Kate Millett, 1934-2017

I just heard, via Lori Marso, the news that Kate Millett has died.

I remember the very first time I read Sexual Politics. I’m embarrassed to say it was well into my teaching at Brooklyn College. It was for a course on counterrevolution, some time around 2005 or so, and we were doing a lengthy section on the right-wing backlash against the feminist movement.

I was looking for a text that would state the strongest revolutionary argument for feminism, not just substantively but rhetorically. I wanted to give students a sense of the ferocity of the attack—intellectual, political, cultural—that feminism posed in its original incarnation. After reading around a bit, it was obvious that there was only one candidate: Sexual Politics.

In this, Millett reminded me of what I love most about Catharine MacKinnon’s earlier work. Not always the arguments themselves, but the tenacity, the refusal to be cowed by one’s critics or to give them an inch, the categorical unwillingness to give any quarter, to give anyone a sense of calm or comfort or peace, the unbowed buoyancy that makes her and her arguments always rise far above the tide.

These are, for me (I recognize this is a question of taste), the mark of a true writer. Kate Millett was such a writer.


  1. s.wallerstein September 6, 2017 at 1:58 pm | #

    R.I.P. Kate Millett

    I read the book in the early 70’s, and since I haven’t kept up with developments in feminist thought since then, it will always be the basic feminist text (along with Simone de Beauvoir, who I read in roughly the same period) for me.

  2. Thomas Rossetti September 6, 2017 at 4:44 pm | #

    Identity politics is economic politics. No one made that clearer than Kate Millet. To live in one’s skin and not lose economic advantage is the social liberation of self. It is also the core of the liberal vision of politics. RIP

  3. Dean September 6, 2017 at 7:39 pm | #

    Sad news. I’d like to think some of Andrea Dworkin’s work would have fit the bill had it been written decades earlier. Speaking of MacKinnon, I’m looking forward to attending a talk about her new book on Monday.

  4. bob mcmanus September 7, 2017 at 11:06 am | #

    70s feminism was some good stuff. Combahee, Brownmiller, Firestone, Willis, Mulvey, Federici, Mitsu Tanaka

  5. James Levy September 8, 2017 at 1:22 pm | #

    I have to disagree with your formulation viz. “the mark of a true writer”. Overstating the case is the bane of our academic existence. When I wrote my book “Appeasement and Rearmament” I gave it to a friend to read. He’s a philosophy professor. He asked me why I made so many concessions to those who disagreed with me. My response was simple: much of what I had to say was based on judgment calls and personal values–I could always be wrong about those things (the facts I got right). Things are rarely crystal clear, and causality is almost always multifaceted. Best to say “this is the best I can figure” and leave it at that.

    • LFC September 8, 2017 at 3:38 pm | #

      @James Levy

      I think that approach is right for, e.g., many historical or social-scientific works on contested subjects.

      The tone/approach that Corey admires can however be well-suited to (scholarly) polemics, of which I suspect/think Sexual Politics is an instance. One might think of some of E.P. Thompson’s or Perry Anderson’s work, or perhaps Chomsky or A. Bacevich, to mention a few well-known names. Depends on the aim of the work and its occasion. With some authors, too, a sense of certainty in the correctness of their views and a “categorical unwillingness” to make any concessions to critics is inseparable from their authorial personas and their personalities. Marx is like that, for example, and much of Freud. And no doubt one could mention others.

      With those caveats (for lack of a better word), I think your point is well-taken.

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