Nation: The Liberation of Kate Millet

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THERE is the past as well as the present in Kate Millett's declaration, "Women's Liberation is my life." In a voice barely above a murmur, trembling at times with emotion, she speaks of the experiences that produced Sexual Politics with the same articulate rage that distinguishes her book.

She excoriates much about her middleclass, Irish-Catholic childhood in St. Paul: the strict parochial schooling, financial hardships, the attitudes of her neighbors. But nothing dominates her memory as do the personalities of her parents: a father who beat her and her sisters, then walked out on them when she was 14; a mother who found barriers to earning a living.

Born in 1934, Kate was the second of three Millett daughters, who "should all have been sons. I remember seeing my father getting the news that the youngest was born ... the look on his face: three errors in a row. I like my father now, but I'm also not ever going to forget what he did to us when I was a kid. Six feet one and really angry, he was mind-blowing frightening.

"My mother had a college degree, and when she needed a job, what did they offer her? A job demonstrating potato peelers in the basement of a department store. She didn't take it." Instead, Mrs. Millett sold insurance on commission; the first year, with three children to support, she made less than $1,000. "If you're a man, the insurance company finds out what the family needs and pays you a salary. But women don't get a salary . . . she got no help from society."

Kate entered the University of Minnesota at 17, finished in eleven quarters instead of the usual twelve. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude and "went to Oxford to be a scholar." She was scholar enough to earn a coveted first in English literature, specializing in the Victorians.

"I have a lot of trouble getting jobs," Kate says, and the 1,100 letters she wrote from England before turning up a teaching position was just one example. When she moved to New York a year later, employment agencies asked about her typing speed. "From Oxford to the Bowery in one easy lesson," says Millett.

For two years, Kate worked on learning to be a sculptor and how to pay the bills that wouldn't wait. "I got very good at pathetic letters." She moved to Japan in 1961; during her two years there she had her first artistic success in a show of her "chug" sculpture—bits of scrap representing soapbox-derby cars. She also met Sculptor Fumio Yoshimura. They returned to New York, where Kate began teaching—first at Hunter, then at Barnard—and working on her Ph.D. at Columbia. She lived with Fumio for a year, and "for what it's worth, being committed to each other and loving each other, we were already married. It's not the state's business." But when the state sent Fumio deportation papers in 1965, "we went to City Hall." They have no children, Fumio explains, because they are "two individuals. We cannot really construct a family system, because if we start to feel possessive, that's the end of our relationship."

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