe the same phenomenon. Shulamith Firestone was a paranoid schizophrenic, Women’s Studies professor Lisa Johnson is afflicted with borderline personality disorder, and if I had a nickel for every feminist who had ever lamented her “struggle” with chronic depression, I’d certainly have more than the price of a carton of cigarettes.
The difference between mental illness and feminist theory is . . . nuanced. Was anyone surprised when the eminent “male feminist,” Professor Hugo Schwarz, was revealed to be dangerous psychotic? It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that Women’s Studies majors are all demented freaks who, if they couldn’t afford to go to college, would be in psychiatric hospitals, where their deranged babbling about “gender roles,” “patriarchy” and “heteronormativity” would earn them a daily dose of Thorazine, rather than a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Despite her mental illness, however, Kate Millett writes good prose, and I think this is a factor that should not be overlooked. Like many another high-functioning psychotic, Millett is intelligent. She once taught English at the college level, and Sexual Politics was an adaptation of her Ph.D. dissertation at Columbia University. Smart and well-educated, Millett published Sexual Politics when she was 36. Her prose has a mature quality that is absent in Firestone’s zany The Dialectic of Sex, published when Firestone was 22.
Millett begins her book with a clever trick: She excerpts and subjects to literary criticism sex scenes from three novels — Henry Miller’s Sexus (1965), Norman Mailer’s An American Dream (1964) and Jean Genet’s The Thief’s Journal (1964) — by authors who were then fashionable. Henry Miller‘s writing was so pornographic that his books were often banned in the U.S. prior to the 1960s; Sexus was published in Paris in 1949 and not published in the U.S. until 16 years later. Norman Mailer, of course, soared to fame when his first novel, The Naked and the Dead, became a bestseller in 1948, when he was just 25. He never quite replicated that success in fiction; although his subsequent novels sold well, they were less critically acclaimed, and Mailer’s reputation as a writer was mostly based on his works of journalism and non-fiction. He won the Pulitzer Prize for The Armies of the Night, his non-fiction account of a 1967 anti-war march, and his 1980 Pulitzer winner The Executioner’s Song, was about the life of murderer Gary Gilmore. As for Jean Genet, he was a notorious French degenerate who gained fame after Jean-Paul Sartre made him the subject of a 1952 book, Saint Genet.
The scene Millett quotes from Miller’s Sexus involves the protagonist sexually assaulting the wife of his friend. The scene she quotes from Mailer involves a murderer sodomizing his German maid. The scene she quotes from Genet involves a transvestite prostitute and his/her pimp.
In each case, Millett highlights through her criticism the aspect of power — male supremacy — in the sexual context. These “notions of power and ascendancy,” Millett says, demonstrate that sex does not “take place in a vacuum,” but rather is “a charged microcosm of the variety of attitudes and values to which culture subscribes.” This is both true and highly problematic. Obviously, it is true that our attitudes and behaviors about sex are influenced by culture. But where Millett is headed with this argument — the purpose of her nearly 400-page book — is toward the claim that there are no meaningful natural differences between men and women, that the associations male/masculine and female/feminine are artificial, and that anything which can be labeled “male supremacy” is therefore inherently political in nature.
Let it not be said that Millett was unable to marshal any evidence on behalf of her argument. Anyone may order Sexual Politics from Amazon and examine her argument and her evidence. The problems with Millett’s book arise mainly from three causes:
- Her fundamentally anti-social attitude. Millett’s purposes are admittedly revolutionary. She aims to destroy the existing society, and all its patriarchal “values and attitudes,” without any regard for the personal happiness of anyone who is content with life in this society, having successfully adapted to “our system of sexual relationship.” This contempt for the lives of other people is characteristic of a sociopathic personality. Her sister’s revelation of Kate Millett’s domineering and sadistic behaviors are quite relevant to our understanding of Millett’s motivations.
- Her tendentious selectivity of evidence. Of course, every radical argument suffers from this flaw. If your aim is to overthrow The System in a democratic polity where electoral governance and the Rule of Law have the effect of continually ratifying The System, your argument for revolution must necessarily be based on unusual evidence. You must ignore, or subject to scorn and ridicule as “reactionary,” every argument made by defenders of The System. Despite her early acknowledgement (page 25) that a patriarchal social order was characteristic not just of America in 1970, but of “all other historical civilizations,” Millett deliberately rejects all evidence that such a social order is natural or inevitable.
- Her substitution of rhetorical gestures for actual logic. As I say, Millett’s prose is quite good and, like many intellectuals, she seems to believe that her ability to express an argument in stylish prose is proof that her argument must be true. The fact that other intellectuals, equally articulate, hold opposing views, is a problem Millett evades by accusing her antagonists of prejudice. Her fluency in exposition is, for Millett, a camouflage used to conceal extraordinary leaps of logic. She asserts a startling premise, based on evidence that is negligible or controversial or at least unusual, and then continues her argument as if the premise were a proven fact. One finds, for example, that Millett spends 19 pages (108-127) discussing Friedrich Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884), and finds nothing amiss with treating the co-author of The Communist Manifesto as an objective analyst. When Engels’ name recurs on page 169, it is in the context of Millett’s analysis of the failure of the Bolsheviks’ attempt to abolish the family in the Soviet Union. Millett cites the criticism of Leon Trotsky as an authority on “the Stalinist regression” in this matter, without bothering to explain why Trotsky might have blamed this failure on Stalin personally, rather than on the hopeless impracticality of the Bolshevik ideal.
Also, generally, Sexual Politics is boring. Her hammering of the same points becomes repetitive to the point of tedium.
Nature, Nuture and Feminist Theory
Any well-educated reader hostile to Millett’s basic claims can order Sexual Politics from Amazon (and if you buy it via my Amazon Associates link, of course, this puts a small commission in my pocket) and compose his own point-by-point refutation. It would be interesting to see some graduate student in psychology or anthropology make such a critical project the subject of a master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation. However, one supposes that any aspiring scholar capable of such a project is smart enough to know that doing this work would be the kiss of death to his career in academia. Nor would I, as a shameless capitalist, devote myself to that project; there is no market demand for such a point-by-point rebuttal, and I would not bother my readers with such endless tedium, merely to prove myself capable of producing a rebuttal to the arguments of an articulate psychotic with a Ph.D.
Nevertheless, because readers have generously contributed — “Hit the freaking tip jar!” — to fund my in-depth investigation of radical feminism, let me briefly point out some obvious examples of Millett’s sophistry. On page 30 of Sexual Politics, she writes:
Psychosexually (e.g., in terms of masculine and feminine, and in contradistinction to male and female) there is no differentiation between the sexes at birth. Psychosexual personality is therefore postnatal and learned.
This was written in 1970, just past the peak of Freudian prestige, when scientific claims of human differences based in genetic heredity (“nature”) were in disrepute, and when those who attributed human differences to the influences of early family life and societal expectations (“nurture”) were at the apogee of their ascendancy in academia, in law and in popular culture.
Millett certainly was not the only intellectual of her era who subscribed to the developmental concept of human personality, a perspective which was at that time hegemonic in its dominance of every elite institution, from the college campus to the psychoanalyst’s couch to the Supreme Court. (As an aside: Every clever college boy in the 1950s and ’60s knew the trick of bringing up Freud when talking to women as a way of steering the conversation to the topic of sex. By the 1970s, of course, the clichéd way to do the same thing was to talk about astrology. “What’s your sign?” became the sequel to, “What do you think about Freud?”) Advances in our understanding of genetics, in prenatal development and the influence of hormones on the brain, have refuted much of what was believed by elite intellectuals circa 1970 in terms of “psychosexual personality.” The insights from research have given rise to speculation based on evolutionary theory. The new college pickup line might be, “What do you think of sociobiology?”
Scientific advances have been quite unfortunate for Millett’s claim that “there is no differentiation between the sexes at birth,” in part because her citation for that claim is dependent on one of the greatest frauds in scientific history. On pages 30-31, she excerpts a quotation from a 1965 article “Psychosexual Differentation,” from a book entitled Sex Research, New Developments; in her bibliography, Millett references a 1957 book, The Psychologic Study of Man. The author of both of these works? Johns Hopkins University psychologist Dr. John Money, whose botched attempt to turn a boy into a girl (the notorious “John/Joan” experiment) failed spectacularly, ultimately resulting in the suicide of Dr. Money’s pathetic human guinea pig, David Reimer.
Dr. Money’s unethical (and perhaps criminal) methods of attempting to psychologically “condition” Reimer to be a girl were never successful; “Brenda” Reimer aggressively rejected the female identity that Dr. Money tried to impose. Yet Dr. Money, having trumpeted the “John/Joan” case as proof of his theories in the 1970s, misrepresented the case in his academic publications and in popular media. It took many years before another scientist, curious to know how Dr. Money’s patient had adjusted to adult womanhood, discovered the shocking truth behind Dr. Money’s fraudulent “research.” As a teenager, “Brenda” Reimer had decisively rejected “her” female identity, and sought treatment to become the man “she” had been born to be. David Reimer married a woman and, despite the loss of functional genitalia — castrated in infancy as part of Dr. Money’s “treatment” — he was by the 1990s an otherwise normal (that is, masculine) young man, albeit suffering from depression that finally resulted in his 2004 suicide.
Grant that Kate Millett had no way of knowing, in 1970, that Dr. Money’s theories were already being proven false in practice, because of Dr. Money’s dishonesty about the results. Still, his theories were always controversial, and his critics (including Dr. Milton Diamond, who eventually exposed the fraud) were not silent. Yet these critics were ignored by Millett, and scientists whose findings did not comport with Millett’s ideology — we must view her as a pioneer of what feminists today call “gender theory” — were subjected to dismissive ridicule. From page 32 of Sexual Politics:
Here it might be added . . . that data from physical sciences has recently been enlisted again to support sociological arguments, such as those of Lionel Tiger who seeks a genetic justification of patriarchy by proposing a “bonding instinct” in males which assures their political and social control of human society. . . .Tiger’s thesis appears to be a misrepresentation of the work of [Konrad] Lorenz and other students of animal behavior. Since [Tiger’s] evidence of inherent trait is patriarchal history and organization, his pretensions to physical evidence are both specious and circular.
Any student of behavioral science will probably be as shocked by this passage as I am, as a student of rhetoric. Millett, whose claim to expertise was . . . well, what? She got her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Minnesota and got a postgraduate degree in literature at Oxford University, then went to Japan where she taught English and married an avant-garde sculptor.
Here she was in 1970, however, presuming to accuse Dr. Lionel Tiger, a professor of anthropology, of misrepresenting the research of zoologist Konrad Lorenz, who won the Nobel Prize in 1973. If Tiger was guilty of misrepresenting Lorenz’s work, you might think that Lorenz himself would have made the accusation, which he never did. Anyone interested in the subject may consult Konrad Lorenz’s 1966 book On Aggression and Lionel Tiger’s 1968 book Men in Groups and decide for themselves whether the two authors were in accord. The reader may also consult Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson’s 1978 book On Human Nature (for which Professor Wilson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize) wherein he offers a learned examination of Lorenz’s theories. As Professor Tiger and Professor Wilson are in substantial agreement about evolution and human behavior, I’m willing to bet that both of them agree that what Lorenz said about aggression in animals has relevance to “bonding instinct” in human males. Yet we see how Millett, who was willing to accept Dr. John Money’s strange theories of gender without question, arrogated to herself the authority to disregard Professor Tiger’s research, accusing him of “misrepresentation” of another scientist’s work, and dismissing Professor Tiger’s claim to scientific knowledge as “pretension . . . both specious and circular.”
‘Science Falsely So Called’
Far be it from me, of course, to appoint myself as Official Referee of any dispute between zoologists, anthropologists and other specialists in scientific fields relevant to human behavior. As a Bible-believing Christian, I am profoundly skeptical that any research based on Darwinian theory can tell us much about the true origins of such phenomena. It is interesting to me to see what we actually know about human behavior, and interesting to see how scientists try to explain this as theory based on Darwinian concepts. However, I can never cede the fundamental claim of Darwinism, i.e., that all of this is a random accident of the universe, and that we are all therefore “evolved” from some bit of primordial slime. Always, I keep in mind the Apostle Paul’s warning to Timothy about “profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called.” This warning applies equally to Darwinian anthropology as to feminism, neither of which is the basis of my own belief system. But I digress . . .
Kate Millett’s cunning sophistry is such that, if anyone is predisposed in her favor — i.e., a disgruntled woman eager for an articulate assault on male prerogative — it is an easy thing to overlook her clever tricks of rhetoric. Over and over in the pages of The Politics of Sex, Millett asserts a premise, offers dubious or controversial evidence in support of her premise, pretends to discredit all claims to the contrary, and then proceeds to make her (unproven) premise the basis of further argument. She does this with great skill, so that you wouldn’t notice it unless by force of habit you had learned to look for such tricks. A forensic examination of The Politics of Sex could, as I say, provide a thesis or dissertation for the graduate student willing to undertake such a project.
Consider, for example, how she accuses Professor Tiger of seeking “a genetic justification of patriarchy,” as if the anthropologist were advocating or defending a particular system of behavior, rather than offering an analytical theory. Millett used the tendentious word “justification” when “explanation” would have been more appropriate, and The Politics of Sex is crammed full of such tricks. Having insinuated that Professor Tiger’s theories are misguided and deceptive, see where Millett then proceeds on page 32:
One can only advance genetic evidence when one has genetic (rather than historical) evidence to advance. As many authorities dismiss the possibility of instincts (complex inherent behavior patterns) in humans altogether, admitting only reflexes and drives (far simpler neural responses), the prospects of a ‘bonding instinct” appear particularly forlorn.
Kate Millett argues science with all the skill typical of an English major. Note how she invokes “many authorities” to lull readers into accepting the distinction between human instincts (impossible!) and mere “reflexes and drives,” so Professor Tiger’s theory about an instinctive basis of male bonding can be dismissed as a “forlorn” prospect. Millet does not inform her readers, of course, that Professor Tiger’s theories of male bonding were based on direct observation of actual human behavior, across many cultures, so that what he was attempting to explain (not “justify,” as Millett would have us think) was a phenomenon so universal it would be difficult to imagine how it could have a non-genetic basis. And look how Millett then continues her argument:
Should one regard sex in humans as a drive, it is still necessary to point out that the enormous area of our lives, both in early “socialization” and in adult experience, labeled “sexual behavior,” is almost entirely the product of learning. So much is this the case that even the act of coitus itself is the product of a long series of learned responses — responses to the patterns and attitudes, even as to the object of sexual choice, which are set up for us by our social environment.
The arbitrary ascriptions of temperament and role has little effect upon their power over us. Nor do the mutually exclusive, contradictory, and polar qualities of the categories “masculine” and “feminine” imposed upon human personality give rise to sufficiently serious question among us. Under their aegis each personality becomes little more, and often less than half, of its human potential.
At this point, any honest, intelligent and reasonably well-informed person reading The Politics of Sex must be tempted to fling the book into the nearest garbage can. Common sense tells us that, without regard to whether sex is a “drive” or a matter of “learned responses,” sexual intercourse between man and woman is necessary to the survival of the species. Insofar as human beings procreate successfully, we must suppose that this behavior is in some way hard-wired into minds and bodies. Only the most fanatical ideologue could look around our planet, where there are now more than 6 billion human beings, and claim that this has nothing to do with “sex in humans as a drive” — but this sort of ideological fanaticism is the driving force of Kate Millett’s feminism.
Likewise, anyone may look at actual men and women (rather than mere theories about them) and ask whether “the categories ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ [are] imposed upon human personality,” as Millett claims, or whether these words are simply a common-sense description of men and women as they exist in real life. Grant that some men are more masculine than others, acknowledge there are effeminate men and “mannish” women — these are variations that no one denies, and which in no way contradict anything in our common-sense understanding of masculinity and femininity. Yet for Millett, these things become the theoretical foundation upon which she erects a vast superstructure of argument on behalf of feminist revolution. Here is how she concludes on page 363:
When one surveys the spontaneous mass movements taking place all over the world, one is led to hope that human understanding itself has grown ripe for change. In America one may expect the new women’s movement to ally itself on an equal basis with blacks and students in a growing radical coalition. It is also possible that women now represent a very crucial element capable of swinging the national mood, poised at this moment between the alternatives of progress and political repression, toward meaningful change. As the largest alienated element in our society, and because of their numbers, passion, and length of oppression, its largest revolutionary base, women might come to play a leadership in social revolution, quite unknown before in history. The changes in fundamental values such a coalition of expropriated groups — blacks, youth, women, the poor — would seek are especially pertinent to realizing not only sexual revolution but a gathering impetus toward freedom from rank or prescriptive role, sexual or otherwise. For to actually change the quality of life is to transform personality, and this cannot be done without freeing humanity from tyranny of sexual-social category and conformity to sexual stereotype — as well as abolishing racial caste and economic class.
Kate Millett was obviously not a woman with small ambitions. To envision women as the “largest revolutionary base” leading “a coalition of expropriated groups” on behalf of “social revolution” — well, you’d have to be insane to imagine such a thing, and within a few years, Kate Millett’s insanity was obvious to everyone. Her sister Mallory describes Kate’s public breakdown in 1973:
During the speech [at the University of California-Berkeley] after the screening [of the Millett’s feminist documentary film Three Lives] she fell apart onstage before a packed assembly of fawning admirers. It was a standing room only audience. In fact, they had had to schedule a second screening at the last minute, as the response had been huge. As I sat next to her lectern during her incoherent ravings I witnessed the pained looks of confusion as they swept across those faces like a small gale whipping up across the top of a sea; at first tiny ripples gliding across the surface. They were polite until the realization took shape that she was making no sense whatsoever. People began glancing at each other, whispering a little then turning to one another with more energy, politeness gone, as some began to get up and leave. Soon many were slipping out and that was followed by a mad dash for the exits. She was babbling and shouting incoherently whilst I nodded and pretended every word made perfect sense. I could not bear to betray her in public. I sat there feeling my heart melting through my chest and draining into my belly with an indescribable sick empathy. Her humiliation was unbearable as the gale whipped up to a force ten and with one last enormous surge we were left in an empty room. The second screening was cancelled.
What ensued for Mallory Millett was a five-day nightmare trapped with her famous sister, who was in the grip of a psychotic rage:
Unable to abandon her, I stayed and whenever possible reached out by phone to other family members/friends in far flung places such as NYC, Minnesota, Nebraska pleading for advice and help. One such conversation was with Yoko Ono, a good friend of hers, who called to check on Kate and from whom I tearfully begged advice. . . .
Our elder sister, Sally, eventually came from Nebraska to the rescue, as it was imperative I return to NY to join a European theatrical tour for which I was contracted. She managed to get some temporary care for Kate, which sufficed for the moment. Within time, our mother and a lawyer nephew managed to take Kate to court in Minnesota in order to secure her “commitment.” Anyone who knows Kate Millett knows the depth of her shrewdness which she used to bring in a NY lawyer and, in her unglued state, she stood up for herself as only she can and to our great horror prevailed in that courtroom walking out, unrestrained, to spend many more years, lurching about the world to continue her damaging and irrational antics; her genius for chaos. Subsequently, she boarded a plane for Shannon, Ireland and upon arrival locked herself in the Ladies Room preventing anyone from relieving herself for twenty-four hours until the Shannon police broke down the door and committed her to an Irish psychiatric institution. She got word out to some of her Irish feminist loyalists who smuggled her out through a window and she escaped to be on the run making her way back to NYC. Many of her friends in the US were now involved and other interventions were arranged which she also managed to elude, quoting The Constitution to police and ambulance drivers.
Keep in mind that all this transpired just three years after Kate Millett was feted on the cover of Time magazine. Perhaps her feminist admirers could tell themselves that all Millett’s problems were the fault of the oppressive patriarchy, but doesn’t it seem that at least some of them should have experienced second thoughts about their movement? When one of the foremost leaders of your “social revolution” is revealed to be a raving lunatic, doesn’t this call into question the theories she had previously proclaimed? Alas, it was the ’70s, when people didn’t feel ridiculous wearing polyester bell-bottoms and some people even thought it would be a good idea to nominate George McGovern for president. The ’70s were the Golden Age of Bad Ideas, the era of the Symbionese Liberation Army, the Ford Pinto and the Jonestown Massacre. Unlike other fads and disasters of the ’70s, however, feminism endures.
The strange persistence of feminism’s bad ideas can be explained simply enough. Unlike the Jim Jones cult that died in the jungles of Guyana, the feminist cult institutionalized itself, building a permanent base of operations in the Women’s Studies departments of universities and colleges. Every year, many tens of thousands of naive young women are indoctrinated in feminist ideology through these programs, and the influence of their bad ideas has been extended into every academic discipline — particularly history, psychology and law — so that now, after many decades, feminist ideas are accepted without question on campus. This institutionalization of feminism has the effect of creating a market demand for feminist books, as well as a career track for would-be professors of Women’s Studies. Furthermore, as feminist influence has entrenched itself in higher education, it has acquired a terrifying power to intimidate its critics within academia. The voice of feminism’s critics is seldom heard on American campuses today.
‘Sexual Politics,’ Secrets and Insanity
Strange to say, however, in the early 1990s, the publishers of Kate Millett’s pioneering book Sexual Politics let it go out of print. As Millett recounts in the preface to the 2000 edition, it took nearly seven years and numerous rejections from publishers before the University of Illinois Press offered to re-publish it. Why was this so? Well, despite her radicalism, Millett’s views on certain subjects had become somewhat obsolete. In the late 1980s and early ’90s, militant lesbians like Michigan State University Professor Marilyn Frye began to insist that Women’s Studies programs cease their embarrassed silence about lesbianism. Avant-garde exponents of “gender theory” like Professor Judith Butler, herself an unapologetic lesbian, emerged as the voices of so-called “Third Wave” feminism, and what did Kate Millett have to say about all that? A single footnote on pp. 336-337 of Sexual Politics:
Following custom, the term ‘homosexual’ refers to male homosexuals here. “Lesbianism” would appear to be so little threat at the moment that it is hardly ever mentioned. . . . Whatever its potentiality in sexual politics, female homosexuality is currently so dead an issue that while male homosexuality gains a grudging tolerance, in women the event is observed in scorn or silence.
Oops. Millett’s hypocrisy about lesbian “potentiality” was a cause of immediate grief after her book was published in 1970. She was married to a man, but had engaged in lesbian affairs, and many radical “sisters” in the Women’s Liberation movement knew it. During an event at Columbia University in November 1970, just three months after she had appeared on the cover of Time, Millett was participating in a panel discussion onstage when the heckling began. Feminist historian Susan Brownmiller described the confrontation:
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.
The destruction of Kate Millett’s “high priestess” status is significant in several ways, most importantly as a foreshadowing of feminism’s future direction. It wasn’t the sexist patriarchy that destroyed her, it was radical lesbians who refused to let Millett get away with dishonest two-faced hypocrisy about her own sexuality.
“The personal is political,” after all.
Yet for decades to come, and still to this day in many cases, feminism continues to engage in the same kind of hypocrisy that unraveled so quickly for Kate Millett in 1970. It is scarcely a secret within academia that Women’s Studies programs are now dominated by lesbian faculty using textbooks that prominently feature lesbian authors.
What this signifies should be obvious: Feminist theory is ultimately incompatible with the normal lives of normal women who, whatever their career ambitions or political beliefs, hope to find happiness in a life that involves men, marriage and motherhood.
Yet the pioneers of the feminist movement — women like Shulamith Firestone and Kate Millett — didn’t live such lives, and the intellectuals who have followed in the footsteps of those early radicals of Women’s Liberation are not living such lives either. Judith Butler and “Queer Theory” are now the hot topics in Women’s Studies classes, and the biggest arguments within feminism involve transsexualism and so-called “butch/femme” roles in lesbian culture. Cutting edge feminist research nowadays involves such topics as whether Disney cartoons are imposing heterosexual identity on unsuspecting young girls. (The Little Mermaid? Yep — it’s patriarchal propaganda.)
Feminists get angry when critics call attention to evidence that Women’s Studies programs are now “Lezbo Recruitment 101” — even when you’re quoting an employee of the Feminist Majority Foundation on the subject. The two-faced hypocrisy continues and we must ask, what are the consequences of such dishonesty?
Whatever was actually true in Millett’s arguments should be accepted as self-evident at this point, more than four decades after her book became the much-heralded manifesto of Women’s Liberation, blazoned on the cover of Time magazine. Yet here we are, with women more “liberated” (and more equal) in America than at any time or place in the history of the world, and we find that feminism is still controversial. If the iniquities of patriarchal society circa 1970 have been in some measure abolished or eroded, feminists continue to complain about patriarchy as if nothing had changed, and we may well ask if many of the grievances that feminists complain about now are not, in fact, the consequences of previous “reforms” that feminists demanded. Feminists now stage protests dressed in pink vagina costumes and march in SlutWalk demonstrations against “rape culture,” and never seem to bother questioning the basic premises of their arguments, much less re-thinking the logic of the arguments based on those premises.
Truth is great and will prevail, Thomas Jefferson famously observed, and we might wonder how Kate Millett’s life and career would have turned out if she hadn’t tried to hide the truth about herself in Sexual Politics. Her only mention of lesbianism was a single dismissive footnote near the end of the book. What would have been the consequences if, instead of trying to get away with this deception, she had been up-front about her lesbianism? Maybe her book never would have been published, but maybe she wouldn’t have gone insane after her dishonesty was exposed. Or maybe — just maybe — Kate Millett was always crazy.
- July 14: Radical Feminism and the Long Shadow of the ‘Lavender Menace’
- July 26: Feminists Worry That Disney Movies Are Making Girls Heterosexual
- July 28: Feminists Against ‘The Unnatural, Yet Universal Roles Patriarchy Has Assigned’
- Aug. 2: How to Become a Lesbian, Step One: Watch Cable TV While Depressed
- Aug. 3: #DearFeministMen Illustrates a Fundamental Problem
- Aug. 6: Hey, Moms: Feminists Think They Know What’s Wrong With Your Children
- Aug. 10: ‘Hi, We’re Lesbian Feminists and We’re Here to Talk to Your Daughter About Sex’
- Aug. 15: ‘Wacky Conservative Hit Piece About Raging Lesbian Feminist Carmen Rios’
- Aug. 19: A Lesbian Feminist Horror Movie
- Aug. 21: The Madness of ‘Gender Theory’
- Aug. 23: Reading Feminist Theory …
- Aug. 25: Feminism, Mental Illness and the Pathetic Daughters of Misfortune
- Aug. 30: Thank You, Professor Kitzinger!