Why Kate Millet Still Matters

Kate-millettKatie Ryder at Bookforum:

“So deeply embedded is patriarchy,” Millett wrote, “that the character structure it creates in both sexes is perhaps even more a habit of mind and a way of life than a political system.” Thus she saw the First Wave’s failure to sufficiently challenge social-sexual identity as a main cause of its dissipation. With sexual “temperament” and “role” still in tact, “more insidious ‘soft line’” approaches—the “glorification of ‘femininity’” alongside chivalry, “the family, female submission, and above all, motherhood”—worked to reaffirm the woman’s place. As the rule of religion was waning, the “soft line” found robust support in literary culture and the claims of the new social sciences: psychology, anthropology, and sociology. Even when women were not explicitly deemed inferior, they were still declared “different”: no less damning a sentence of circumscription.

Millett wrote during the rising Second Wave, a time in which feminists and their allies—driven in part by the Civil Rights and anti-war movements, and spurred by the sexism of the New Left—built upon the legal successes of the First Wave, and, critically, sought to dismantle accepted psycho-sexual identities. To this end, Sexual Politics dissected the beliefs, the cultural language, that supported sexual hierarchy.

more here.